Written August 4, 2017
There is a lot of joyful noise rising out of Camp Merrywood, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. An Easter Seals camp located near Perth, it takes 72 very special campers per ten day session, and always finds itself filled to capacity with bright, eager participants. While about 95 percent of campers come from Ontario, many also come from Newfoundland, and the occasional international camper joins the group. While the campers may have conditions like spina bifida, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or a host of other daunting physical conditions, during their time at Merrywood they are simply kids out to have a great time in a wonderful environment.
The Camp also brings in one counselor for every two campers, with 27 international staff this year from New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. They change every year, but they are all looking for a great Canadian experience while working with these campers. Many of the staff are in medical school, and are older and more mature than counselors might be at other camps.
Camp costs about $200 a day, with Ontario families asked to pay what they can and Easter Seals making up the difference. Usually, this is about $300 for the families to pay of the $2,000 cost per session. Families from outside the province pay the entire tuition themselves.
Campers are not restricted to staying only at the Merrywood location. They also go on special portaging trips to Algonquin Park, and other similar activities.
In the off season, the camp facilities are rented out for retreats and other activities. Having winterized buildings allows full utilization of the property and helps support the entire operation.
“I love independence and Camp Merrywood lets me have that,” said one of the campers. “I try to come here every year.”
On July 23, seven Rotary Clubs came together to visit the camp. All have made large donations to it over time, and all were delighted to see what happens when money is put into a good project. Visiting Clubs were from Picton, Wellington, Napanee, Gananoque, and three clubs from Kingston (Kingston Waterfront, Kingston Lunchtime and Cataraqui Kingston).
The camp will be celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2018, and it has greatly changed and improved since its early beginnings. Much of that is due to the campers themselves and their particular types of disabilities/challenges. As technology and medical science have improved, these kids are living longer, better lives, and the camp has improved itself not only to accommodate them and their needs, but to let them forget for a few precious days every year that they are any different from anyone else.
At Merrywood, the campers participate in a myriad of activities from hiking and sailing and swimming, to arts and crafts, putting on skits and plays, and participating in fantasy adventures. Their dietary needs are strictly observed, but the dieticians find ways to bring in all the typical camp goodies such as barbecue and even ice cream treats to keep everything festive.
“Kids need a lot of specialized equipment – electric wheelchairs and things like that – so they bring a lot of equipment with them to camp,” said Barb Gray, Easter Seals Camp Merrywood Director. “We need more space for all of that, more accessibility. As soon as you get a camper up in the morning, you get them outside because there’s no room in the cabin to stay. We have six nurses here to help with any health issues that might come up.”
“Years ago our club built a little mini-hospital here,” said Bruce Higgs of the Gananoque Rotary Club. “It has a nursing station, a couple of hospital beds, and an infirmary.”
The infirmary has a treatment room where campers can stay if they become ill, an area for preparing the specialized diet needed by campers who are tube fed, and a fully accessible washroom. The original building was put up in 1949, and has been renovated and improved over time to where it is today. However, with changing needs and improvements in medical technology, it is time to do it again.
The Gananoque Rotary Club made a donation to the camp of $15,000 to be used on the latest renovations of the infirmary. It will get new windows, new siding, new flooring, insulation, and a new roof. Of this money, $10,000 was from an inheritance from Rotarian Val Mody, who wanted the funds to go to a project for the betterment of the camp. The remaining $5,000 was raised by the Club through its numerous activities.
“We are always grateful to the Rotary for all the help they give us,” said Krista LeClair, Senior Development Officer with Easter Seals and member of Kingston Rotary. “Today, the Kingston Rotary has provided the barbecue, while Gananoque bought the ice cream. The kids are having a wonderful time. And the money donated is very appreciated. It will go a long way to improving the infirmary and getting it where it needs to be.”