By Lucinda Hage
The story appeared in MacLean’s magazine in the November 4th, 2008 edition. Winner of the Imagine Canada, Reflection Story award in 2008.
My son Paul is putting his warm socks and a sweater in his bag. Tomorrow he is going to Camp Wanakita in Haliburton with his buddy Alex for the fall cleanup. It’s a great way for Paul to give back to the place where he has been a camper and volunteer for twelve years.
This is the latest in a long list of benefits our family has experienced thanks to Paul’s involvement with Reach for the Rainbow. As I look back on the last decade, the impact integrated camping has made on Paul’s emotional and psychological development has been truly astounding.
Paul wasn’t an easy kid to raise. His neurological condition, Tuberous Sclerosis Complex, brought with it a difficult seizure disorder, a significant intellectual disability, autistic behaviour and aggressiveness. This left Paul isolated from the kids in our neighbourhood and placed him in a segregated class in school. The Boy Scouts didn’t want him and neither did the Sunday school.
For self preservation and with the help of Reach for the Rainbow, I enrolled Paul at Camp Wanakita when he was ten years old. That first summer, I asked his counsellor if he was the only one working with Reach campers. Oh no, he replied. I have to alternate with other counsellors – everyone wants a Rainbow kid!
Excuse me. Are you saying you want Paul? I could feel a weight lift from my chest as a smile filled my face.
Every summer since then and some March breaks in between, Paul was treated like a regular kid. His role models were well trained young counsellors and the campers who accepted and valued him for who he is. They encouraged him to try new things, come out of his isolating shell, have fun and celebrate the joys of summer – without parents!
Now that Paul is twenty two, I have a deeper appreciation of how camp helped Paul develop his feelings of self worth. From an early age he learned to trust his Reach counsellors and the entire camp experience. He learned how to interact appropriately with his peers and to believe in himself. Each summer Paul grew a little more and so did my expectations of him.
The positive experiences of camp contributed to other opportunities for Paul. When he was sixteen he was hired by Parks Canada as a summer student to work on the Trent Severn Waterway. Paul is still there and he is now referred to as a ‘canalie’ – one of the ‘guys’. He had his first holiday without parents - a week on a houseboat with other young adults. This year Paul was hired part time by the Holiday Inn. With the support of a job coach he not only does a good job vacuuming, his positive attitude motivates other employees.
In the early years our family life was like a roller coaster. There was, however, one constant – each summer Reach for the Rainbow enabled Paul to go to camp – to a place where he belonged.
My heart is filled with gratitude to this organization. I could write more about how camp benefited my sanity and my marriage but space and time constraints prevent it. Besides, we still have some packing to do: Hey Paul, don’t forget your sleeping bag!