Where kids come out of their shell By: Caitlyn Gowriluk
Thirteen-year-old Leeland Edwards can’t wait to be reunited with his favourite horse at Camp Arnes this summer.
"Last year, he came back and he had a horse all to himself the whole week," Leeland’s mom,
Meghan Smart, said. "That’s all I heard about for weeks after: this horse named Buttercup."
It’s been a few years since her oldest son went to camp for the first time, but Smart said she still
remembers him walking up the bus steps and disappearing from her view.
"I was definitely a lot more nervous than he was," said Smart, 37.
But when Leeland walked back down those steps a week later, Smart said she saw a whole new side
of her normally reserved son.
"He was full of stories about things that he did at camp and people he met," Smart said. "Getting him into
that kind of a situation was really awesome for him to be able to kind of spring out and meet new people."
Leeland’s 10-year-old brother, Brody Smart, also joined him at Camp Arnes last year.
Meghan Smart said she went to Camp Arnes herself as a kid, so it was important to her that her sons had the same opportunity.
"I had a great experience at camp as a kid," Smart said. "I was part of something bigger than myself."
But as a single mom, Smart said she knew it would be tough to afford it — which is why the Winnipeg Free Press Sunshine Fund was such a big help.
"There was no way I could even send one of my kids, financially, for a week of camp, even though I desperately wanted to," Smart said. "So, when the Sunshine Fund became available, I was so excited."
The fund provides financial assistance to families who can’t afford to send their kids to camp. So far this year, the fund has raised enough money to support 411 kids. This year’s goal is to send 650 kids to camp.
Smart said she knew about some of the experiences her sons would enjoy — horseback riding, singing songs and hiking — but it was the things she didn’t think about that really had an effect on Leeland and Brody.
When Leeland came back from his first week away at camp two years ago, it wasn’t the horses he talked about — it was the people.
"He’d formed a really great bond with this leader that he had his cabin with," Smart said.
Because the camp staff changes every year, Smart said she doesn’t remember the leader’s name. But she wishes she did.
"I’d write the guy a letter," she said. "As a single mom, it’s awesome to see that you can get a male role model that can make such a difference in that kid’s life in such a short span of time."
Smart said the Sunshine Fund is easy to apply for, and a great opportunity for parents who may not otherwise be able to afford to send their kids to camp.
"I think camp is really important for kids. There’s so many growing opportunities and learning opportunities for them that they’re not going to get staying at home for the summer," Smart said. "I certainly hope it continues, because this is our third year now, and we wouldn’t have been able to do any of that without the Sunshine Fund."
Brody, 10, is the third of Meghan Smart's sons to attend camp, thanks to the Sunshine Fund.