Charity Spotlight: This post was provided by Hannah McGechie, Executive Director of the Ten Oaks Project, as part of our ongoing charity spotlight series.
“I came out as gay when I was 13. I was severely bullied at school and it felt like there was nothing I could do about it. My social worker suggested I go to Camp Ten Oaks and that moment changed my life. For the first time, I felt like I belonged. There are so many amazing people at camp. Ten Oaks was the first place I felt that nobody judged me. I can’t even put that feeling into words.” – Camp Ten Oaks camper, age 15
A Place to Belong
The Ten Oaks Project engages and connects children and youth from LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, queer) identities, families, and communities through summer camp programs and activities rooted in social justice. We strive to empower our campers through play that enhances self-esteem, life skills, independence, leadership, and self-confidence.
Many of our campers are in desperate need of these opportunities as they experience tremendous levels of homophobic and transphobic discrimination and violence in their daily lives. We hear time and again that our camp programs—Camp Ten Oaks and Project Acorn—are the only time in the year when they feel safe enough to be open and honest about their identities and family structures. It’s the first time where they are affirmed and celebrated for who they are, and it is at camp that they form lasting relationships that carry them through the hardest parts of their year and offer them lifelong friendships.
Empowerment Through Play
Our camps look like any other traditional western camp. There’s a polar bear dip every morning for early risers; meals are eaten together in the dining hall; plenty of time is spent in and on the water swimming, canoeing, and kayaking; older campers go on overnight trips to one of the lake’s three islands; there’s an archery range, a climbing wall, and high ropes courses; songs are sung around the campfire; and everything is covered in glitter by the end of the week.
In addition to the population we serve, the difference between our camp programs and those of other camping organizations is the focus on social justice in our programming. Campers are given the opportunities to talk about their experiences of oppression, develop skills to build resiliency, and learn how to be agents of change in their communities.
Many of our first-time campers are reluctant to come to camp. Some have had bad experiences at other camps, and others don’t consider themselves “outdoors-y” people who will enjoy a week in the woods with limited access to electricity and toilets that flush. By the end of the week, campers spill off the bus and back to their families with stories about how they learned to kayak, the canoe trip to an island, how they shot an arrow that hit the target, the plants and animals they saw, the fear of heights they overcame on the climbing wall, and the friendships they built through these activities that gave them confidence and took away their fear. Experiential learning is one of our core values, and by participating in outdoor recreation and camping, our campers learn skills and build strengths that they can use to tackle other challenges and barriers in their lives.
Our campers would not have these incredible opportunities and experience such growth without their counsellors. Our staff team is comprised 100 percent of volunteers, many of whom are using their vacation days to volunteer. They come from a variety of identities, experiences and backgrounds and prepare meals, lifeguard, act as cabin counsellors, and teach our campers how to have a deep respect of the planet we’re on so the campsite is left in even better shape than when we arrived.
Our commitment to social justice means that we don’t turn anyone away because of an inability to pay the camp fee. We offer subsidies to all who need them, and 55 percent of our campers do. To cover our costs, we rely on the generosity of individual donors who want to make sure every child has a place where they feel safe and celebrated.
To learn more about the Ten Oaks Project, or to make a donation, please visit their Charity Profile Page >>