By: Julie Beausoleil
Wednesday, July 14th, 2021
Camp Cambria: The Game Changer
If there is one thing that significantly improved my experience with Juvenile Arthritis (JA) (unrelated to physical pain and symptoms), it would be Camp Cambria.
In short, it is a free, week-long summer sleepaway camp that enables kids and teens with JA to simply have a fun camp experience with other kids that ‘get it.’ (What a great initiative am I right?!)
The camp started in the United States, and the first Canadian camp took place in Ontario in 2016. At the time, I was about 15 years old and heard about it through my doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).
I was very hesitant to go because I didn’t want to attend ‘sick kids camp.’ I thought it would be boring and lame, and I didn’t consider myself a ‘sick kid.’ I had also thought it would be full of young kids and as a 15 year year old I would feel very out of place - almost like a babysitter.
For context, the camp provided coach buses for kids from Ottawa, Toronto, London, Hamilton, etc. to travel to the camp (which was in the woods somewhere). A few weeks before camp started, there was a meet-and-greet for the Ottawa camp attendees which my parents forced me to attend. Although everyone was super nice, I was one of the only older kids, which added more doubt to my mind.
However, I couldn’t have been more wrong about the camp.
Once I got there, I quickly realized that there were so many people my age who I got along really well with. I was in a cabin of about 8 girls my age, with AMAZING counsellors who made the experience so much richer.
Throughout the week I made tons of memories and tried so many activities, including paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, horseback riding, and so much more. Since everyone had JA, there was no pressure or ‘fear of missing out’ if your joints were acting up and you needed accommodations. The camp even provided golf carts for the volunteers to drive us around whenever we went somewhere on the camp (huge arthritis perk of the week - we all felt like royalty). Another little perk was that we received so much camp swag; I now own a huge collection of Camp Cambria merchandise which consists of hoodies, jackets, t-shirts, long sleeves, bags, water bottles, hats, mugs, notebooks, etc.
Personally, one aspect about this camp that makes it so attractive is it’s accessibility. I really appreciate how it’s free of charge, that transportation is provided, and that the quality of the campground facilities remains incredible. The wonderful volunteers and fun activities only added to this experience. I can imagine that other families of the kids who have attended appreciate this as well. Medical expenses that come with JA (physio, chiro, different treatments, travel expenses to
see certain specialists, etc.) can cause great financial burdens, so it makes me very happy to know that Camp Cambria does not add to this type of stress.
What also added to the experience was that everyone understood what it’s like to have JA. There were morning, midday, and nighttime medication times where we would all get to take our meds. In a typical summer camp, medication time could be stressful for kids with JA, especially when trying to fit in. But, at this camp, it was the norm. This was an atmosphere where we could fully be ourselves. We could talk about our experiences, but there was also the underlying understanding that everyone knows and can resonate with what you’ve gone through, so there was no pressure to talk about it if you didn’t want to.
This was my first time interacting with others my age with JA, as I had never even met anyone with the same condition. This helped me in ways I didn’t even know I needed help. I finally had a community of people that got it. This was the support I needed.
Obviously I exchanged contact information with all the friends I made, and we still have an active group chat to this day. I made many life-long friends who I talk to all the time. I even met one of my best friends at camp, who you all know, Trish Peters! The co-host of this podcast.
I returned to camp as a camper for the following two years, and after that, I returned as a volunteer. Once COVID-19 settles, I am so eager to keep returning each year as a volunteer. This is such a great community that I am so grateful to be connected with.
I highly urge all kids with JA to attend if possible. I know it can be intimidating to send a 7 year old, or even a 17 year old to a camp when they have a condition like JA, but it is definitely worth it. I would have loved to have been able to attend as a kid and have been connected to others with my condition from a young age.
If anyone (parents, teens, etc.) wants to learn more about my experience at camp or knows someone who may want to attend, please reach out! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. We can easily set up a call :)
Well, that’s all for today folks. Hope you enjoyed!
Adios for now,