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Camp Connections kicks off first session
Good weather marks first week of camp that was evacuated last summer after forest fire scare

Jessica Davey-Quantick
Northern News Services
Wednesday, July 12, 2017

As the first week of Camp Connections drew to a close earlier this month, organizers are now hoping for more s'mores and less forest fires this summer.

"It's been really good so far, they've had mostly good weather," said Camp Director Nicole Garbutt.

Camp Connections, run by the Foster Family Coalition of the Northwest Territories, is a summer camp for children in foster care or receiving support from social services. The first session ran from July 2 to 8.

"We prefer to say it's for kids who have had social services involved in their lives," said Garbutt, adding campers can be receiving support services at home, be in permanent care or have been adopted. Sessions can also include birth children in foster homes who don't want to miss out on the fun with their siblings. The camp offers five sessions over the course of summer for children between the ages of seven and 17.

"It's important to have a camp like this where it's a completely judgment-free zone," said Garbutt. "They are among peers that have been in perhaps similar situations to themselves that are unique from maybe the average household. It just gives them an opportunity to just be kids and to have fun and experience a camp away from maybe the pressures or stress of their day-to-day."

That was almost cut short last year when 19 youth and staff were forced to flee a forest fire on July 14 that raged along the Ingraham Trail.

That wasn't the first time the camp was in the news last year. Before sessions had even begun, Garbutt discovered the majority of the firewood the camp had purchased had been stolen. The camp also had six doors kicked in and a wood stove stolen from the boys sleeping cabin, despite clearly posted no-trespassing and private-property signs.

The camp is located close to the Cameron River campground and Garbutt said it's important for people to remember it isn't public property.

This year hasn't been without its thefts, either. Before the camp got under way, they had one of their canoes stolen.

"It wasn't returned, but it was found kind of ditched up in the brush along Cameron River, so we were able to retrieve it," said Garbutt.

She's looking on the bright side though. After the wood theft, donations poured in, in both monetary and log form. And after the fire scare, community support kept the camp running at the Folk on the Rocks site.

"I feel like in the last two years we've really gotten a lot of attention for some negative things that have happened to us, but that have had really positive results," said Garbutt. "I feel like people are a lot more aware of camp and sort of understand the goings on."

This year, she said they've received "a lot of community support" in their ongoing fundraising efforts to rebuild their cookhouse. The camp also enacted the Department of Environment and Natural Resources FireSmart program, which involved cutting back trees close to cabins in the fall. That means there's no shortage of firewood for the camps nightly bonfires this year.

Former campers are giving back too. Camp Connections has been toasting marshmallows since 2003 and Garbutt said many campers come back year after year, including for their Leaders In Training program, where older campers help out with sessions for younger children.

"Those are youth who have gone to camp themselves and kind of grown up through it (who) really care about it and want to participate in it," said Garbutt.

This year, she said they've also had adults who once attended camp reach out to see how they could help.

"It really does sort of stick with people who attend," she said.

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