Generational link to Sunshine Fund
Jessica Hallet remembers the cool waters of Lake Winnipeg, the satisfaction of stringing a bow and arrow, and the liberation of life outside the city.
These are things she enjoyed as a youth at Camp Arnes. Things she may never have experienced without the support of the Manitoba Camping Association’s Sunshine Fund.
Now 29 and a mother of four, Hallet is feeling the excitement of summer camp once again, this time via her 10-year-old daughter, Hope, who will attend Camp Arnes for the first time in July.
"She’s excited because I talk a lot about camp and how awesome it is," Hallet said. "I just hope she has a really good experience, and she comes back and is talking about all the new things she’s done."
The Sunshine Fund is an MCA initiative that subsidizes the cost of summer camps for children and families with financial barriers.
For more than four decades, the MCA and Free Press have collaborated to maintain and promote the fund, which relies heavily on donor support. During that time, the joint efforts have sent upwards of 22,000 children to camp — including Hallet, who used the fund to visit Camp Arnes between the ages of eight to 15.
Hope, who has never spent more than a few nights away from home, is full of the nerves children feel when they set out on their first adventure, Hallet said.
Fortunately, she won’t be going it alone. Five of Hope’s cousins — all Sunshine recipients — will make the trip with her.
Hallet hopes the children, who range in age from eight to 13, walk away from the experience with many stories, new friends and a restored sense of wonder.
Leana Sutherland, Hallet’s mother-in-law and guardian of Donetta (nine) and Diondre Sumner (10), nearly burst into tears of joy when she learned they were destined for Camp Arnes.
Sutherland and the children have been living out of Winnipeg hotels for roughly 2 1/2 months, as their home in Pegius First Nation was overwhelmed by spring floods.
Life in Winnipeg has been difficult for the siblings, who lost both of their parents in the last five years.
The pair are unaccustomed to the traffic, strangers and vast amounts of concrete in the city. They miss exploring the woods and playing in the grass, she said.
Sutherland is hopeful a week at Camp Arnes will give the children some deserved respite, and credits Hallet for introducing her to the Sunshine Fund.
"I wanted to cry, because I was glad they would get to do something," she said. "I hope they meet other kids and learn more about what they are capable of."
For Kim Scherger, MCA executive director, that’s what summer camp is all about.
"It puts a huge smile on my face, and my heart just gets so big," she told the Free Press. "I know how camp can influence a person’s life for so many years."
Scherger said generational stories, like Hallet’s, are not uncommon.
Children who experience the beauty of camp soon become adults who carry those memories forward. Often, people enroll their children in the Sunshine Fund or become donors themselves, she said.
People wanting to apply to a camp can visit the MCA website to find links to its accredited camps.
JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS