Most of the campers saw it, a green and brown creature with skin like moss.
Since the first sighting, theories have erupted. Some believe it came from across Squamish River. Others are adamant it comes in peace. Fuelling speculation, the monster-like thing ran through the cafeteria.
This week’s theme at the Squamish Easter Seals Camp is Gilligan’s Island, said the camp’s programming coordinator, Louise Lockhart on Thursday (July 12). But it’s quickly turned into Pirates of the Caribbean, she notes, as the blockbuster’s theme song blasts out of speakers placed on the lawn.
“You never know where the campers will lead (the storyline),” Lockhart said. “Yesterday, the campers drew what the bad guy looked like. They’re posting the pictures around the camp today.”
While the camp’s themes are usually wacky and wild, the idea behind them helps solidify the facility’s goals — creating a sense of belonging. Last year, close to 900 youths with a wide range of disabilities attended the British Columbia Easter Seals Camps in Squamish, Shawnigan and Winfield.
Sharoo Kanwar was one of them. And he’s back again.
“Every time I’ve been here it’s pretty surreal,” 15-year-old said.
What makes the place so special is its counsellors and their attitudes, Kanwar said. The B.C. Lions Society, which operates the camps, started the program in 1968, opening the Squamish camp in 1972. The camps are designed to be fully accessible and, each summer, children with disabilities are invited free of charge.
“Here they make it work,” he said.
By that, Kanwar means everybody, no matter their disability, tries everything. Squamish’s 33-acre site includes a giant wheelchair friendly tree house, swimming pool, climbing wall and circus-style swing.
Kanwar, who is afflicted with coordination difficulties, has used all of them. It’s a new experience, he said, noting that at school there are activities he has to sit out.
“I wasn’t able to do some of the sports,” Kanwar said.
People are becoming more accepting of diversity, he believes, noting the popular T.V. show Glee had an episode focusing on a girl with special needs. Kanwar wants to spread that sentiment. He plans to take the Easter Seals’ Leader in Training program — an initiative for 19 to 25 year olds. Once Kanwar has completed that, he aims to volunteer at the camp.
“Here you don’t have to try and fit in,” Kanwar said.
There is a difference between inclusion and acceptance, said Cheryl Williams, the camp administrator. At the camp, the goal is to take it to the next level and really celebrate individuals, she said, adding it’s youth like Kanwar that make the place so magical.
“[The campers] are pretty spectacular,” Williams said.
Last week marked one of the larger groups at the Squamish site, with 54 campers. While the program tries to fit in every request, unfortunately, every year there’s a wait list, Williams noted.
The B.C. Lions Society supports the program to the tune of $2,400 per camper. Fundraising runs year-round with the Easter Seals 24hr Relay in the summer and the Terra Cotta Warriors Public Art Project, which involves businesses purchasing painted orcas, bears and eagles.
On the Squamish camp’s front lawn, under the giant gathering tree, gaggles of youth — some dressed in pirate hats and colourful capes — are busy setting up a trap to capture the creature. Tennis rackets hang from the tree’s limbs, along with sacks and ropes.
“I remember reading the job posting,” Williams said. “It said ‘Do you want to spend your summer dressed in fairy wings and acting like a ninja?’ I just couldn’t stop coming back.”
For more information on the Easter Seals camps visit www.eastersealscamps.ca.