St Andrew’s College hosted one of our most memorable annual events in December: the annual Sony Foundation St Andrew’s College Children’s Camp. This is an exciting time where loud and bustling university students who usually fill the College’s great halls are replaced by even louder, more energetic children with special needs. For four unforgettable days, these kids get to live at College under the care of student volunteers, most of whom are residents at St Andrew’s. Throughout the entire week, which includes pre-camp training, the camp, and volunteer wind-down, the energy is infectious for all involved. It is certainly a special time to be here.
2016 marked the fifth consecutive year that we have hosted the camp and it was the largest yet, welcoming twenty children. We run this event for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the camp takes place in order to give these kids a fun few days and counteract some of the challenges with which they are faced, growing up with disabilities. Secondly, this camp is just as much a reward for the parents as it is for the kids. Giving the parents of special needs children a few days to themselves is invaluable. Parents frequently thank the camp volunteers for giving them their first night off since their children were born, an opportunity to do activities with their other children, or even just a much needed catch-up on sleep. Finally, this camp supports St Andrew’s College’s relentless support and encouragement of giving back to the community.
The children arrived on 8 December, however planning starts a year prior. The organisation and fundraising required for the project is a lengthy process executed by a dedicated committee of students. The head of the 2016 committee was sophomore Max Carter, who epitomised the passion with which everything is done at St Andrew’s.
What makes the Children’s Camp unique is that it prides itself on being entirely student-run. Once the committee is selected, these students have the challenging job of selecting around 45 volunteers from a very large pool of applicants. If this overwhelming eagerness doesn’t say something about the heart of the College, then it is difficult to say what does!
Once the volunteers have been selected, the committee assigns one of three positions. ‘Companions’, of which there were twenty-two, are assigned to a single camper for the week. Companions eat, sleep, and spend nearly twenty-four hours a day with their assigned child. Needless to say, the resulting bond that forms is exceptional. Twelve volunteers are also assigned the role of ‘helper.’ These volunteers have the task of being the behind-the-scenes workers, and also take the initiative to sub-in for companions to give them their own rest time each day as they see fit. These students complete all small jobs that make the day-to-day running of the camp possible. Finally, a team of three is chosen to be the camp’s dedicated media team. The team takes countless photos and hours of video footage. This is then compiled into a video to provide a lasting memory for the families. All in all, the camp is equipped with plenty of help!
2016 saw one of our most successful camps yet. On Day 1, the majority of campers settled in happily, a notable achievement given that for many of these children this was the first time away from home. All campers and volunteers enjoyed getting to know one another through exciting activities such as water games and a jumping castle, a petting zoo, cricket, and a movie night.
Day 2 and the fun continued as campers were treated to a ‘Special Olympics’ sporting activity, arts and crafts, a trip to the Cook and Phillip Pool (a definite highlight), a dance class, and a disco! Hosted in our very own Highlander, the disco is a favourite activity for all involved. It’s certainly a good way to ensure that the dance floor is put to good use even in the summer!
By Day 3, spirits were soaring with a trip to Manly for sailing, provided by the Sailability program. A boat ride around the harbour was certainly a treat for the kids, many of whom come from rural and regional NSW and do not normally have access to such exciting activities. Following this activity was an African drumming class from Drumability and later on a karaoke night. There certainly wasn’t any time to be bored!
On the final day of the camp, the kids (and volunteers!) were treated to a visit from the fire truck, another jumping castle, face painting, and a slip’n’slide – all before lunchtime! Following this, the arrival of the campers’ families to join their children and volunteers for lunch was a very special moment. Seeing families reunite was one thing, but talking to parents and siblings about their few days of respite could almost bring tears to your eyes. Some parents had not had a full night’s sleep, not to mention a full day off, since their children had been born.
As families and volunteers filled the Dining Hall for lunch, campers were delighted to be treated to an early surprise visit from Santa! Lucky for them Santa had brought a personalised gift for every camper, which showed just how well the volunteers had gotten to know their campers. Max Carter then formally closed the camp, thanking everyone for making such a wonderful week possible.
Saying goodbye was difficult but fulfilling. Many kids are privileged to be accepted in to the camp multiple years in a row, so in waving them off we hope to see them at Drew’s again in 2017. When the kids arrive, suitcase in hand and smiles on faces, the vibe is not unlike that which marks Andrew’s students embarking on their College journeys!
The selection of the 2017 camp committee is currently underway, and soon enough, applications for volunteers will be open. The countdown is on until the doors of St Andrew’s are opened up again to an exceptional pool of children!
- Hilary Shannon