Where kids get to be kids

13 March 2016 By  Kristen Curtis, The Catholic Register
A camper and staff member at Camp Ozanam A camper and staff member at Camp Ozanam Photo courtesy of ShareLife

Summer camp is often considered a childhood rite of passage, but for many families the outdoor experience is unaffordable. Camp Ozanam for boys and Marygrove Camp for girls helps fill this void.

ShareLife helps fund Camp Ozanam as part of more than $1 million it distributes annually to support various child and youth services.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has operated Camp Ozanam for the past seven years while Marygrove Camp has been run by the society since 1962.

Alan Vale has worked at Camp Ozanam for 16 summers, the past three as camp director.

“Camp Ozanam is a truly special and unique place. I can personally attest that the values of Christ are ever present at this camp through love and charity,” said Vale.

Vale says the camp is important because it takes children out of the city for an experience that would otherwise be unattainable.

“Camp Ozanam allows urban children to experience the beauty and wonders of nature,” he said. “It is an environment that many of our campers are not privy to, and it is wonderful to see them excel in these surroundings.

“For staff, I can tell you that it is truly an eye-opening and heartwarming experience — being able to touch so many lives, as well as have a better appreciation for the struggles that many of our youth go through in their lives.” 

Held at a Scouts Canada campsite in Stouffville, Ont., Camp Ozanam is for boys between the ages of seven-12 whose families are experiencing domestic or financial hardship. There are four seven-day sessions in August with more than 600 boys attending each summer. The camp is named after the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.

Jackie Carlos attended Marygrove Camp as a child. From there, she began working at Marygrove, on Georgian Bay near Penetanguishene, Ont., first as kitchen staff, then a camp counsellor.

“I loved it so much. You just felt cared about and had fun,” said Carlos. “A lot of girls come from really bad situations. When you’re a staff member, you see the impact you have on people. We try to give a sense of community to those girls. We want them to have a good time. There is camaraderie and we show them, this is what a strong woman looks like, this is a role model for you,” said Carlos, now a supervisor for one of St. Vincent de Paul’s community living homes for adults with disabilities.

Louise Coutu is the executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and oversees both Camp Ozanam and Marygrove Camp. Her association with the society began when she was hired as a junior counsellor for Marygrove and held several camp positions prior to becoming camp director.

Coutu believes people should care about Camp Ozanam and Marygrove Camp.

“Children need to encounter new experiences in a safe environment. They need to meet and mix with children outside of their usual circle and experience the care and interaction of young adults. Even just a week away can be a life changer for some children. To play and learn in a beautiful environment, with the influence of young, positive role models is an opportunity that all children should have.”

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