Indigenous Family Centre (IFC), a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church in the north end of the city of Winnipeg, Man., has just completed its seventh summer of Kids Camp. The program provides six weeks of day camp activities including swimming, paddling lessons, photography workshops, family field trips, and lessons in hoop dancing and other cultural practices.
“This neighborhood has a high percentage of kids who have dealt with some kind of trauma,” said Nathalie VanderZaag, director of the camp. “Most of the families involved with our centre have had dealings with Child and Family Services (CFS) in some capacity. Kids Camp provides a safe place for kids to be for four hours a day, three days a week. Also, our weekly field trips, especially the ones to Birds Hill Park [a beach near Winnipeg], provide opportunities for positive family time. There aren’t many other opportunities or resources for families to be able to do things like that together on a regular basis.”
Camp is completely free for participants. Approximately 15 to 20 children attend each day, cared for by seven staff members who have been hired through grants or funding from churches. The cost of the program is incorporated into the budget of the IFC; many of the activities, transportation, and food are subsidized by local organizations.
All staff receive training on working with children who have experienced trauma. “The use of trauma-informed practices is really important at camp,” VanderZaag explains. “For example, when we’re dealing with a kid who is acting out, we’ll sit on the floor with them and talk quietly about what’s going on. Some of it is counterintuitive, like not insisting on eye contact. There are kids for whom demanding eye contact can trigger a trauma response. This is also the first year we have a lot of sensory play items, like water toys, lava lamps, and even shaving foam. In addition to this being really beneficial for the kids [on the autism spectrum] who attend camp, it also helps kids who have experienced trauma, as they tend to be either sensory seeking or sensory avoidant. Sensory play is another way to help them feel calm.”
As it serves primarily Indigenous children from the community, Kids Camp tries to incorporate a variety of cultural experiences, including weekly sharing circles where staff members do an intentional check-in with each child. Activities like drum-making, beading, teepee building, and hoop dancing are also included in the programming.
Participants are enthusiastic about camp. “Camp is really fun. The leaders are nice and there’s lots to do, like arts and crafts. Everybody makes friends, and one time we got cupcakes after swimming lessons! That was a surprise,” 7-year-old Rayne said.
Rihanna, 10, agreed. “Everybody’s usually kind. I like taco Tuesday and that we get popcorn every day.”