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Summer Camps Guide

Camp Health, Hope & Happiness

March 6th, 2017

Camp Health, Hope & Happiness Society is a not-for-profit, non-denominational organization situated on Lake Isle in Northern Alberta funded by public support. The camp exists to provide safe and rewarding recreational opportunities to children and adults with physical and mental disabilities. This unique camp piqued our curiosity so Kelly Hobson kindly answered some questions for us. Kelly Hobson worked as a summer staff member for Camp Health, Hope & Happiness from 2014 to 2016, and now works full time as an operations assistant for the camp.

How long has Camp Health, Hope & Happiness been providing rewarding recreational opportunities to children and adults with physical and mental disabilities? 

The camp officially opened in 1960 on sunny Lake Isle, 85 kilometres west of Edmonton. Back then it was just a plot of lakeside land dotted with skid shacks. Today Camp Health, Hope & Happiness is a premier facility that boasts dozens of “barrier-free” buildings, meaning everything is wheelchair accessible and adapted for various disabilities. Aside from the cabins and dining hall we have a rec hall, heated indoor swimming pool, climbing wall and low ropes course, 18-hole mini-golf course and a fully equipped onsite medical centre. 

Although Camp He Ho Ha has seen many changes and additions to its programming over the years, the mission has always been the same: to provide a safe and rewarding experience for people of all ages living with every type and degree of disability. 

What’s your favourite activity to see the campers take part in? 

That’s a really tough question! All the activities are incredible, and our campers have such a blast participating in them. I’ll go with my three favourites – ziplining, driving the barge, and performing at skit night. 

For some of our campers, the zipline is the one time each year they get to experience an adventure sport. It’s awesome to see how excited they are as they whiz over camp! 

Our barge activity block is a chance for campers to take a boat ride around Lake Isle. Awesome stuff happens on the barge – fishing, kite flying, even the occasional rodeo! But the coolest thing by far is when the Captain invites campers to drive: they get to wear the Captain’s hat and commandeer the ship. 

Finally, a highlight of the week for me is skit night. Every cabin performs a skit, and each camper gets to choose their character and a song to go with their performance. We have a huge costume room at camp filled with thousands of costume items and props, so it’s amazing to see what campers come up with for their moment in the limelight! 

We know your camp has many special procedures and people in place to accommodate some of the campers. Can you tell us about that? 

Our number one priority is that every camper has a safe and enjoyable experience when they’re at Camp He Ho Ha. 

Each summer we hire 35 enthusiastic and hardworking postsecondary students from across the country to facilitate that experience. Those staff go through an intensive 10-day orientation before our first camp, learning safety procedures and practicing a wide range of personal care skills, from brushing teeth to toileting and bathing, to lifts and transfers. 

In addition to cabin staff, there are two camp nurses who work from our fully equipped onsite medical centre. The nurses run four medication times per day and take care of complex medical needs, such as running tube feeds or changing dressings. There’s a nurse on call 24/7 in case of emergencies. 

The nurses work closely with all departments to make sure each camper’s unique needs are met. This includes our kitchen staff, who strive to provide high-quality meals catered to any dietary need. Whether it’s an allergy, intolerance, or a medical condition that requires special meals, our kitchen works hard to accommodate. 

The kitchen staff don’t merely provide substitutes – they make “special diet” meals as similar as possible to the regular meal being served. This is a big deal for some of our campers, especially during our teens and children camps. Having the same meal on your plate as your friends is important for socialization, so you don’t feel like an outsider. We want everyone to feel included, and our kitchen staff does their best to make that happen during mealtimes. 

Can you tell us about a few success stories? Campers who’ve come and grown in some way. 

I wish I could tell you about every camper, they’re all so incredible! And some of them have been coming to camp longer than I’ve been alive – they started as teens and children campers and graduated into our young adult and adult camps. One camper in our adults with physical disabilities camp will be celebrating her 26th summer this year! 

But someone who comes to mind when talking about successes is Karissa. When she first started coming to camp she was just a kid. Karissa uses a wheelchair, and has always aspired to be as independent as possible. She’s now going to Red Deer College, and we’re so happy to see her pursue her dreams! She’ll be back in 2017 for her 10th summer. 

A huge success story from summer 2016 was Lincoln, a new camper to our teens and children with physical disabilities camp. Lincoln was recovering from an accident that left him with quadriplegia, and at camp he was able to swim for the first time since his accident. He also got to try some things he’d never done before, including rock climbing, ziplining, and painting. We’ve learned that since leaving camp, Lincoln has taken up indoor soccer using a modified wheelchair. 

For us, the biggest successes lie in the everyday moments when we can help a camper achieve something, no matter how big or small. Our campers often tell us the difference between their life at home and their life at camp is the difference between someone assuming you can’t do something and giving you an opportunity to do it for yourself. We strive to help every camper be as independent as possible and reach their full potential. 

If there was just one thing you could say to a parent to help them feel at ease when they drop their kids off at Camp Health, Hope & Happiness, what would it be? 

“It will be an experience of a lifetime for your child that they just may not otherwise be able to have at a different camp. And it’s somewhere you can go that you know they’ll be safe the entire time.” 

Those actually aren’t my words. That was Dana, mom of two campers in our teens and children with physical disabilities camp. Her daughter wrapped up her sixth summer in 2016, while her son came for his first. Both Dana’s kids have life threatening allergies or dietary requirements, and medical conditions that require constant supervision. Last year while Dana’s kids were having a blast at camp, she was able to take their first vacation with her husband in years. I think she said it better than I ever could! 

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