Children
 Canada
Project #6528

Help kids with facial differences become leaders

by AboutFace
Vetted
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

THE REASONS I KEEP COMING BACK TO CAMP TRAILBLAZERS

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!

Links:

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!

My name is Amanda and I’m a long time member of the AboutFace community.  I started attending Camp Trailblazers when I was 13 years old and from that day on, my life had changed.  I have attended camp every year since then, and have been a volunteer camp counselor for the past 5 years. 

Camp Trailblazers offers such a unique experience to so many people’s lives. It is a safe place where every camper and most volunteers are personally affected by a facial difference.   At camp, instead of our differences being the reason we stand out, they are what make us belong.  It is incredible to feel unconditional acceptance and understanding throughout the entire camp program.

A trip to Camp Trailblazers, for many, is the first time campers are given the chance to meet other people with similar facial differences. Often, it is the first time campers realize they are not alone in their experiences or challenges. It might also be the first time they use the words ‘my facial difference…’ while being given an open floor to talk about their experiences with peers, and for many, it is the first time they feel like someone actually understands what they are going through.

The most amazing aspect of Camp Trailblazers, are the strong connections campers make with each other.  Although camp is only once a year for a few short days, campers have the opportunity to make those initial connections with their peers.  Often, after camp is over, they continue to connect with each other throughout the year through social media and in person either on their own or at other AboutFace events. Even if campers can’t reunite throughout the year, when they re-connect at camp the following year, it is amazing to see that they still have a bond!  I have had the opportunity to witness campers standing at opposite sides of the parking lot, seeing each other, and then running in for a great big hug. This is always such a very special moment!  Speaking as a previous camper and as a current volunteer at camp, I can tell you that these connections are unlike any other. I do have a wonderful support system outside of camp, but the relationships I made at Camp Trailblazers will always hold a special place in my heart.

One of my earliest and most favourite memories of Camp Trailblazers is from my very first year at camp. I was hanging out in the cabins with a bunch of my new friends and had mentioned that I recently had a bone graft surgery done from my hip. The next two words felt amazing when 3 (out of 4) others in the room said: “ME TOO!” and we all compared our scars. That ‘me too’ feeling is phenomenal, yet so indescribable. Memories like these are reasons Camp Trailblazers is so valuable to campers.

There are so many other stand-out moments that I have witnessed over the years, especially in the past few years as a volunteer.  One example is when a camper was in tears because she was so nervous to get on the bus to come to camp for the first time. Then, by the end of the weekend, she got up on stage and sang a song she wrote about camp! Amazing!  Another incredible moment was when a camper who has Microtia, faced her fears and wore her hair up for the very first time ever in public revealing her ears, with the support of her AboutFace family all around her.  There are SO many of these heart melting moments that all happen because of Camp Trailblazers. Moments like that are why Camp Trailblazers is such a valuable program to the facial difference community.

 

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Organization Information

AboutFace

Location: North York, Ontario - Canada
Website: http:/​/​www.aboutface.ca
Project Leader:
Anna Pileggi
Executive Director
Toronto, Ontario Canada
$27,548 raised of $65,350 goal
 
 
192 donations
$37,802 to go
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