‘A dream come true’: Ontario glamping resort provides free retreat for families of children with disabilities

Click to play video: 'Camp Moonlight brings families who have children with disabilities together'
Camp Moonlight brings families who have children with disabilities together
For families who have kids with disabilities, going on any kind of vacation can be very difficult. The owners of a wellness resort near Cobourg, Ont., decided to step in, offering two days of activities and a glamping experience free of charge. Germain Ma has the story – Aug 15, 2023

Families of children with disabilities say a free “glamping” retreat this week at a resort east of Cobourg, Ont., was an “invaluable” experience.

Located on 200 acres of land in Grafton, Whispering Springs Glamping Resort opened in 2015. The business touts itself as a wilderness escape but mixes traditional camping with “luxury,” including safari tents that feature the comforts of home such as large beds, a mini-fridge, a coffee maker and an in-tent sink and toilet.

Promoting itself for weddings, wellness and corporate events, owners Nancy and John Corcoran wanted to expand to help others who might not normally get the chance to camp or experience the outdoors.

For an event entitled Camp Moonlight, the Corcorans offered their tents and property free of charge Aug. 13 to 15 to families whose children have a physical disability. More than 50 volunteers, including therapists, helped run the retreat.

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The Corocans’ granddaughter Ayla was the inspiration for Camp Moonlight, which took two years of planning. Ayla suffered a traumatic brain injury during birth three years ago and was diagnosed with quadriplegia cerebral palsy.

“We saw first-hand how lonely and hard … just with no community to help them get through this,” Nancy said. “We know how hard it is for families to have these special moments in their life while they’re taking care of their child.”

“For us, it was a way of giving back to the community,” John added.

Among the 20 families from across Canada and the United States was Ajax, Ont., mother Sarah-Lynne Gibbons with her seven-year-old twin sons and four-year-old daughter, Zoey. The girl was born with Type 2 congenital disorder of glycosylation, an extremely rare genetic condition that impacts metabolism.

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Gibbons says the disorder affects “every system” in her body.

“So it limits us a lot in the things that we can do,” she said. “So many things are inaccessible to us — financially and physically…. It just makes it really tough to try to give my older boys the experiences that they deserve with a sister that has so many limitations.”

However, she says Camp Moonlight made accessibility a key focus, noting “all the details are taken care of” to allow parents some time to “rest and recharge.”

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“This is a dream come true,” Gibbons said. “When we walked in, my son said, ‘I don’t know what paradise looks like, but this looks like it to me.'”

Gibbons echoed the sentiment of belonging and “mutual compassion” with other families facing similar challenges raising a child with a physical disability.

“You feel validated and you feel like belong somewhere,” Gibbons said. “You’re always trying to fit in — here, you don’t have to worry about fitting in.”

The Hewitt family from London, Ont., also relished the countryside retreat in the heart of Northumberland County. Bridget Hewitt’s three-year-old son Austin Cyr has a number of complications, including a congenital heart defect. Most of his young life has been spent in hospital — both at home and at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

“Austin’s one of those kids where you really don’t know what can happen with his health and all that,” Hewitt said. “He can go from zero to 100 and you’re calling EMS. Or he can go back to zero and be playful and moving around like nothing happened.”

She says Camp Moonlight was the family’s first trip together — and a chance to escape the “stressful journey” of those hospital visits while letting her son roam freely to meet new friends.

Austin Cyr with his mother Bridget Hewitt at Camp Moonlight.

“You felt welcome — it was home,” she said. “To meet other families, it has been the greatest thing ever. We were just so lucky we were able to come and that we got selected to come.”

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Among the highlights for them was hydrotherapy sessions — Austin’s first time in a pool with a therapist, she said.

“And he loved it,” Hewitt said. “Another we enjoyed was just being around other families that kind of know what you’re going through.”

The Corcorans hope to have another edition of Camp Moonlight and say it was a “powerful” experience for everyone.

“It really took a village to pull this off but there was so much love, kindness and acceptance,” Nancy said. “So we feel very honoured we could host that here and give these families a chance to spend time with their children and make new friendships and connections and share their stories so that they don’t feel so alone.”

Gibbons and Hewitt say they can’t thank them enough for the hospitality and for the newfound friendships formed.

“They were just so giving and selfless,” Gibbons said. “You can’t put a price on it — the memories we made and experiences and connections and the time we spent here were invaluable.”

“This experience has really shown us that anything is possible when you’re told things aren’t possible,” Hewitt added. “You make it work and you just let these kids live life to the fullest … because honestly, you don’t know what tomorrow brings.”

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— with files from Germain Ma/Global News Peterborough

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