Confidence Through Exploration

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Outside the activity room at Abbotsford Collegiate School, it's not exactly a perfect summer day, but the 20 or so kids attending the 2010 Legacies Now Explorations camp don't seem to notice or care.

At one table, eight-year-old Brooklyn is working on a sock puppet. Across the room, Tristan is painting a picture frame that will soon contain one of his pastel drawings. His sister Kiera has already finished her picture frame and takes a break from watching her brother to practice her cartwheels.

This Explorations camp provides activities, instruction, materials and lunches free of charge to children aged six to 11 whose families face financial obstacles that would otherwise prevent them from taking part. Made possible by a partnership between the Province of BC, through the Ministry of Education, and 2010 Legacies Now, similar scenes have unfolded throughout the summer all across the province.

The camps, which focus on arts, sport and recreation, or a combination of the two, bring elementary schools, students and their communities together to build long-term partnerships to support and enhance the lives of children. In urban areas, the focus is on providing a camp experience for kids whose families could otherwise not afford it. In rural communities, Explorations delivers a high-quality summer camp that the community lacks the resources or capacity to host.

"The school provides the space and we get money from the Kiwanis Club to buy art supplies and the Salvation Army provides the lunches, but we couldn't do it without the grant from Legacies Now," says Jami Savage, executive director of the Central Abbotsford Community Schools Society. "We work with a fantastic group of school principals who identify the kids who are eligible to attend and help us to get them registered."

As Serena and Jessica draw pastel scenes depicting their two-week camp experience, their instructor Susie White looks on, frequently offering words of encouragement and instruction. A recent graduate of University College of the Fraser Valley who majored in Visual Arts and English, Susie is one of two carefully selected local program specialists who have guided some 120 Abbotsford kids to explore a wide range of art activities including dance, music, drama, painting and drawing.

At an adjacent table, another program specialist, Paul Nguyen, works with a small group using water colors. Two high school students, Angela and Carly, are also on hand to increase the level of supervision and instruction, as well as to ensure that the experience is, above all, just plain fun.

"There are four instructors for every 20 kids, which is fantastic because kids need a lot of help and encouragement when working with crafts," says Susie. "In every other camp I've been involved with, the ratio is one to 10."

Tristan, meanwhile, has finished putting the final touches on his picture frame. He says he wants to come back next year because he likes art and also the trips to the swimming pool.

As the lunch break on the last day approaches, Susie reflects on the moment and offers one final observation: "It makes kids feel more confident when they are able to do something. I truly believe that we are helping them obtain a bit of self esteem, and that's the most important thing of all."

Throughout the province, thousands of students attended similar Explorations camps - they arrived, explored, and continued on their individual journeys, equipped with one or two more tools to help build their futures.

Explorations provides students in kindergarten to Grade 7 with opportunities to explore arts, sport and recreation in summer camp settings. The program serves students who are otherwise unable to attend summer camps due to location, local resources or financial limitations. Explorations is supported by the Province of British Columbia.