About – Our History
The Reason. It has been quite a journey.
From identified need... to idea... to pilot... to the first camp.
By Kathi Sheriko
My boys and I have been fortunate to have many gifts in our lives. We have each other and through adversity we have been given the gift of not taking anything for granted. We know that although it is a challenging way to acquire insight, chronic illness has a positive side to it. My soul-mate and the boy’s father was diagnosed with a brain tumor when Jordan was turning 4, Jeffrey was 20 months and we were expecting our third son Matthew. He was told by the neurosurgeon in Halifax that there was nothing that could be done and he had less than 2 months to live. We were also involved in a serious car accident within a month of Tom’s ﬁrst seizure. The accident left me with mobility issues and chronic pain. It also created some moments of comic relief. It was a task to convince the nurses at the Montreal Neurological Hospital that the tall healthy looking guy was the one checking into the hospital, and not the pregnant woman in a wheelchair with two full leg casts.
By the time Matthew was born, I had graduated to crutches and Tom was in the middle of radiation therapy. It was a challenging time, but with the support of family and friends we were able to make the most of the opportunities we had. For the trips to see Tom’s surgeon in Montreal, we would focus in on the opportunity to see the Expos play and not the dire predictions of the course of his illness. Jordan’s primary teacher chuckled as she showed us his drawing of his family – complete with a daddy who had a very interesting head (as a result of the uneven hair re-growth from radiation). A vendor in the Montreal subway once asked Tom where he had his hair done! It must have been strange if it stood out in downtown Montreal. Tom lived almost 19 years with this disease, until August 30, 2007.
Living with the unpredictability and effects of illness, the treatments, and its outcome has given us an opportunity. My sons are unique individuals with big hearts who are extraordinarily close and supportive of one another. They have strived to reach their potential and have valued all the opportunities they have been given.
Jordan and I conceived the idea of a camp and were developing it when I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. This helped to give us focus and determination throughout my treatment. In fact, we received support from the nurses in the chemotherapy unit at the cancer centre as we drew them into our idea. Despite the uncertainty and challenges the boys have had, they are never bitter but have accomplished much with their young lives because of their circumstances and not in spite of it. That is the premise of Camp Triumph.
The camp provides an opportunity for children dealing with a family member who has a chronic illness to come together in an environment of support and understanding and to develop a positive outlook on their circumstance. They are exposed to role models who lead by example. They gain relief from knowing that there are others who truly understand the conﬂicting emotions and the strain of worry and uncertainty and the sacriﬁces not faced by most of their peers.
To launch the camp was to follow an idea; the desire and effort to develop it and make it sustainable has been validated by those who have been involved. It has been truly amazing to watch young people, some of whom I’ve known since they were toddlers, jump in wholeheartedly to give of themselves. The unselﬁsh commitment they have given to make Camp Triumph a reality is extraordinary. Equally amazing are the adults who gave their vacation time to work long, demanding hours under challenging conditions. For these remarkable gifts, we are forever thankful. We know that they are also valued by the children for which the camp serves. One 14-year-old brought that point home to me when she asked if we were getting new T- shirts for the next year’s camp. When I assured her that we were, she said emphatically, “That’s good because mine is up on the wall of my bedroom and it is never coming down.”
Moving Towards Sustainability
By Jordan Sheriko
With the overwhelming response from parents, campers, health professionals, and educators, it is clear that Camp Triumph has a tremendous impact on an under served population.
Since its beginning in 2005 over 325 children have been able to experience Camp Triumph. In those four years it has been continually verified that this camp has an important role to play. The camp is the first in Atlantic Canada to offer a free camp specifically to children who have a family member with a chronic illness or disability. Families who are dealing with chronic illness continually tell us how overjoyed they are that the impact of chronic illness on the whole family is finally being recognized. The enthusiasm of everyone who has been involved in Camp Triumph over the years has affirmed the need to make this camp sustainable.
We began our first year with one week of camp. On the success of that first camp we added a leadership camp and now this past year we climbed to three weeks of camp to give 176 children a week of fun. With Camp Triumph relatively unknown throughout the Maritimes we began 2008 with an effort to get the word out to the many families across our region who live with chronic illness everyday. We met with guidance counsellors, doctors, nurses, and social workers. So many times we heard from them their excitement at finally having something to offer these families. They immediately understood the importance of providing this opportunity to children who are not themselves ill but are none the less significantly impacted by the illness in their family.
When camp rolled around this past summer we filled all three weeks of camp and unfortunately had more inquiries than we could accommodate. Not being able to meet the needs of those families inquiring about camp and knowing that there are many more families that we haven’t reached is one reason that has spurred us on to achieve sustainability.
Another factor that keeps us going and keeps pushing us to make this happen, is the feedback from parents and campers. Being able to witness the transformations in the campers in just one week is an incredible experience. We receive countless emails from parents telling us how grateful they are that they have the opportunity to send their children to our camp. They describe the transformations they have seen in their children when they return from camp. They are more happy, more willing to talk about difficult things, are making new friends, and doing better in school. As staff we are lucky enough to see the impact our camp has on these children. We see them go from saying “I’m never getting in a kayak” to “Ok, but only if you take me in the double” to “can we please stay out longer, I love it!”. The campers are able to let loose for a week, have fun, and not feel the constant pressure and stress of worrying and guilt they experience everyday. They meet other children that are going through the same things and they realize for the first time they are not alone.
Our goal for 2009 is to take a significant step towards making Camp Triumph sustainable. We have identified the need and are now striving to meet that need. The first step will be acquiring land and beginning to build our own permanent facility. Our aim for this coming summer is to have the essential buildings built, which would include the kitchen and dining hall and washroom facilities. This would enable us to once again offer our Leadership Camp and three weeks of camp this summer.
