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Camp and kids-at risk—can one week really make a difference?

Vancouver, BC— Union Gospel Mission is typically known as a rescue mission dedicated to offering relief services to the most vulnerable in Greater Vancouver. While this is true, UGM, like many organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty, has also been working in an area as critical as relief: prevention.

That’s why for decades UGM has tirelessly worked with local at-risk kids in an effort to change the trajectory of their future. Last year, thanks to forward-thinking UGM donors, 545 at-risk kids went to summer camp. As UGM rallies this year to send another 500, a question often raised is: can a week of camp really make a difference?

Research proves an overwhelming “yes,” and once children experience camp, most are desperate to return for years to come, further re-enforcing positive life-changing outcomes.

For the 121,000 children in BC who live in poverty, simply being born into their socio-economic circumstances presents numerous set-backs that their peers don’t face. Statistically speaking, they have lower cognitive and emotional development, which leads to poorer performance in school, thus reinforcing low self-esteem and exacerbating developmental delays and emotional and behaviour problems.

Camp provides an opportunity to positively alter their life’s direction. The “how” list is endless, but it will be illustrated in three ways: improving confidence and self-esteem, enhancing holistic developmental and widening social capital.

First, by removing the academic, athletic and social competition that molds their school experience, camp gives kids diverse opportunities to succeed via non-competitive activities, building confidence and self-esteem. Every day they are succeeding with accomplishments leaving them with the message, “I can.” Dr. Stephen Fine, research chair for the Ontario Camps Association explained in a previous article that “teamwork, co-operation and negotiation are inherent to the camp experience. Kids’ confidence levels and their ability to be in social situations increases.”[1]

Second, at camp, kids get to experience a lot more free play. According to a study published by the Canadian Council on Learning, play nourishes every aspect of a child’s development and forms the foundation of intellectual, social, physical and emotional skills—all of which contribute to success not only in school, but in life.[2]

Third, camp offers social capital. Children who live in poverty don’t generally have the same network opportunities that their peers might.
Studies suggest however, that as kids continue to attend camp, they develop relationships as strong as those formed in private schools. One expert says these friends will ultimately help them be successful far into their adult lives. A study at the University of Waterloo showed that relationships built at camp are as valuable to children as those formed in a fraternity setting. These friendships have been shown to lead to lifelong networks of friends and colleagues who later help each other obtain job interviews, employment and secure a career path.[3]

Endless research reinforces the exceptional value of camp. Here’s what the kids have told us:

Thanks to you I had my first sailing
experience. It was really fun. We flipped the boat two times before actually
getting the hang of it but it was really worth it. I made many friends that I
now have on Facebook. I learned so many things about God as well and that there
is such as thing as Christian rap.”


“This is the first time I have gone to a camp except for the
Canucks Autism camp. I got to try skateboarding and archery that I wasn’t very
good at, but I went on a canoe for the first time. It was so much fun! I hope I
can go again next year.”


Thank you UGM for supporting me to go to camp
again. I had a blast. I made a lot more friends. We did a lot of art work and I
helped my friend Mark out when he was being bullied. I made a duct tape wallet.
We played my favorite game capture the flag. My team won.”


“I met Arnold and Solimon at the skate park. They were in my
cabin. I learned how to skateboard with them and I also learned how to go down
a sidewalk with no ramp and how to do a half pipe. My camp is a Christian camp
and I learned lots about God. He is forgiving and will forgive you if you ask
him to.”


“I’m really thankful for being able to have the chance to go
to camp. Without UGM, I would’ve never had these fun experiences. I want to be
a good student so I can make lots of money in the future, I will be able to
sponsor less fortunate kids to go to camp.”

It might take years to realize, but camp makes a difference for all children. Do your kids a favor and send them there. Do your community a favour and send someone else’s.

To learn more or to help send a child to camp: visit or call 604-891-5682 or 1-888-347-HOPE (4673).

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