“In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th century American poet and philosopher
A century of transforming lives
What happens when you offer children an escape from the city and a chance to learn about the outdoors, friendship and responsibility? You change the course of their lives.
In 1922, John F. McKinley, a young Ottawa judge tried just that. Instead of punishing delinquent boys, he believed the direction of their lives could be diverted through a positive camp experience. Thus, Christie Lake Kids (CLK) was founded and has been responding to the specific needs of economically disadvantaged children and youth ever since.
Their mission is simple: enrich the lives and prospects of approximately 600 at-risk children and youth by providing quality year-round community recreation and camp programs such as:
- Skills Through Arts and Recreation (STAR- for ages 6-12)
- Leaders in Training (LIT- for ages 13-17)
- Christie Lake Camp (for ages 9-13)
By removing barriers to participation (such as cost), CLK staff and volunteers are able to offer programs that help participants develop physical, social and emotional skills as well as resiliency and a sense of involvement and self-worth.
For Sierra Duff, who has been involved with CLK for the last 17 years in various capacities - participant, volunteer and currently as Program Supervisor of virtual art and recreation programs - the experiences she's had have been life changing.
“I’m very grateful for my Christie Lake Kids camp experience,” says Sierra. ”Attending camp helped shape my life and gave me purpose. It made me realize that I want to help others and be the positive role model to them that I needed when growing up.”
Camp offered her many opportunities to build new skills and participate in experiences she otherwise wouldn’t have access to due to expensive program fees. With that barrier removed, she was able to enjoy just being a kid and learn to swim, camp, canoe and participate in survival skills training.
Being immersed in nature taught her how to be still and present in the moment, how to better communicate with others, discover who she really was as a person, away from community influences and social media.
It also gave her invaluable insights and confidence. “It showed me there was a different way of life to the community I was growing up in if I wanted to pursue it,” reflects Sierra. “And that it is possible to break generational cycles and do something positive with my life.”
Perhaps one of the most rewarding moments for her at camp came as a counsellor, when she witnessed the reaction of campers before a meal. “For some of our campers, food insecurity is a real concern,” recalls Sierra. “To see children’s faces go from shock to amazement to pure joy when they hear they can eat as much food as they want or try new healthy snacks is truly humbling.”
By the numbers
- 90 per cent of families of children and youth in the neighbourhoods served by CLK live below the Low Income Cut Off (LICO) of $35,000 per year
- 75 per cent of children and youth live in subsidized housing
- 50 per cent of children and youth live in a one parent family
- 40 per cent of children and youth have one or more mental health diagnoses, emotional or mood disorders including Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADSD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), anxiety or depression
- 33 per cent of children and youth have a diagnosed learning disability
Paying it forward
Sierra is a shining example of the impact Christie Lake Kids is having right here in our community. She reminds us that kids don’t choose the situation they’re in, but they make the best of every situation. With the right programs in place, kids can enjoy being kids, have fun and participate in arts and sports programs generally out of reach for them.
Support from the community is what keeps programs like CLK going and it means something different to everyone - volunteering, donating, or gifts-in-kind (such as gift cards for food, or gift cards they can use in a silent auction). Learn more about how you can get involved here.
“The support we have received over the years from Hydro Ottawa is invaluable,” says Natalie Benson, Director of Fundraising and Communications, CLK.
At Hydro Ottawa, we’re honoured to be able to build long-term relationships with community partners like Christie Lake Kids and provide mentorship to at-risk youth to help them grow into successful adults. From grants for the Sustainable Youth Leadership Centre at Christie Lake Camp, to Hockey Programs that take place over 20 weeks on Saturdays in the city, to the new Multi-Sport Court that will be enjoyed by hundreds of kids this summer and for years to come. Learn more about our support of CLK by visiting our Community Outreach Page.