Conjuring up memories of going to the BC Easter Seals’ Camp Shawnigan as a girl still brings a big smile to Sheena Chapman’s face.
Now as a young woman, and having just celebrated her 30th birthday last Thursday, she is packing her bags and heading to Camp Squamish – a new pilot project for 19 to 49 year olds being offered by the BC Lions Society charity.
“I was always under the impression that camp was for kids and I did not know that they’re starting to do ones for adults now,” said Chapman during a break from her weekly shift at Ladysmith Home Hardware.
“I thought it’s worth a shot. I could meet new people around my age and have fun and kind of see what Squamish is all about.”
On Wednesday, she’ll travel solo on the ferry across to the mainland and meet up with others at the foot of Mount Garibaldi.
Chapman found out about Squamish while looking online with roommate and caregiver Judy Powers, who said the camp will provide a greater sense of independence – something that many people with developmental disabilities lack without proper support.
“One of the things that Sheena’s always said is that no one ever gave her the opportunity do to stuff, so since she’s been here she’s learned how to stain, how paint, how to cook,” Powers said. “I think this camp is fantastic because it’s something that could potentially now be a tradition that every summer she has to look forward to.”
Chapman attended Camp Shawnigan every summer from when she was six to 18 years old.
She remembers how her and the other children would do art, swim, which she still does about four times a week to this day, and participate in plenty of games.
But it was the time away from her then hometown of Nanaimo where she was bullied in school that also allowed Chapman to grow as a person.
“We were able to be ourselves (at Camp Shawnigan). Some places you can’t be yourself because people with disabilities are treated like they don’t exist,” she said.
“I think I’ve grown up enough to protect myself but also know that the people around me in Ladysmith don’t treat me any differently than they are.”
A cheerful customer service representative at Ladysmith Home Hardware for two years, she has washed the Ladysmith RCMP’s vehicles for six years and just recently started at the Oyster Bay Cafe.
Sean Dunlop, who co-owns Ladysmith Home Hardware with his brother Jason, said Chapman is a beneficial part of the staff who’s been handed more responsibilities over the years.
“We’ve really enjoyed having her and I know the staff look forward to when she’s here because it provides a spark during that day,” he said. “She’s quite popular within the community. People come in and know her.”
The cost of attending Camp Squamish is $2,400 and The Lions Club, Brenden’s Helping Hand and the Dunlop brothers pitched in to cover all the expenses.
“I know it’s really important to her and we thought we could help out,” Sean said. “She’s been great for our store.”
Chapman said she’s grateful for the support to send her on a rare holiday off the Island.
“I think it’s just nice that people are willing to help other people when they need it the most,” she said.
Powers said she’s watched as Chapman has grown since being hired at the hardware store which is the greater gift.
“Home Hardware is great because they’ve help donate but they’re greater because they are giving her a place to be,” she said.
Adventure awaits her and the other adults attending the one week camp.
In previous years Camp Squamish only allowed participants up to the age of 29 but this year it’s being opened up to adults under the age of 50.
“It would be lovely if they do something that I don’t get a chance to really do. I’m also interested in what kind of food they serve too because at Camp Shawnigan they always had the most interesting meals,” she said.
“They always had a nice dinner on the last night like roast beef, and a nice dance.”
Powers anticipates the campers will probably be doing some hiking and canoeing.
“I think the skies the limit and I think it’s really cool that she’s able to spread her wings.”
For Chapman, she hasn’t kept in contact with her camp friends from Shawnigan but is hoping she’ll see some familiar faces in Squamish.
“I haven’t seen anybody from that time. It would be nice to see some of these older folks that I know,” she said.
“If they’re there it would be nice to see how they’re doing and since I’ve got a cellphone I could maybe get their numbers and keep in touch.”