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It’s the end of another day at camp, and little Evan Ma is smiling like there’s no tomorrow. He’s learned how to do a karate chop, paint, cook and play games. He’s done martial arts exercises and science experiments. Yesterday, he had a chance to meet a firefighter, and tomorrow there’s a field trip. The activities not only engage him, they help Evan feel like he belongs.
Evan is one of 20 children with physical and developmental disabilities who, each summer, attend a very special day camp put on by the Richmond Committee on Disability. The six-week program, which is open to families of any income level, works to build the confidence and skills of kids who are often ostracized in the community.
“It’s all about helping children break out of their shell – to feel a sense of belonging and accomplishment,” says Ella Huang, executive director for the Richmond Committee on Disability when asked what the secret to the camp’s success is. “Usually during the first week they’re timid and reluctant to participate. But it doesn’t take long before they’re fully engaged in all the activities. Parents are amazed at how much fun their kids are having.”
The summer camp is a recent development – it first opened in 2001 with startup money from the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund. The Children’s Fund itself has been around much longer.
In 1981, Clark Davey, then publisher of the Vancouver Sun, had a simple but effective idea: use the resources at hand – a talented staff and a daily newspaper – to tell people about the needs of disadvantaged children and raise money to help those children live better lives. That’s how it started, and the response from the public has been overwhelming. The Children’s Fund has given out grants totalling $6 million to more than 800 children’s charities throughout British Columbia.
Vancouver Sun readers are the backbone of the Children’s Fund, contributing $9.5 million since its inception. Most donations are sent in during an annual Christmas fundraising campaign. However, people also leave money to the Fund in their estates.
“Every single penny goes to the kids,” Vancouver Sun columnist and current chair of the Fund, Shelley Fralic, explains. “All the costs involved have been covered by the publisher.”
As the Fund has grown over time, administrators realized they needed to take a more formal approach in managing it. In 2003, a partnership was formed between the Children’s Fund and Vancouver Foundation. Vancouver Foundation took over the administrative and granting functions of the Fund and the Sun was able to take advantage of the expertise of Vancouver Foundation’s Children, Youth and Families Advisory Committee. The volunteers who sit on this committee have in-depth knowledge of community issues and help develop and strengthen the Children’s Fund to its maximum potential.
Jamie Pitblado, vice-president of promotions and community investment for the Pacific Newspaper Group, is delighted with this union. “The partnership has been a very successful one for us,” he says. “Vancouver Foundation is a well-respected organization and one that we feel very proud to be part of.”
In December 2007, the Vancouver Sun launched a $500,000 legacy fund that will be given out in one lump sum in 2008 – not unlike Canuck Place and KidSafe, two projects that the Children’s Fund initiated with similar funding. Pitblado recognizes the importance of spearheading projects like this.
“We play a leadership role in this community,” he says. “With that comes a responsibility to try and build a better community.”
The positive impact of this unique summer camp is measured not in dollars but in smiles. Evan’s ear-to-ear grin and the smiles of all the other kids tell you something special is happening here. Something you can’t put a price on. That’s the premise, and the promise, of the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund.
For more information about the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund, visit www.canada.com/vancouversun/info/childrensfund/index.html.
(Story written: 2008)