By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun
Wander around the Merrywood Easter Seal Summer Camp in Perth, Ont., and you'll see special needs children swimming and kayaking. Or they may be scurrying around to search for leaves or flowers as part of a camp-wide scavenger hunt.
At the Merrywood Easter Seal Camp in Perth, Ont. (above and below), nurses help children and young adults with disabilities achieve their full potential.
It's a joy to watch and participate in. So this month, the Easter Seals Society is beginning a recruitment campaign to find the registered and registered practical nurses, counsellors and other employees who will be hired to work in their three Ontario camps.
"For the past 80 years, The Easter Seal Society of Ontario has played an invaluable role in helping kids, youth and young adults with physical disabilities reach their full potential," says Ruth Morayniss, the society's manager of communications.
Each summer, about 500 campers attend the Easter Seals camps. Fifty to 60 children attend each 10-day session. The society also has a family camp in which parents and siblings come with younger children or those who can't attend alone.
Heather Chrystie, healthcare manager of the Easter Seal's Camping program, is in charge of recruiting 11 nurses for this summer's program. She says that Easter Seals camps are great for the children and inspiring for staff.
"I think one of the most poignant programs at our camps is the sailing program," she says. "Our boats are specially designed so they can sail on their own. And you should see their smiles and satisfaction when they're sailing independently for the first time."
Young people at the camps have a wide range of abilities. Some may need minimal assistance -- while others will need help in activities of daily living, such as getting into a bathing suit to go canoeing or help applying sunscreen before going on a hike.
All staff members receive a week of training before the camping season begins. Many of those who take the counsellor positions are students studying to be nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers or teachers.
"My main focus is recruiting nurses, and it's a great job where you're out in the fresh air. Our stress is to promote health and well-being -- and this is very different from hospital nursing, which is often focused more on disease," Heather explains.
Many of the Easter Seal Society's nurses will take a leave of absence from their permanent jobs to have the chance to work at one of these camps. They also accept new graduates. Nurses work for a minimum of six weeks.
"This work isn't just Band-Aids and bee stings," Heather says. "Our nurses are involved in special care, doing physical assessments, health-care teaching and medication. They'll get to spend more time with the children and answer their questions."
It's an exciting and fulfilling job, but for many, the challenge is convincing current employers to give them the summer off. Heather suggests they should tell employers this work would be a learning experience that could broaden their nursing knowledge.
Heather knows well how fulfilling working at the camp is.
"I actually started as a camp counsellor a long time ago. And I really enjoyed being involved in activities of daily living with the children. That experience made me decide to study to become a nurse."
(Susan Poizner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)
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