We are currently working on plans for our facility. It will be designed to maximize the land and provide campers with a safe and inviting atmosphere. It will be a place that will inspire and rejuvenate, and allow us to continue to offer dynamic programming to our campers. Our facility will also be environmentally friendly, merging the latest in design and technology to minimize our carbon footprint while preserving the natural beauty of the land.
This will be the most significant project we have undertaken to date and it won’t be without many challenges. However, with the strength of the Camp Triumph family and the support of government, businesses, and organizations we will be able to achieve our goals.
Putting Down Roots
Camp Triumph began as an idea. An idea that was born out of the experience of living with a terminally ill family member. Camp Triumph was created to support children, and their families, who have a family member with a chronic illness or disability. Having a sibling or parent with a serious illness has a significant impact on children and is most often not recognized or understood. Our idea was to create a place where the “typical”, or “healthy” child in the family, could come to have a week free of stress and worry, and meet other children going through similar issues. A place to have fun. A place all about them. Camp Triumph is about the campers, the volunteers, and the magic that happens over one week of camp. Our facility is a place where we come together. A place where fun happens. A place where these kids get to be kids and let go of the stresses they experience for the other 51 weeks of the year.
From humble beginnings in 2005, our facility has evolved to meet the ever growing demand of our population. In our pilot year of 2005, 41 campers attended camp, which was held at the old Great Island Science and Adventure Park in Cavendish, PEI. Campers and staff slept in two big wedding tents packed in like sardines. With each year came increased demand and the need for a facility that could accommodate that need. Over our next three summers we continued to expand, which meant we had to move around to different facilities that could handle a group of our size. By 2008, Camp Triumph had expanded to offer 3 week-long camps plus a leadership camp, welcoming over 60 campers each week. With registration filling up earlier each year and our waiting list growing longer, it was apparent Camp Triumph needed to find a permanent location that could meet the growing demand. There were no rental facilities that would meet our need, so we set out to find our own home. In February of 2009, the PEI government came on board with a grant of land for Camp Triumph to call home.
Knowing that after four years of successful camps behind us and the many families counting on Camp Triumph each year, feverish preparations were started to ensure our new facility in Malpeque, PEI, would be ready for the 2009 summer. Work was begun, meeting with our volunteer kitchen staff, senior camp staff, and architecture students to put together ideas for what was needed in our facility. A plan was devised to build our facility in stages so that camp could continue each year without interruption.
Phase one was constructing the dining hall, kitchen, and washroom facilities. With the help of the Canadian military providing tents, camp was able to proceed after phase one of construction. The process of building the facility was a challenging one that had many obstacles along the way, but true to Camp Triumph, we persevered. Many volunteers, both from the local community and from further afield, poured their energy into the project to ensure it was ready for campers in just two short months. While the building was certainly not finished before camp started in August, it was ready enough to welcome campers.
Phase two of the building project began on the heels of phase one. Six cabins for the campers and counsellors were built during the winter of 2010 by Holland College. The school of carpentry was supported in the project by the electrical, and cabinet making programs. This was a project of which the instructors and students were very proud and it has made a lasting impact on Camp Triumph.
Phase 3 of the project was supported by a grant from the Aviva Community Development Fund to build our main lodge. Construction began on the lodge in May and the builders took great pride in their work. In order to have the lodge completed in time for camp, the building crew worked incrediblylong hours. Supported by a generous grant from Peter Kohler Windows and Doors, we also renovated the dining hall to alleviate the design flaws that existed previously. This renovation improved the integrity of the building, to withstand harsh winter storms. We now have good ventilation and views allowing for a much more pleasant eating experience for our campers.
Phase 4 of development for the facility saw the addition of another campers' cabin to meet the growing demand, as well as a staff cabin. This staff cabin houses our summer-long core staff and provides a place for staff to relax in their off time. The staff cabin is named Ryan’s Retreat in honour of Ryan Rogerson. Ryan was supportive from the beginning of Camp Triumph and instrumental through the building phase. He led his team of students at Holland College in building our cabins. He was also a key part of the lodge building team. Sadly, he passed away suddenly. He will always be remembered at Camp Triumph for his big heart.
A multipurpose surface for basketball, hockey, and tennis, a boathouse, mini golf course, rock climbing wall, and low ropes course rounded out this phase of construction providing Camp Triumph with a top notch camp facility. Our permanent facility has ensured that Camp Triumph will continue to offer our unique program to this often overlooked population.
We certainly owe a lot of thanks to all our supporters including: The Great Island Adventure Park, Camp Keir, and Camp Buchan on PEI for giving us temporary homes in our early years; the Province of PEIfor believing in this project and finding us a permanent home; Spring Valley Building Center for their wealth of expertise and their hard work in getting the materials that we needed, when we needed them; Aviva for their generous contribution to our lodge; Peter Kohler Windows and Doors for their contributions to the lodge and our dining hall; Captured Stone Impressions, for their generous donation of materials for the magnificent fireplace; Greg MacEwan of Precise Plumbing and AG Electrical for their contributions: Dan Viau, of The Toy Factory, for the terrific signs; Brian MacIssac, Quality Construction, and his crew of Red Seal carpenter Ryan Rogerson, Paul, Alex, Brian, Matthew Sheriko, and to the MacIsaac family, Celine, Kyle, and Jake.
None of this would have been possible without the many volunteers who have helped in all aspects of the construction project. A special thanks to Malpeque for welcoming Camp Triumph so warmly into the community. As a result of all those who contributed, the Camp Triumph facility is a welcoming and warm environment that provides an inviting atmosphere, which is both functional and attractive.