Falling donations, rising costs close 2 Easter Seals camps in B.C.

Summer camps to be closed in Squamish, Shawnigan Lake provided programs for children and young adults with disabilities.

Single mother says daughter with disability losing 'her happy place'

Camp friends Zola Auld, front, and Cassidy Graham, left, with camp counsellors. 'This is her happy place,' Zola's mother says. (Auld family)

Two summer camps for disabled children will not run next year as the charity that operates them faces a million-dollar cash shortfall.

Since the 1960s, the Easter Seals charity has operated three summer camps in B.C. for hundreds of children with disabilities.

This week the charity announced it is closing two of those camps, at Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island, and near Squamish.

Only the camp at Winfield in the Okanagan will operate next year.

"This is not a happy time for us, "Charlene Krepiskevich, the president and CEO of Easter Seals for BC and the Yukon, told On the Island host Gregor Craigie Wednesday.

"We are facing a declining support base, philanthropic giving is going down, not just for us but charities across Canada,"  Krepiskevich said. "Smaller charities are really feeling the pinch."

Ann Auld, whose adult daughter Zola has been attending the camp at Shawnigan Lake since childhood, said the loss is so devastating she can't yet break the news to her.

"These are the opportunities that just don't happen at any other time in these young people's lives," she said.

Camp Shawnigan is one of the two camps for children and young adults with disabilities which will be closed by Easter Seals. (Easter Seals)

The single parent said the six-day camp is also her only respite from care for her daughter during the year. 

Zola won't part with the "I Love Camp" wristband she receives at registration and keeps next to her bed after she returns home, Auld said.

"This is her way of telling me that this is her happy place."

Krepiskevich acknowledged the loss of the Squamish and Shawnigan Lake camps will hit hard for families who used them.

"Right now it's very cherished for five weeks of the year but what else should we be doing with that facility, you know, at that kind of cost?" she said. Camp Shawnigan alone is a $700,000-a year-operation.

New role for charity?

The charity is encouraging families who usually attend Shawnigan Lake and Squamish to consider sending their children to the Winfield camp this year.

"We know it's a long way away," Krepiskevich said. "This is November and so we're giving families as much notice as we possibly can so they can plan."

With the closing of the camp, Krepsikevich said Easter Seals (also known as the BC Lions Society for Children with Disabilities) is now preparing to reimagine its mandate.

The charity's board and community will now begin to consider the role of the charity in the context of program gaps that exist for people of all ages with disabilities, and gaps in services such as respite, transition support for children 'aging out' of care and housing.