My daughter, Catherine, on the last day of Camp JoinTogether at Brigadoon Village, 2016.
When I was a kid growing up, my favorite part of summer was going to camp, so much so that my first children’s book, Jennie Fowler Nighttime Prowler, is actually about a girl whose sleepwalking at summer camp leads to some unplanned adventures.
For me, summer camp was a place I could go where nobody knew I was a poor kid. I could just be me. Each year brought a new adventure and a new set of friends, some I still stay in touch with 30 years later, and others who I’ve lost touch with over time, but remember fondly.
When I became a mom, it seemed to be a given that my kids would go off to camp just as I had and create their own memories. But there was something I hadn’t anticipated – juvenile arthritis – the disease my youngest daughter was diagnosed with ten days before her eighth birthday. The invisible disease that makes her stiff, requires her to take medication daily that often makes her sick, and causes her joints to swell up. The disease that made it impossible for her to go to camp.
Or so I thought…
A year after Catherine was diagnosed, we received a letter via the IWK Children’s Hospital from the Nova Scotia Arthritis Society inviting her to Camp JoinTogether, a brand new camp for kids living with juvenile arthritis. It was being held at a new recreational facility in the Annapolis Valley called Brigadoon Village that was founded by Dave McKeage, a visionary who had lived with cancer as a child and saw the need for kids living with chronic illness, chronic conditions, and special needs to have the opportunity to go to camp and develop friendships with other kids who could relate to what they were going through. His determination coupled with the generosity of corporate sponsors and volunteers is now the reason hundreds of children living with a variety of different issues get to attend camp each summer.
And believe me when I say it’s not just any camp. It’s quite possibly the most amazing camp in the world. If you don’t believe me, just ask some of the campers. A few of them say they’d choose going to Brigadoon over Disney any day and that’s got to mean something. Aside from all the fun camp activities (swimming, boating, games, archery, arts & crafts, drama, ropes course, survival, etc.), Brigadoon offers something that Disney just can’t – a place for kids to go where every other camper there is dealing with the same issue they are. It’s a place to meet people and make friends who ‘get them’ and Brigadoon provides that opportunity for them to develop a peer network.
When my daughter went to camp that first summer she didn’t know any other children living with juvenile arthritis. Now, five years later, she has lots of friends who understand what it’s like to live with an invisible illness, to take meds daily, and to live life pushing through pain. Technology allows them to stay in touch throughout the year and support each other through the rough patches. When we’re at the IWK Children’s Hospital we often run into kids from camp. It’s nice to see a familiar face when you’re a kid at a hospital.
As a parent, I remember tears streaming down my face when I realized I could safely allow my child, despite the complexity of her disease and medications, to go to camp and not have to worry about her because at Brigadoon they have a whole team of medical folks, mostly volunteer nurses and medical residents, there to ensure they are safe, they get their meds on time, and who understand their issues.
Each week of the summer Brigadoon Village plays host to a camp that runs Sunday to Friday for kids in the Maritimes living with a particular condition or special need and each camp has their own name which was selected by kids. This summer they are hosting 12 different camps that will see more than 500 young campers go through their programs:
- Camp See-Ya (blind & visual impairment)
- Camp Carpe Diem (epilepsy)
- Camp Braveheart (congenital heart issues)
- Camp JoinTogether (arthritis)
- Camp Kedoopse (bereavement)
- Camp BELIEVE (parental mental illness)
- Camp Treasure Chest (lung health)
- Camp Trailblazers (craniofacial/facial differences)
- Camp Lots-a-Wata (kidney disease)
- Camp Guts & Glory (Crohn’s & Colitis/IBD)
- Camp Goodtime (cancer)
- Camp Silly-Yak (celiac disease)
The activities at each camp are designed to be inclusive for all campers whether they are mobile, on crutches, or in a wheelchair and the meals accommodate the dietary needs of the campers. So, if your child has celiac disease or a food allergy, you have nothing to worry about.
So, why do you need to know about Brigadoon Village? You need to know about Brigadoon Village because it is still fairly new and even though they have more than 500 kids this year they still have room for more. So if you or anyone you know living in the Maritimes has a kid/grandchild/niece/nephew/neighbour/friend living with any of the conditions listed above then you need to tell them about this place so they have the opportunity to experience what my daughter and her camp besties have been experiencing for years…LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS OF FUN…