By Kate Goodfellow
Children and youth with physical disabilities have seen many out-of-home services (therapeutic, educational and recreational) suspended, and most in-home support services (personal support and respite workers) interrupted. Simply put, they have become physically and socially isolated, and more solely reliant upon progressively more exhausted parents. The lack of appropriate services has created many difficulties for families who were already under significant strain.
In response, the team at Easter Seals Ontario pushed ahead and developed Camp E-aster Seals, an online virtual camp platform using its fundamental values of its traditional camps. “In developing the Easter Seals virtual camp, we consulted with our campers and their families to hear how the COVID-19 crisis was affecting their lives and discovered may campers reporting a deeper sense of isolation due to being house bound,” said Kevin J. Collins, President and CEO of Easter Seals Ontario.
Parents also reported that the cancellation of our overnight camping was devastating for campers, on top of a year without interaction with school friends. Everyone spoke about the need to “connect with friends and to be part of a community where the programming is accessible and where participants connect with peers and mentors who have similar disabilities.”
In response, Easter Seals began offering remote programs for kids aged 6-18, and a leadership training program for youth aged 17-26. Online camps consist of pre-recorded activity videos (crafts, cooking, orienteering, life skills) and live-event broadcasts (campfires, singalongs) from our beloved camp locations. Virtual campers can participate at home in real-time (some project supplies provided), or whenever it is convenient for them.
Remote programs were held last summer and have continued to evolve to year-round programming with summer and school break camps as well as activity programs such as karate and baseball. Programs provide:
•Social and recreational options that promote health and wellness and improve/help with mental health during prolonged isolation.
•An opportunity for campers to connect with friends, build confidence, self-esteem and challenge themselves by participating in new activities.
•Activities created by experienced Easter Seals staff and volunteers, that are designed to be easily adapted to meet diverse interests, skill sets, needs and abilities.
•Opportunities for skill development, achievement, independence, and connection amongst Easter Seals kids.
•Engagement amongst existing campers and attract new users and virtual campers who may not have been willing or able to participate at overnight camps.
•The continuation of camp-value programming without the physical barriers associated with in-person activities.ϖ
Kate Goodfellow began working at Easter Seals Camp Merrywood in 2016, becoming the Camp Director in January 2020, and over the last year has been the lead for the development of virtual camp.