Project #6528

Help kids with facial differences become leaders

by AboutFace

Written by Duncan's mom Alison
Duncan is a 13-year-old boy with Sturge Weber Syndrome. He is in Grade 8, is a competitive swimmer, and has attended Camp Trailblazers the past two years.

If you ask Duncan about his earliest memory, he will say, “The Boat on Lake Sunapee!” Since he was a baby, we have traveled to New Hampshire every summer to swim, hike and to go on The Boat. When he became old enough to attend Camp Trailblazers, his first concern was missing this annual adventure. The dates don’t overlap of course, but if they did, now, after only two years he may have a real dilemma. That is how much he loves Camp!

As an infant, Duncan started his hospital and doctor visits when he was only 3 weeks old. We knew something was ‘different’ the moment he was born. His face was ‘bruised’ and we were concerned something had happened. The incredible doctors at SickKids in Toronto, informed us the bruising was a port wine stain, and that led us down the path to a diagnosis of Sturge Weber Syndrome. This involves a number of different things: glaucoma; strokes and seizures; and his birthmark.

We always knew he would need to find a place where his difference was celebrated. Not just a normal part of other kids’ every day, but a true celebration of how unique and beautiful he truly is. That’s where Camp Trailblazers has come and changed his perception. His worry for himself has diminished, not simply because he hasn’t been bullied, but because he has been welcomed and loved by so many kids and adults, who are just as unique, just as beautiful!

Talking to Duncan about Camp Trailblazers, the first thing you notice is his body language. He sits up straight and says, “It’s way better than Annie’s camp. It allows both genders and it accepts kids who are different.” He loves archery and of course the swimming, but his favourite part is sleeping over and living the day to day with kids like him. His friends from camp come up in random conversations throughout the year. He is thinking about camp ALL the time.

As Duncan finishes Grade 8, his big concern is high school and being treated like an adult, when he’s “just a kid.” He worries about meeting new kids and being in a school where they might look at him funny. This is when he wishes his face was ‘normal’. But if you press him about it, he will say, “I actually love my face. Without my face, I couldn’t go to Camp Trailblazers. Camp Trailblazers is the best!”

August and Camp Director
August and Camp Director

Can I Go Back To Camp Trailblazers Next Year?
By: Jeannie (Mother of 10 year old camper)

My daughter is 10 years old and recently attended Camp Trailblazers for the first time. We received the information for camp from the Cleft Palate Clinic in Hamilton, where August got her cleft lip and palate repair. I mentioned it to August and she was very interested in going to the camp.

When it was finally time for camp, we waited eagerly in Barrie for the bus to arrive. Once the bus arrived I began to worry that August might get cold feet going off somewhere strange by herself, but when the bus stopped, the most wonderful person came out and straight over to August and said, "Hi August!”. We found out the August was the newbie so it was easy for Colleen to recognize her. We were amazed at how friendly everyone was, so thank you Colleen, for making her feel relaxed and welcomed! Next, we were worried that she would hesitate to get on the bus, but she grabbed her stuff, loaded it on the back of the bus, gave us each a big hug and kiss and she got on right away! We stood there waiting for about 10 minutes, then the bus started to leave and we waved goodbye, hoping she would have a good time.

On a Tuesday afternoon, once again in Barrie, I waited for the bus to return. There it was pulling into the parking lot, and I was getting excited to see August and hear about her experiences. She ran off the bus straight towards me, and with not even a hello she blurted out, "Can I go next year???" All the way home, I got to hear her delightful experiences at camp. She was truly amazed that there were others with cleft lip and palate – even though we go to the hospital clinic, she has never met anyone else like her. She wears her Camp Trailblazers t-shirt at least 3 days of the week. She even did a project at school on Camp Trailblazers. When I look at the pictures that have been posted of camp, she looks a bit quiet and reserved, but she insists that she had the best time ever! I have started a scrapbook of her experiences at Camp Trailblazers, so she can look back on her memories in the years to come. Thank you Camp Trailblazers and AboutFace for being there for her and all the other children! See you next year!

