‘More of a home than my actual home’

February 22, 2023 | Focus on Camps | Volume 27 Issue 4
Willowgrove Inc.
Bancroft, Ont.
Three 2022 Fraser Lake Camp staffers, from left to right—Edlyn Laneva, Zoe Suderman, Gaelle Cineus—offer fist bumps to the campers. (Photo by Shadrack Jackman-McKenzie)

A long, long time ago—way back in 1955—Fraser Lake Camp was born in the hearts and minds of three Mennonite pastors: Emerson McDowell, John H. Hess and Glen Brubacher.

Their vision was to provide a life-changing, rural camping experience for urban kids. The hope was that even one week of camp could leave a child with such a feeling of acceptance that their lives—by proxy, their communities—would be forever changed.

This was very much true for Melissa Parkhurst, who now serves as Fraser Lake’s director. “When I began my role in December of 2022, it truly felt like coming home. I had to pinch myself and thank God for the chance to serve my community in this role,” she says.

Parkhurst, who served at Fraser Lake for many summers, attributes her own sense of self-confidence and leadership to having worked at camp, a large reason why she wanted to return. “Every time we conduct staff interviews, I try to remain focused on this ‘life changing’ goal . . . on how to develop our leaders and programs in ways that foster this sense of community and belonging,” she says

As with many camp communities, much of Fraser Lake’s staffing base is comprised of past campers: young people who want to give back to the community for accepting them, and for positively shaping their lives. This leadership cycle is incredibly valuable to the camp’s culture, especially given the diversity of its campers.

Today, it’s estimated that approximately 25 percent of Fraser Lake’s campers come from marginalized groups, including children living within the Foster Care or Children’s Aid systems; campers with special needs or who require additional behavioural supports; or simply kids from low-income communities.

Many of these campers are sponsored by Fraser Lake’s Hand-in-Hand Subsidy Program. Every year, the camp collects donations to support families facing financial barriers, and ensure that kids can experience a life-changing summer regardless of their home situation. Because these young people grow up to become leaders themselves, this helps to ensure that the staff reflect the diversity of their campers.

Often, Hand-in-Hand donations are accompanied by messages. One standout from 2022 was a small donation, with a big note. It read: “This camp has always been more of a home to me than my actual home.” There simply is not a better sentence to capture the life-changing impacts of Fraser Lake Camp.

Three 2022 Fraser Lake Camp staffers, from left to right—Edlyn Laneva, Zoe Suderman, Gaelle Cineus—offer fist bumps to the campers. (Photo by Shadrack Jackman-McKenzie)

Conor Mcloughlin, a Fraser Lake counsellor last year, and his camper get ready to take a trip in a time machine. (Photo by Shadrack Jackman-McKenzie)

A Fraser Lake cabin at dinner in 2022. Counsellor Gwynneth Kolbold is pictured at back left, and Haram Jeon, a counsellor/lifeguard is pictured centre right. (Photo by Shadrack Jackman-McKenzie)

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