Kids and counsellors from the Sign Language Summer Program take a break during one of their field trips at the 2017 day camp in Toronto. About 80 children will be attending this year’s Sign Language Summer Program, which has been running for 44 years. Photo courtesy Silent Voice

ShareLife adds some sunshine to summer

By  Jacklyn Gilmor, Catholic Register Special
  • June 28, 2018
Silent Voice Sign Language Summer Program, 2016. Youtube

Amos Lee couldn’t get enough of summer camp.

So when he passed the age limit (14) for the children’s day camp run by Silent Voice, an organization that supports the deaf community in Toronto, he simply returned as a counsellor.

“It was a really amazing experience,” said Lee of the years he spent as a camper in the Sign Language Summer Program (SLSP), which is supported by ShareLife, the Archdiocese of Toronto’s annual campaign to help those in need. 

While at a school for the deaf in Milton, Ont., Lee, now 16, said it was difficult for him to connect with people from other backgrounds. However, when he came to SLSP, he was able to meet peers from all different backgrounds who were also deaf. 

“The camp has helped me learn social skills and ... integrate with lots of different people, (which) was really important for me,” said Lee, whose parents are also deaf.

Silent Voice is one of 31 social service agencies that receive help from ShareLife. This year’s campaign, which ends July 31, is within sight of its $13.6 million goal for parishes, but was still $2.3 million short of target as July began. Last year’s parish campaign raised a record $12.7 million.

“We’re very blessed to have a very generous parish community in Toronto,” said ShareLife executive director Arthur Peters, “and they’ve always responded to the call to help the needs of others.”

The Silent Voice camp runs for seven weeks, helping children who are deaf or hard of hearing to learn American Sign Language while doing activities like swimming, crafts and sports. 

“I’m excited to meet the new campers and tell them about deaf culture, and my experience, and share my own language and background,” said Lee.

Last year, Silent Voice received $234,729 from ShareLife, with the majority of funds going toward the camp, said Silent Voice executive director Kelly MacKenzie.

About 80 children will be attending this year’s camp being held at Dallington Public School.

“It’s the only camp of its kind,” MacKenzie said. “Deaf kids get to go, use their language (and) have fun in it … it’s a barrier-free camp.” 

Another camp receiving ShareLife support is Camp Ozanam in South River, Ont., about 300 kilometres north of Toronto. Run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, it is for underprivileged boys ages seven to 12. 

Peters recalls hearing about one boy who arrived at Camp Ozanam with only a bag of chips — no clothes or personal belongings. The staff purchased everything he needed for his week’s stay. “This is an opportunity for boys who come from difficult home situations ... some of them have never been to summer camp,” Peters said. 

The camp runs from July 21 to Aug. 29 and is expecting about 550 participants. “Even if it’s a week, it’s pretty life-changing,” said Louise Coutu, who directs the camp. 

This year, ShareLife allocated $210,000 to the camp. “It’s so important that ShareLife has provided the funding,” said Coutu. “I don’t know if we could have Camp Ozanam without that.”

“This is what we believe in,” said Peters. “We believe in helping others and providing for the greater needs of those around us.” 

To donate to ShareLife visit

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