“Camp fun!! So fun!!” were Connor’s words on repeat during the car ride home from his first summer at Zajac Ranch for Children a few years ago. The continued excitement and eagerness to return confirmed that Connor’s Mom, Christina, had made the right choice sending him to camp independently. What is regularly a simple decision is made more complex when a parent has to ensure medical conditions will be taken care of in their absence.

Connor has Down syndrome and autism, both of which contribute to him being largely non-verbal (except for a vocabulary of his favourite food items!). It can be a struggle for him to communicate and connect with people, even though he is quite social and likes to be out of the house for activities. He would be unsafe in the community without supervision and requires 1:1 care at school and any extracurricular activities.  These limitations can make it difficult for Connor to access recreational opportunities or be away from his parents for an extended period of time.

Christina shared with us that she had some fears about sending Connor to camp on his own, “especially since he can’t communicate with me himself about what happened and how he may have been feeling”. Counsellors and staff working with Connor made sure to call her regularly to update her and share an anecdote from Connor’s day. This alleviated any of the lingering fears and allowed her to see her son in a new light. “He tried things I never would have expected, I couldn’t believe he had done the high ropes course and gotten on a horse!” During his time at camp, Connor thrived with the experience of independence and staff made sure to provide all of the reassurance his Mom needed.

“It was wonderful for us to be able to share the activities so that now when the counsellors describe what he did today I know exactly how much fun he had doing it and I can picture his smiles!” – Christina (on 2020 Family Retreats)

Children with disabilities or medical conditions already face barriers to activities, and the COVID-19 pandemic only created additional ones. Water is one of Connors favourite things, and he loves to swim – in lakes, pools, oceans, you name it! With recreation centres being closed, his parents were no longer able to take him swimming when he’d regularly been going one to two times per week. This created the need for something the family could do to keep Connor occupied and create additional chances for him to experiment with independence.

Zajac Ranch wasn’t able to operate regular medical camps this summer, instead adapting to host Family Retreats in the summer and into the fall. Connor and his family jumped at the chance for a respite from the pandemic and to experience camp together. They had never attended a family camp before and had a blast trying new activities including archery, kayaking, orienteering, and horseback riding. As lovers of trampolines, the SkyNet was a high point for both Connor and his sister – they visited daily and the whole family got to experience their joy.

“The experience was so affordable also, thanks to the Zajac grant covering half of the cost. We would never have been able to participate in a family camp otherwise. The enthusiasm of the staff and counsellors was really heart-warming, they never failed to go above and beyond.”


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