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Mission camp for kids with medical conditions, disabilities continues to adapt to COVID-19

Last Updated Jun 9, 2021 at 10:26 pm PDT

(Courtesy zajacranch.com)

B.C.'s provincial health order banning overnight camps for kids was lifted on Tuesday

Zajac Ranch for Children won;t be able to operate its overnight camps for kids, will expand its family camps

MISSION (NEWS 1130) — With COVID-19 restrictions loosening, Mission’s Zajac Ranch for Children is looking forward to welcoming more visitors and the return of hugs and high-fives.

B.C.’s provincial health order banning overnight camps for kids was lifted on Tuesday. Carme Zajac says this does open the door for the ranch to resume its medical camps for children and young adults with chronic, life-threatening and/or debilitating conditions this August. But with so much uncertainty for so long, there might not be enough time to hire and train staff.

“We were hoping that maybe we could run our regular medical camp program come August. But the challenge that we have is that because we didn’t really know until just recently that that was a possibility, we didn’t accommodate for getting the staff, and then there’s, two weeks of training,” she explains.

“Because of the complex needs of the kids, you know there’s a lot that goes into the preparation of our regular medical camp. Depending on our success in terms of recruiting volunteers and recruiting additional staff for those last two weeks we’ll determine whether we actually open it up to our regular medical camp session.”

In 2020, the ranch pivoted to family-style, socially distanced camping. One thing Zajac knows for sure is they can now accommodate twice the number of families they did last year, and those who do come to the ranch will be able to have much more interaction.

“It’s going to be better because the kids will actually see their other friends from camp, where last summer everybody was very separate,” she explains.

“It was okay because the families loved it. They love to get out here but it wasn’t great, in terms of the camaraderie that you get with the children all being together and the hugs and the high fives and all those things that they share when they do come to summer camp.”

RELATED: B.C. summer camps: some a go, some a no as parents scramble

The overnight family camp program runs every weekend through mid-August. COVID-19 safety protocols are in place, including separate accommodations for each family.

And when registration opened, spots booked up almost immediately.

“Within an hour, we were booked, there was such a need, and now we’ve got waitlists for the whole summer in terms of families wanting to come out and participate. So that in itself is telling me that this is needed and people appreciate it, and it works. So, that’s how we’re moving forward again this year,” she says.

“My registration coordinator in my office is overwhelmed because now that they’re saying that you can actually open up your bubble, the families are calling and saying, ‘I’ve got my grandma, my grandpa, my cousin, and uncle or whatever that would also like to join.’ So we’re having to sort of figure out how that looks.”

Offering kids and families the chance to come to the ranch — which has a petting zoo, horseback riding, canoeing, archery, and a ropes course — is Zajac’s main priority.

We’re just so grateful that we were able to still connect with our camper families and connect with that community, and keep that that that momentum going in terms of making sure that kids don’t feel like they’re totally left out.

“I have to say, they look forward to camp every summer and it’s kind of the highlight of their year. When it got cancelled last year. It was a lot of tears and a lot of disappointment.”

The ban on gatherings and events has also hit the ranch hard. The camp program is at least partially subsidized by private rentals.

“Really what happened last March was that everything got cancelled all our regular outside bookings — school groups, yoga retreats, weddings, all those kinds of things,” Zajac says.

“Our rental revenue can help generate $300,000 to $400,000 a year, so that was just immediately wiped out.”

The plan is to fully reopen in 2022, with sleepover camp programs able to resume.

“I feel for the families that weren’t able to put their children into summer camp. It’s so great for them and it also gives a little reprieve for the family themselves, a little respite.”