Making a Difference with Family Camps: Desmond’s Story

Camping is one of the most popular summer pastimes in Canada. This year, it’s more popular than ever before, with a record number of Albertans planning to enjoy the great outdoors while spending some quality time with loved ones. But for many families in our community, camping is a luxury they cannot afford, and many kids have never been given the opportunity to experience it.

When Desmond, a father of three young children, applied to bring his family to one of Bissell Centre’s family camps at Moonlight Bay, he didn’t know what to expect. His family had never gone camping together before. “Money was tight,” he recalls, explaining that he had recently been laid off from work. “I had to hang on to every cent I saved. Before my friend mentioned the camp, I’d never even thought about doing anything camp-related together.”

Desmond, his wife, and his three children were invited to attend a three-day family camp at Moonlight Bay Centre, Bissell Centre’s lakefront property on Wabamun Lake. “I didn’t expect we would get our own cottage,” says Desmond. “I didn’t expect the food to be so good. And I didn’t expect so many activities. The camp was beyond my expectations.” During their three-day getaway, Desmond and his family were able to take a break from the stresses of everyday life. “It gave us the chance to get out of the city, be together, enjoy nature, enjoy the company of other families.”

The trip was full of new experiences, especially for Desmond’s children. “It gave them so much to do with the park, the basketball court, the fire pit, the lake…they loved it all!” Going to camp may have even allowed Desmond’s son to discover a new passion. “He really loved the little basketball court that was there,” Desmond explains. “Before, he didn’t play too much. But when we got home, we bought him a new basketball.” His daughter loved meeting new friends and participating in the arts and crafts, while his wife’s favourite part of the trip was the drumming around the fire pit every evening. Desmond himself was able to go canoeing for the first time in his life.

Being away from the noise of the city also allowed Desmond some time to step back and reflect. “I think we’re always learning something while being a parent. All the time. [I learned] just how grateful I am to be a dad. Sometimes, I forget how grateful I am to have three beautiful kids.”

Desmond’s camping experience was so unforgettable that he hopes to do it again this year. He would ask anyone considering supporting the program to think of how much it means to families like his. “I’d let them be aware of the impact they would have on the lives of all those families who have gone to camp,” he said. “It’s giving them a chance to experience something they may not have experienced before. [It] makes a difference.”

Please give to help more people
like Desmond and his family.

Our Summer Camp Staff on the Importance of Recreation

Summer is finally here! Bissell Centre’s camps and recreation team have been working hard to plan for the approaching summer months. Spearheading the effort are Alyssa, a fourth year recreation, sport, and tourism major at the University of Alberta, and Zoée, a King’s University graduate who is now pursuing her degree in social work at MacEwan University.

Alyssa and Zoée have been busy preparing for Bissell Centre’s annual summer camps. The camps will take place at Bissell Centre’s lakefront property, Moonlight Bay, which is located an hour west of Edmonton on Wabamun Lake. Beginning on July 4, Moonlight Bay will host a series of summer camps for adults and children of all ages. Camp trips range from one to four days and include an array of fun activities including teepee weaving, popcorn and s’mores by the fire, swimming, and canoeing.

For many participants, the trip will be a brief respite from otherwise persistently stressful life circumstances. Many adults and children participating in the camps come from environments of domestic violence, drug addiction, and poverty. “Everyone needs time away to spend with family and to rejuvenate, relax, and get away from those stresses,” Zoée says. Camps also provide opportunities for individuals to forge friendships, build community, and strengthen social supports.

Both Zoée and Alyssa are adamant that recreation is not a luxury or a privilege: it’s a physical and emotional need. “There needs to be recreation,” says Alyssa. “That shouldn’t be denied to anyone.”

Since 1929, Bissell Centre’s Moonlight Bay facility has been a destination for low-income families to enjoy some respite from the daily life stresses that face them. The program relies on donations and volunteer support to remain in operation. Thank you for helping us give adults and children living in poverty a summer experience they will never forget!

Bissell Centre Innovating Again: Moonlight Bay Centre is Open for Business

In the late 1920s, James Ramsey, owner of a department store in Edmonton, donated $300 to Reverend Pike to purchase a piece of property on Lake Wabamun for Bissell Centre to send inner-city people of all ages for respite – they called it Fresh Air Camp. Since then, the United Church has owned the land and Bissell Centre has been sending people in poverty to the camp to enjoy new experiences, get away from the stress of a life in poverty, and build healthy relationships with adults and families.

Last year and the year before, I closed the camp while Bissell Centre developed its go-forward strategic plan to eliminate poverty and homelessness. Truth is the traditional camp model was too expensive to operate. It cost $250,000 to operate camps over the summer months for 200-300 people. There was little funding for it and the pressures on our fundraising were already great.

Over this time we have been working on the transformation of Moonlight Bay into a retreat centre – a place that individuals, organizations, and communities can go to engage in learning, planning, symposiums, workshops as well as life events like weddings and family reunions. We are in the process of renovating Moonlight Bay and will have all the cabins done shortly. Capital funding has been provided by the Edmonton Community Foundation and by the Government of Alberta’s CFAP fund. These funds will help Bissell Centre turn Moonlight Bay into a year round facility.

What are we doing is finding new ways to fund camps for low income families and kids – through revenues from rentals of our facilities, corporate sponsorships of camps and of Moonlight Bay in general, as well as donations from people who understand the importance and often life-changing experience of camps. In other words, whatever revenues we make will be turned right over to holding camps and recreational activities for our families and kids.

Technically, this is called a social enterprise. But realistically this is about Bissell Centre’s commitment to do what it takes to ensure our families have this resource.  As many of you know this year’s Bissellebration event focused on raising money for Moonlight Bay Centre. While the final results are still being tabulated, I already can tell you that one of our auction items raised $20,000 for camps this year!

I encourage you to consider using Moonlight Bay for your next retreat or family gathering. Check out the retreat ideas above and take a moment to visit the Moonlight Bay Centre website.

Corporations and other groups interested in sponsoring camps for low income families, please contact us at 780.423.2285

Bissell Centre Celebrating Success

As the spring slowly rolls in, Bissell Centre is gearing up for its annual gala – Bissellebration (pronounced Biss – celebration)!  This year the committee has chosen to do something a bit different.   Normally, the revenue from Bissellebration has not been designated to any program.  As we prepare to re-launch Moonlight Bay Centre as a retreat centre, a corporate meeting space, and a Bissell Centre client camp we thought it would be prudent to support this renewed initiative.  The lake front property has not been used for two years and we are excited to re-open the doors to transforming lives!

>Part of celebrating success is being able to say thank you!  And we’d like to say thank you to Servus Credit Union for being a Blue Sponsor this year and also providing a live auction package that includes a Private Suite at Rexall Place to see the Bruno Mars concert on July 18, 2013.  This is the second year that Servus has been part of Bissellebration.  We asked why they choose to support this event:

“Servus Credit Union is proud to support Bissellebration 2013,” said Michael Dickinson, Director of Corporate Communications. “At Servus, we embrace the philosophy of people helping people and we are very pleased to assist Bissell Centre in achieving their vision of eliminating poverty in our community.”