Beloved accessible B.C. summer camp in dire need of medical volunteers

Click to play video: 'Zajac Ranch summer camps desperate for staff and volunteers'
Zajac Ranch summer camps desperate for staff and volunteers
One of B.C.'s best-known summer camps for children with disabilities and medical conditions is desperately short of both medical volunteers and paid staff. Julie Nolin reports – Jun 30, 2023

A British Columbia camp that serves youth with disabilities and medical conditions has issued an urgent appeal for medical volunteers and staff.

For two decades, Zajac Ranch in Mission has served B.C. children and young adults with special needs, who might otherwise miss out on the camp experience.

“I like it because to me it’s fun. I really like camp, because I like swimming and I like music, and I like just having some fun,” said Daniel McGregor, a 24-year-old counsellor in training who has Down syndrome and is working towards becoming a counsellor himself.

“My life is good right now but not in the past. Because a long time ago, when I was still in high school, I got bullied.”

Click to play video: 'Summer season in jeopardy due to worker shortage at B.C. camp'
Summer season in jeopardy due to worker shortage at B.C. camp

Zajac Ranch’s operators say this year the camp has fallen short on recruiting key positions, particularly counsellors, doctors and nurses, who are critical to supporting the campers.

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That’s putting its mission of providing the best summer experience possible for its clients at risk.

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“Campers get an opportunity to come experience things that are outside of their regular routine, which can be a little overwhelming at first, but especially with the  young adults camp for example, we get to see a lot of that confidence building and excitement every year when they come back,” Zajac Ranch director Kennedy Pepin-Harmatiuk explained.

“The kids who come here, they have a chance to really blossom and try new things without really having a lot of risk associated with it.”

It’s not just the campers who benefit.

Click to play video: 'White Spot raises funds for Zajac Ranch with Pirate Pak Day'
White Spot raises funds for Zajac Ranch with Pirate Pak Day

Pepin-Harmatiuk said the camp gives stretched parents a much-needed break, and also helps connect them with other parents in similar situations, often providing the seed of friendship and the opportunity to share resources and support.

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The 44-acre property on the shores of Stave Lake is fully accessible — including ramps into all buildings and to the waterfront — and has all the facilities for a typical camp experience.

That includes swimming, high ropes, field games and even horseback riding.

But key to the camp is a high staffing ratio, allowing opportunities for youth who may need more one-on-one attention and guidance as well, Pepin-Harmatiuk said.

That means filling out their core staff — and this year, critically, at least five medical volunteers per week.

“Just with even little tasks, we need someone to be an extra set of eyes, we need someone who can help at meal times, maybe not even have to — if they’re out of their comfort zone — be directly involved with the kids per se, but to just help do the background work,” Pepin-Harmatiuk said.

“Because that’s where we really need the support so my staff can focus on the more immediate tasks and more immediate attention with the kids.”

Click to play video: 'Celebrating 2018 Pirate Pak Day with White Spot'
Celebrating 2018 Pirate Pak Day with White Spot

Zajac Ranch says it has on-site accommodations for medical staff and volunteers, who would stay on site and are provided with meals.

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The camp says it can offer flexibility to people who can’t commit all summer.

Pepin-Harmatiuk acknowledged that the job isn’t always an easy one.

“You are going to have long days. You are going to be stressed out and tired at some point,” she said.

“But when you see the campers show up and you see what their experience is, and you see them having a good time, you see them have these small successes, that is what really makes it worth it.”

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