By Kelly Louiseize
From the foundation who ensures a place for children at camp comes a new campaign that aims to include every child in sports.
The Sudbury Manitoulin Children’s Foundation (SMCF) graciously welcomes the Positive Leisure Activities for Youth (P.L.A.Y) campaign, a former initiative introduced by The Human League Association that ensures financial assistance to children wishing to become involved in sports. Applicants can submit for up to $250 three times during the year and that funding will be directly paid for sports equipment.
“It is just to get children active and all the soft skills they are learning that they don’t even know (about),” says Anne Salter-Dorland, executive director of SMCF.
The program will assist low-income families with children up to the age of 18 purchase items for donated spots in sports. It is uncertain how many children will access P.L.A.Y this year which is one of the reasons there are three allotments. Funds are replenished with grants, fundraisers and social events.
“Kids go to school and listen to all the other kids talk about how much fun they had at soccer practice and some children can’t do that. It’s not fair. We should all have the right to play. This P.L.A.Y program is the only way some kids could participate in extracurricular activities, that they can form those adult forming memories of positive role models.”
The foundation’s area covers 50,000 square kilometers ranging from Manitoulin Island out to Massey, Greater Sudbury as far East as Sturgeon Falls and up to Chapleau, Ontario. It started in 1974 as a mom-and-pop initiative that evolved into a charitable organization in 1976. SMCF owned group homes that the Sudbury Manitoulin Children’s Aid rented for a nominal fee. In 1982, the society no longer required these homes and so the foundation sold them and used the proceeds plus donations to launch the Send-A-Kid-To-Camp program. This program covers the full complement of camp life experience from fees to transportation assistance to purchasing necessities like sleeping bags if children are in need. The idea is to help disadvantaged children experience childhood to the best of their abilities, which is still their mission today.
At its launch in 1984, Send-A-Kid-To-Camp program ushered in 270 children ages five to 14-years old to camps around Ontario. That number peaked to 722 in 2001 and settled to around 600-650 each summer since.
“Even last year with COVID-19 and everything we had to fight against, we still sent 300 kids to camp. This year we already have 300 kids placed and there are fewer camps this year than last year.”
Cost per child was $550, but that has risen to $750 due to increased staff because of the pandemic.
Salter-Dorland has witnessed three generations of families go through the program. Young mothers who have raised children that have become young mothers are dropping their child off for a week at camp. One lady who had gone to camp every year as a child remembers that her mother worked three jobs to keep a roof over our head while she babysat. She said she still remembers the songs, still keeps in touch with friends she met. She became a social worker.
In the first few years of Salter-Dorland’s career, she recalls picking up quiet children in her station wagon on route to camp, but on the way home “they were yelling, screaming and handing out addresses. They looked like they rolled in mud but they were so happy.”
An estimated 20,000 children have been helped by Send-A-Kid-to-Camp with each being referred by approximately 50 organizations, some of which are Ontario Works, Ontario Disability, Children’s Mental Health, Sudbury Housing, Child and Family Centres and Atikameksheng Anishnawbek. Coming from a region that houses 200,000 plus people with 50,000 being children, those numbers are significant.
“The common thread is that kids are in need. They wouldn’t be able to go if they didn’t have help.”
This leads to the third initiative run by SMCF, the Bursary Program. It provides financial assistance to current and former wards of the crown toward a post-secondary education. SMCF dispersed $150,000 to an estimated 100 applicants most of whom have experienced a long line of generational dependency and abuse.
“The key, it seems, is that they are coming from a lack of education. We are hoping to break that cycle.”
Applications are for ages 18-years old and up with the only criteria being “they have to be foster children either past or present.”
Bursaries range from $1,500 to $5,000 per applicant.
Should this organization that has seen almost 50 years in operation cease to exist, there would be hundreds of children each year prevented from experiencing childhood as it should be.
“That would be a crying shame.”
An estimated 50 volunteers work diligently behind the scenes fundraising at bingos, social events, driving children back and forth to camp, helping children fill out forms. Some even go to the child’s home to ensure they have camp necessities and add what is needed.
Eight members comprise the board along with two hired hands: Anne Salter-Dorland, and a recent full time Program Director Sarah Russell. What the board likes to do is ensure one project is secure before welcoming another.
“We are always looking for new board members. Everyone around the table is in it for the kids,” she says. “There are no hidden agendas or self-glorification.”
Working for a non-for-profit foundation was a natural fit for Salter-Dorland. She saw her parents volunteer in schools and hospitals stepping in for those who couldn’t help themselves. The intent was to work for a couple of years then make her way back to southern Ontario. Thirty-one years later she is just as passionate about her career and looks forward to launching their new program.