GREATER VICTORIA FAMILY: Colwood property comes alive again with young campers

Youth learn how to make positive social change in the environment

Friends Uniting for Nature (FUN) Society executive director and founder

Inspiring children and teens to do something more to preserve the environment and act on their outdoor passion is what FUN camps are all about.

FUN, a well-crafted acronym for Friends Uniting for Nature, has been offering environmental summer day camps for young people aged six to 16 since 2008 in Victoria and Vancouver. The success of the non-profit society’s camps led them this year to expand to the West Shore, on a Colwood site that has a rich history of connecting kids with the outdoors.

Coast Collective on Heatherbell Road, now a central part of the arts community on the West Shore, has partnered with FUN to offer a pristine location where campers can learn about their surroundings and experience activities that have little to do with electronics.

“We’re definitely not your average summer camp at all,” says Maia Green, executive director and founder of the Friends Uniting for Nature Society. “Kids are inspired to take action. The camp is focused on environmental leadership.”

Summer camps ran at the Havenwood estate, anchored by the historic Pendray House which now houses the Coast Collective’s gallery and programs, between 1977 and 2001.

Shannon Carmen, a Metchosin resident who now works with Coast Collective, remembers fondly the summer days she spent at the former Pacific Centre for Family Services day camp between 1994 and 2000.

“We learned to sail and canoe on Esquimalt Lagoon,” she says. “You were doing archery and tree climbing – that was something you did for an hour.”

Being around the area she played in as a child and teen allows her to relive a part of those experiences every day.

“When I think of it, and working at Coast Collective now, there was something that was so magical about that place.”

Carmen, now 32, likes the idea that children are now back and learning valuable lessons while playing.

“We weren’t talking about saving the environment, we just absorbed it by osmosis,” she says.

As part of the summer programs, which see all ages engage in activities together, campers are encouraged to follow their heart and create their own “passion project.”

“It gets them thinking about what do they really love and what would they like to do to make the world better,” Green says.

Past projects have ranged from a boy designing a book sharing program for his school to a girl creating a fundraiser project for wolf conservation.

One Grade 5 student at Crystal View elementary in Langford planned out and started an Eco Club at her school.

“Right away they had over 30 kids coming to every meeting,” Green says. “They did art projects on their favourite animals, made bird feeders, used outdoors as a learning place. The nice part is the school has committed to keep it going.”

At a summer’s end gala, campers particularly excited about their projects can pitch them to a panel of judges, with the potential to win a FUN Champs Social Change Award. Winners receive seed money to follow up on their dream and are assigned a mentor for a year.

Last year, 10 Champs were funded in each of Victoria and Vancouver.

FUN also prides itself on the fact its day camps are accessible to low-income, disadvantaged and at-risk children and youth through their scholarship program, which enables one third of all campers to attend free of charge.

The day camps run now through Aug. 29. For more information on the camps or to donate to the scholarship program, contact Green at 778-977-5921 or visit funsociety.ca.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

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