Team works diligently to create Rainbow Camp 2020

Rainbow Camp, operated by Welcome Friend Association in Sault Ste. Marie, provides education and a safe community for participants. PHOTO PROVIDED SunMedia

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Rainbow Camp will go virtual for 2020, as have most events and meetings for the last few months.
To ensure that 2SLGBTQ+ youth are still able to access the supports offered by Rainbow Camp, the Welcome Friends Association, which hosts Rainbow Camp, developed Rainbow Online Connection. The online virtual camp is open to 2SLGBTQ+ youth along with allies, siblings, and children of queer families.
Camp director Stephanie Voyer said it is important to Welcome Friends Association to ensure Rainbow Camp is offered in some form this year despite COVID-19 restrictions because it can be a “life-changing” experience.
“For many campers it is the first place they can truly be themselves,” Voyer told Sault This Week. “During these times of social isolation, camp is more necessary than ever to make sure 2SLGBTQ+ can safely connect.
“Unfortunately, it is not yet safe to host in-person camp, but with ROC, we can at least give our youth something positive and identity-affirming that they can be a part of no matter where they are in the world,” Voyer said.
Registrations are unlimited this year because ROC doesn’t have the same physical limitations as camp, and many more youth can be accommodated than normal years.
With the program being new, registration is going slower than usual and numbers are a bit lower than usual, Voyer said, but they are accepting registrations for each week up until it starts. Two weeks of programming is set up for each age group and campers are welcome to register for one or both weeks.
The programming for ROC is being modelled after the usual programming for Rainbow Camp, which runs in three streams: Education and Activism, Active Outdoors, and Artistic Endeavours.
At least one activity from each stream will be offered at any given point throughout the day, allowing campers to “create a camp experience that is most amazing for them,” Voyer said.
ROC will be offered primarily through Zoom, with some activities running live and others having been pre-recorded.
The team, whose members come from all over Canada and the United States, has worked diligently on the project, Voyer said. Right now the team is made up of three full-time staff, three part-time staff, and several volunteers.
Running Rainbow Camp has always been an expensive endeavour, and despite the move to online programming, ROC will still cost an estimated $50,000 this summer, Voyer said. Because of that, Welcome Friends Association has run a strong fundraising campaign.
“Our aim is to always make our programming as financially accessible as possible so that anyone who wants to participate is able to, regardless of financial limitations,” said Voyer.
“We are currently trying to raise $20,000 through our crowdfunding campaign and once we reach this goal, we have an anonymous donor who will donate $20,000 in matching funds. This will greatly help us to subsidize fees and more youth will be able to connect.”
To reach their goal, Welcome Friends has teamed up with some famous Canadians to try to encourage supporters to donate. Those who are able to donate $1,000 or more will have the chance to win a Zoom meet and greet with comedian Colin Mochrie and his wife, Debra McGrath, along with their trans daughter Kinley, or Juno award winner Jann Arden.
The unsubsidized cost for a week of camp runs at about $450 per week, so Welcome Friends works hard to ensure that they are able to subsidize costs for those who need it so that nobody who wants to attend is prevented due to costs. Donations can be made through their website www.HelpRainbowCamp.ca.
In addition to trying to ensure that everyone who wants to attend camp is able to, they run the programming “from the perspective of allyship,” which allows campers to participate fully in each program without having to come out to their families or worry about having anyone overhear anything that might out them, Voyer said.
“From this allyship perspective, we will still be able to discuss topics such as coming out, steps of social and medical transitioning, privilege and oppression, queerness and religion, activism, and so many more,” said Voyer.
“Our hope is that by creating a safe online space where youth can connect through our programming, they can gain strategies for enduring challenges that they may be facing at home and have access to a supportive community until camp can happen in person again.”

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