Camp Triumph co-founders Kathi and Matthew Sheriko, left and centre, with camp counsellor Ashley Lockyer, at the camp’s home on Malpeque Bay. The camp is celebrating its 10th anniversary this yea
©Colin MacLean - TC Media
Ten years of juggling a million little details.
Ten years of scraping for every penny.
Ten years of being a shoulder to cry on.
Ten years of sharing in the tears.
As of this month, it has been 10 years since Wolfville's Sheriko family started the first Camp Triumph in Prince Edward Island.
Founded as a refuge for kids from families dealing with serious illness, the camp has helped thousands of young people, ages seven to 17, temporarily escape from some very serious situations.
It is, true to its name, a triumph.
Not only for them, insists the Sheriko family, but for the kids, families, and loyal community of volunteers who have sprung up around them.
Seventeen-year-old Makayla Powell, of Kensington, PEI, is proof of that success.
Powell has a sister who’s autistic and, while she loves her family dearly, going to Camp Triumph provided a carefree week for her.
She started looking forward to camp every year.
“It was the most fun I had all summer,” she said.
“It was just a week for me to be myself. I didn’t have to worry about what was happening at home. Sometimes it can be very stressful … so it was just a chance to get away for a weekend and be a kid.”
Powell, who recently graduated from high school, is now going to a leadership session at the camp to become a counsellor. She eventually hopes to work with children as a speech pathologist.
“Camp’s really helped me build up my confidence and helped me figure out that I want to help kids when I grow up. I’ve seen all the counsellor and how they are role models for other people, and I want to be in that position,” she said.
Stories like Powell’s are far from unique at Camp Triumph, said Kathi Sheriko.
Kathi co-founded the camp with her oldest son, Jordan, in 2004.
They got the idea for the camp through reflecting on their own experiences.
Kathi has battled breast cancer over the years and her husband lived for many years with a tumour before finally passing away.
The experience of having two parents with serious health problems taught the Sheriko family the value of having a temporary escape.
“We thought initially it would be a good respite for kids who have challenging situations at home – but it’s been so much more than that,” said Kathi.
“The kids’ stories keep us going. That’s why we do it … The alternative is to be totally depressed and give up on life,” she said.
Though, getting the camp off the ground has been a challenge, she added.
Camp Triumph does not charge for attendance so they’ve had to be creative when it comes to staffing and building infrastructure.
Donations and grants over the years have to them build their hall, bunk houses, dining room and kitchen, while more grants help pay for their two full-time staff, who are supported by dozens of volunteers.
They moved around in the early years, she added, but eventually struck a deal with the province to lease several acres of land next to Cabot Park.
They now take groups of 70 kids for one week stints every week from July 18 to Aug. 23.
The Sherikos themselves work at the camp in one form or another all year ’round.
“We’ve put an awful lot into it, and a lot of the tasks are not fun, but they’re
worthwhile in the long run,” said Kathi.
Matthew Sheriko has been involved with the camp since the beginning.
He’s a young man, only 25, but he’s seen kids grow up and become productive adults over the past 10 years.
It’s an incredibly rewarding thing to see, he said.
“That’s probably one of the things I take away, that we’ve helped to influence the young people that come to this camp over the years. They’ve really grabbed onto it and been excited about coming and learning from the other kids here,” he said.
Into the future, added Kathi, the camp is trying to work out ways to stabilize its funding and potentially expand programming, if that’s successful.
They’re even experimenting with crowdfunding; anyone who’d like to check out that initiative can get details at their website.
But while they continue to build into the future, Sherikos are taking a few moments to reflect on the past, including holding an open house.
“It’s a milestone. We can look back with pride with having learned a lot and be motivated from all the feedback we’ve received from the kids and the parent’s who have been involved,” said Kathi.