by Jeff Sobil
On August 14th, the Wolves were invited to pay a visit to Camp Ten Oaks, an inclusive summer camp which specialises in the needs of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, queer) youth aged 8-17 and the children of LGBT parents, non-traditional families and their allies. Celebrating its ninth year, Camp Ten Oaks has thrived to a bursting capacity of 72 campers, and given the huge interest and long waiting list, is looking to expand in their new decade. It’s impossible not to get swept up in the excitement and vigour that seems to come from every part of this camp experience.
From the wide-eyed energy of the campers, to flashy and outrageously dressed camp counsellors, to the steadfast and accepting work that the kitchen staff, camp director and board of directors put in to make this camp the only one of its kind in Ontario. Camp Ten Oaks is a purely volunteer-driven charitable organization, which seeks to both create a safe space for children to be themselves, or experiment with who that self really is, as well as to educate and challenge them, both physically and artistically, through countless camp activities, but also on a personal conceptual level. This year’s theme was “Family,” and featured many abstract questions like “what makes a family?” and “how are families formed?” as well as exercises designed to show strength and shared-experience within their young community. At such a young age, victims of bullying may feel like drawing attention to themselves is the last thing they want to do, yet focus group activities like “Across the Grass” aim to show children that they are not alone in their experience. Social justice takes just as much a prominent stance at Camp Ten Oaks as outdoor education and personal growth through personal expression.
Though years separate us, that shared experience still resonates with adults, and each of the Wolves’ rugby players invited to attend were stunned by the sheer bravery, talent and vitality of the campers. Admittedly, my teammates and I weren’t sure what we were walking into that evening – would we be asked to talk about what it is like to be a queer or allied athlete? Would we be asked to share stories about our coming out experiences and be positive role models?
Instead, what was asked of us was incredibly simple and in that way all the more powerful: We just had to be there.
Being present and listening to the campers was all that was needed, because they were more excited to have adult visitors who wanted to spend time with them, than to know that we were gay athletes (although they LOVED our jerseys!). Throughout the dinner that we shared, they wanted to know everything about us, and they wanted to share everything about themselves. I sat beside a hilarious little boy who was decked out in a Robin cape (his counsellor told me it was the first time in 3 days he hadn’t worn the whole superhero costume), and an 8 year old transitioning girl who made me feel incredibly welcomed. Afterwards, the Wolves and other VIPs were treated to a camp tour, to learn more about the programs and facilities at Camp Ten Oaks, and hear the vision for the coming years. Our visit was wrapped up with Camp Ten Oaks’ annual talent show, which highlighted just how special this place is. Children of every age group, aptitude and skill came together to showcase their gifts and if those weren’t what made these children special, the amount of love and unadulterated support for those on stage was.