Alexandra and camp friends!
Alexandra and camp friends!

My name is Alexandra and I am 11 years old. Let me start by saying that I LOVE Camp Trailblazers. This will be my third year attending. It’s totally awesomely amazing because I make new friends, meet new people, and reconnect with old friends. In the past, I’ve been known to describe Camp Trailblazers as my favourite place on earth. This is true! In fact, I love Camp Trailblazers so much that I could live there all year. I actually don’t even mind not having wifi!

It all begins with the bus trip. It’s crazytown!! Wait, let me stop right there and leave it at that – some things are better left as a secret! One thing I can tell you is we’re all so excited that we can hardly contain ourselves on that bus. Once we are there, it gets even better because they feed us and there is so much to do. I can’t even begin to pick what my favourite activities are because I love them all. I do have a soft spot for art, swimming, and the discussion groups. We all get together in small groups and talk about our facial differences, about the surgeries we’ve been through, and other things. We talk about bullying and learning how to advocate for ourselves. It’s actually the best week of the year because we’re learning new ways to handle things that pop up in everyday life, and we learn we’re not the only ones with a facial difference.

The people at AboutFace have become like family. I love hanging out with my friends and it’s also so much fun hanging out with the counsellors like Amanda, Mel and Colleen. They’re funny, kind and treat us with a lot of respect. I can’t wait until I’m old enough to volunteer as a counselor at Camp Trailblazers.

Thank you to everyone that helps to make Camp Trailblazers happen every year from the bottom of my heart.

Alexandra and her family
Alexandra and her family
Christine and friends from camp
Christine and friends from camp


Story by: Christine De la Cruz

The first time I went to camp in 2007, I did not know what I was in for. All I really knew was that we were doing camp activities. I did not know about the close relationships that I would form with all of the other campers, who I now call some of my best friends. Due to the excitement I had and all of the new friends I made that first year, I kept coming back every year since.

Going to this camp changed my life entirely and in a fantastic way too. What is camp without challenging but exciting camp activities? I love the activities Circle Square Ranch gave us to do. Above all however, my top three favourites would have to be rock climbing, horseback riding and the epic game of capture the flag on one of the nights. Every year, I set a goal for myself. This year in particular was special for me, since I had just come back from jaw surgery over the summer. My two goals were to attempt to do all these activities despite my condition, and to climb the rock wall in less than 5 minutes. I did not let my condition stop me from enjoying myself, and I successfully achieved my goals: I hopped on a horse and rode the trail and I climbed the rock wall in less than 3 minutes.

Another reason that I keep coming back every year is to reconnect with old friends but also make many new ones. At camp, I was never afraid to share my experiences or stories, and I always loved hearing other peoples’ experiences. I loved getting advice on how to handle what I’m going through. As well, I love how nobody at camp is judgemental and everybody is a good listener and supporter. I even spilled a personal story during talk time. Although I was hesitant at first, I did not regret it, because I got good advice in the end. This year, I developed a closer relationship with old friends, and made a lot of new ones, and I’m sure these new friendships will last just as long as the old ones.

Camp Trailblazers is a place filled with comfort, love and grace. It’s not just any ordinary camp; it’s a place where everybody feels like a champ. It was three days filled with tons of fun! Activities were completed in the rain and under the sun. It was a place to reconnect with everyone and make new friends. I never wanted this weekend to end! I am very happy I got the chance to come to camp this year, after weeks of persuading my parents. I love coming every year, and this year, I enjoyed every second of it! Choosing to go to camp in 2007 was never a mistake, and will never be something I ever regret, because I made many wonderful memories and now have amazing friends! I cannot wait until next year!


What a Year at Camp Trailblazers!

