Camp Smitty: Providing a quintessential Canadian experience

This blog was written by Halima Sadia, a public relations student from Algonquin College and intern at Nature Canada.

On June 26th, 2018, I accompanied Jill Sturdy, our Naturehood program Manager on a visit to Camp Smitty located in Eganville, Ontario. My name is Halima Sadia and I am a public relations intern at Nature Canada and I have never been to a summer camp.

Although Canada is blessed with an abundance of natural wonders, many Canadians do not have the luxury of enjoying it. This is especially true for new Canadian families. Since 1923, the Boys and Girls Club has provided a safe and supportive place where children and youth can experience new opportunities, overcome barriers, build positive relationships and develop confidence and skills for life.

Every summer, Camp Smitty hosts four 10-day camps, where children and youth discover their dreams and grow up to be healthy, successful and active participants of society. Camp Smitty is a free summer camp offered to children who wouldn’t otherwise have the means to attend. Many of these families are new residents to Canada and in some cases, refugees. 

During our visit, the Camp Manager, Rosie Warden, gathered all the senior staff and counselors for Jill’s presentation. The  objective was to train the camp counselors on our NatureHood DIY NatureBlitz toolkit. The Toolkit is straightforward and can be helpful for every age group. The Nature Blitz is a fun educational experience that puts you in control of observing nature in a given area. The objective is to help the campers learn more about the natural world and learn to identify common birds and plants found at camp, which they can take home and expand their knowledge about local biodiversity and share with their friends and family. Materials required; checklist, pencil and of course, nature. 

The purpose of our NatureHood program is to connect urban Canadians to nearby nature, and get people — especially children — outside and active right where they live. We are hoping that by exploring the nature around us, we can shape the minds of the next generation to respect and care for it. Nature Canada has provided Camp Smitty with all the tools required to make a it a summer of nature exploration. We even provided materials in Arabic, so campers can share it with their families when they get home. 

Thanks to a grant provided by the Ottawa Community Foundation, the goal of this project is to incorporate NatureHood activities at Camp Smitty, and provide nature-based learning opportunities to help kids at camp foster a relationship with nature. For many kids this will be an introduction to nature-based exploratory learning.

There are many benefits to spending time in nature including promoting mental and physical health and overall well-being. While participants will be immersed in nature during their time at camp, there is currently no nature-based programming. The NatureHood camp program will help fill this gap, and fit well with the Boys and Girls Club “Outdoor Enthusiasts” theme, one of multiple themes the camp kids choose.

After the presentation, the Senior staff (many of whom work at the BGCO Clubhouses) were also excited to explore ways they can incorporate NatureHood programming during the school-year. We hope that his project serves as a template for other Boys and Girls Clubs across Canada to adopt.

Growing up in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, I had never been to summer camp, and had no clue what I was getting into when we first arrived at the camp. It was lunchtime so we headed to the dining room where we were greeted by the Camp’s Assistant Manager, Matt Singer. That’s when I heard the loud chanting so I peeped into the hall to see tables filled with camp counselors, singing their lunch call as they formed a line into the kitchen. I made my way to the back of the line, about to experience my first camp meal. What I was picking up was a sense of unity and fun and I wanted in. I sat down with the Senior staff and they explained how the camp works, common rules to follow and all the fun activities they had planned out for the campers. After lunch I was lucky enough to get a private tour of the camp and learned about all the activities that take place. At one point I looked at Jill and said,

 

“Thank you for bringing me along on this trip because even though my time to be a camper has passed, I can appreciate how much summer camp can help you grow. I am grateful to be out in nature in a safe place surrounded by people who are determined to make this a memorable experience.“

 

So today I am going to leave you with a couple things I learned about Camp Smitty and hopefully this serves as a summer camp guide to you.

    1. Beat the heat. Hydrate yourself, challenge yourself to drink 3L of water every day. Remember that animals feel the heat as well, so be mindful of bees, birds and other animals you might encounter at camp. Notify your counselors right away so they can take the necessary steps.
    2. Meet your new role models. Be ready to meet campers, counselors and staff from different walks of life. Being a camp counselor is no easy job but over the next couple weeks, they will become your friend, mentor and most importantly role model.
    3. Time flies. You would think that two weeks is a long time but when you are having fun, time moves quickly. It’s important to be present and live in the moment. It’s the best way to make the most out of your experience over the summer! Get excited before every activity (even laundry!)
    4. Nurture Nature. Be kind to the nature around you and don’t litter. You don’t have to stop learning just because it’s summer. Use this as an opportunity to learn something new about nature and the animals around you every day. Use Nature Canada’s NatureBlitz for some outdoor activities.
    5. Expect to leave the camp as a completely different person. By the time you get on the bus and head back home, reflect on everything you have learned, all the new experiences and memories and the amazing people. The things you learned over the summer will have a profound impact on you; the way you live your life, what you care about, and the way you see others. You may not even realize it, but a summer at camp will change you for the better!

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