Without exaggeration, this summer was difficult for everyone around the world. We all had to adjust to new routines, new limitations, and new ways to live our daily lives. However, when the pandemic forced us to cancel Camp Sokil this year, our Camp Family did not give in to feelings of helplessness and just “cancel” camp. We, as a group, decided we would continue to thrive and do something together. We realized that our camp spirit didn’t reside at the physical campgrounds — it resided in us. In these times of unprecedented hardship, we were given an opportunity to show true leadership. The pandemic brought with it many challenges, but it also brought opportunities to become better, stronger, more dynamic. Camp Sokil wasn’t cancelled this summer, it was called to action.
Sonya Pirog, one of our dedicated youth volunteers, shares her 2020 summer experience with Camp Sokil. She explains that there is always time to show compassion, and that leaders prove themselves when times are the toughest.
“With Love from Camp” by Sonya Pirog
If you had asked me what my summer would have looked like back in January, the answer would have been easy. I’d be going to camp, as I always did. Then, suddenly, camp was cancelled. My heart fell. For 60 years, over a hundred kids call Camp Sokil home for the summer. Many of my friends and I had been planning to spend the entire summer together up at camp, first as campers, then as youth volunteers. Now we were now forced to stay inside and wait until the threat of the virus had passed. No camp. No fun. I thought my summer was ruined. Luckily, our Komandantka had a plan. We couldn’t go to camp, but that didn’t mean camp couldn’t come to us.
At Camp Sokil we learn about leadership, and nothing was going to stop Komandantka Anastasia (Camp Director) from teaching us, firsthand, what it was all about. She saw the pandemic as a call to action, not as a stop sign. Doing good for others, showing character and compassion, and creating positive change didn’t have to stop because of COVID-19. It was now needed more than ever. In an online conference, Anastasia asked us to consider things that really bothered us – something that hurt us deeply about our world. Some of my friends created an Eco Awareness group. Another group created a political watchdogging team. For me, and nine other camper friends, it was social justice that bothered us the most. We wanted to volunteer doing something for the greater good and equalize opportunity. Our group decided to contribute physically, with tangible help. We knew we wanted to do something that would help children and teens specifically. We looked at our own lives – not going to camp was not fun, but isolating during COVID while living in a shelter, was definitively less so. That’s when we came up with the idea to make ‘camp kits’ for kids and teens that live in shelters. We decided that the kits would have fun things such as colouring books, candy, pencil crayons, flashlights, frisbees and other creative and morale-boosting items. We were putting camp in a box. After all, summer should be fun. For everyone.
After a lot of online meetings, budgeting, creating lists of what we would like to include, and assigning roles, we realized the project was taking longer than we expected. However, once we solidified the plan, we applied for a UNF Foundation Grant to make the magic happen. We were reviewed and our proposal was accepted! Our first grant! We quickly purchased all the items and had a “packing party” where we packed each kit (safely distanced and masked.) We packed 50 kits and they were shipped out and accepted by a Toronto Shelter. We were very proud of our achievement. We learned life skills along the way such as grant-writing and budgeting and we all felt a great sense of accomplishment finishing what we set out to do. It was definitely not the camp experience I expected, but it turned out to be one to remember, with all the warmth of a summer well spent.