Camp Maple Leaf: summer camp experience for children of military families

Camp Maple Leaf welcomes children of military families for several weeks throughout the summer. Kids returning from the summer fun arrived on Aug. 3 at the South Side Community Centre where their parents were eagerly awaiting them. Camp Counselors Ethan “Banter” Biggs and Alex “Striker” Power unloaded the bus. (Photo by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

Camp Maple Leaf gives children of Canadian military families and those living with unique life challenges a safe, fun-filled and life changing summer camp experience.

The six-day sleepover camp allows participants to have fun while creating lasting friendships with other children who understand what it is like to have a parent in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Though most of the summer is tailored for children of military families, Camp Maple Leaf also has specific weeks dedicated to those who are under-resourced as well as those who have facial differences, who are of short stature, who have Tourette Syndrome, who are grieving the death of a parent or sibling or who are military children or children of First Responders with a parent living with an Operational Stress Injury (OSI).

Petawawa Military Family Resource Centre (PMFRC) Clinical Manager Liisa Kuuter took part in the latter, from July 14 to 20. She offered her expertise to these children, ensuring that they had fun while learning to deal with stress.

“We wanted them to learn coping mechanisms but in a fun, not a therapeutic way,” said Kuuter.

The theme of that week was ‘Superheroes’, showing the children they are just as heroic as their parents. One of the noteworthy activities was the creation of drums, when campers could direct any bad feelings into playing the instrument as a group.

“We really wanted to incorporate a bit of psycho-education into a fun activity,” said Kuuter.

She strongly believes that every child should have the opportunity to experience summer camp. It gives them a chance to build independence by being away from their parents while being with other kids who understand them.

“They are not alone,” said Kuuter.

Established in 1955 as a legacy from the Canadian Council of War Veterans, Camp Maple Leaf was originally created as living memorial to pay tribute to CAF members who sacrificed their lives for peace.

Owners Kim and Marilyn Smith continue the work of founding veterans by supporting military families and breaking down barriers that may prevent a child from taking part in a camp experience.

The camp is built on a 104-acre private island, and the activities range from arts and crafts to sports, island natural survival games, rock climbing and fishing.

Kuuter was really impressed by the staff of young adults who displayed a care, commitment, and understanding beyond their years.

When the last military children’s session was held and the campers were bused back to Petawawa on Aug. 3, many campers were torn between wanting to see their parents again and wanting to stay for a few more days of fun. “It’s just an amazing experience,” said Camp Counselor Alex “Striker” Power. “It gives them a break away from real life and they can just be kids.”