By Colleen Wheatley

What a year! We began our 2015 Camp Trailblazers season in May with our 2nd West Coast Family Camp Trailblazers at Camp Fircom on Gambier Island, BC. It was great to reconnect with friends who attended last year’s camp and also welcome new families to the experience. We kicked off the weekend with a presentation by inspirational humorist David Roche that set the theme for a weekend of sharing stories with each other. We had 20 campers, ranging from young family members to adults of all ages and it was a great opportunity to share experiences and learn from each other. Of course, we were also able to sneak in some time for archery, fun on the water and gagaball too.

In June, we held the Adult Retreat which is our adult version of Camp Trailblazers. Once again, old friends greeted each other while we embraced eight new attendees (a new record!). We shared stories and photos from our past and childhood, and discussed hopes for our future as well as the wider facial difference community. Some of us were even brave enough to face the mosquitos for a hike (which turned into a race with our buzzing friends), while the rest of us enjoyed a leisurely boat cruise around the lake thanks to our hosts at Pow Wow Lodge in Huntsville, ON. The weekend flew by, but it can be agreed that we definitely made the most of our time together.

A busy August began with Camp Trailblazers at Brigadoon Village, NS. Here, we had our smallest group, with 13 campers, but we were able to solidify comradery within the group and continue previous year’s conversations on shared experiences of living with a facial difference. One highlight of the session was the talent show when campers got up on stage for rap battles, dance numbers, songs and special talents. In the summer heat we spent plenty of time in the water, having fun splashing each other at our outdoor carnival, and of course the campers would never miss the opportunity to get the camp staff messy!

This year was our second summer at Easter Seals Camp Woodeden for our Ontario Camp Trailblazers. We had an amazing team of local volunteers who were eager to support our campers and join in the fun themselves. We had several new campers join us for the first time, although it would have been difficult to spot the newbies from the veterans as everyone was eager to join in the fun right from the first day! Campers rotated through various programming options and then were free to choose to spend time on activities like the high ropes, practicing the arts, sports or joining in AboutFace discussions around relationships and self-advocacy. Campers were also treated to a screening of “A New Reflection” (directed by one of our camp alumni Pauline Beal, and featuring several campers). Campers enjoyed sending volunteers to kangaroo court, sharing their talents on stage and ending the experience with a BBQ and dance party on the last day.

Next, we had our first ever Family Camp Trailblazers in Newfoundland and Labrador. Summer arrived on the Rock just in time at Lion Max Simms Memorial Camp where we had five first time families as well as a few veteran campers. This camp gave parents the opportunity to share experiences and strategies to support their children as well as a Q&A with an experienced camper. Campers spent their time on the playground, getting messy with arts and crafts, and splashing in the pool. We enjoyed getting to know each other around the campfire and even had some special karaoke performances from the group. New friendships were made and we’ll all be counting down until we get to do it all over again next year!

Our final Camp Trailblazers took place in September at Camp Arnes in Manitoba where we also had the addition of seven campers joining us from Saskatchewan! This camp keeps growing every year and we had a total of 23 campers this year. Campers took time to share some of the challenges associated with having a facial difference as well as some of the benefits, such as getting to meet each other at camp. Campers climbed the rock wall and high ropes, rode horses, and found other furry friends around camp. We had an epic game of survival in the woods and discovered who could outrun the elements while finding food and water. On our final night, we were treated to “Camp Trailblazers Has Talent” with jokes, stories, magic tricks, dancing and skits (we have a talented crew). We had a session full of games, good conversations, smiles, and a little bit of chaos. It was a great finale to another amazing Camp Trailblazers season!

A special thank you to all of our donors and volunteers who make Camp Trailblazers possible each year!


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Organization Information


Location: North York, Ontario - Canada
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Anna Pileggi
Executive Director
Toronto, Ontario Canada
2016 Year End Campaign
Time left to give
$27,608 raised of $65,350 goal
195 donations
$37,742 to go
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