Nicaragua

Outreach360 Welcomes New Students!

Outreach360 welcomed 50 new students to the Nicaragua Learning Center on Monday, September 25, 2017, many of whom former volunteers may recognize as English language learning camp attendees. It is an absolute joy for Outreach360 to accept more students into the Nicaragua Learning Center program. The highly anticipated arrival of these new students has brought significant changes to our program. We are excited to announce that Outreach360 now has 20 computers for our students to utilize during class time. Softwares, such as Rosetta Stone, will be used to serve our students and improve their mastery of the English language. Outreach360 Nicaragua Learning Center students are thrilled with these new changes to our program and are looking forward to the future. As are we.

Here is an inside peek into new Outreach360 Learning Center students’ first day of class, as well as a glimpse at our senior students using the new Outreach360 computers for the first time!

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Caminos Volunteer Finds Friendship

St. Lawrence University Junior Ollie Smith interacts with Nicaraguan student at the Outreach360 Learning Center in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

St. Lawrence University Junior Ollie Smith traveled to Nicaragua in August 2017 as an individual volunteer with Outreach360. Ollie has volunteered with Outreach360 seven times since his first trip to the Dominican Republic in 2010. During the Summer of 2016, Smith participated in the Outreach360 Caminos program, which is an eight-week internship experience housed in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

What keeps him coming back to volunteer with Outreach360 is the memories and interactions he has with the students. Although the students inspire him to return each year, he is most fond of the Outreach360 staff and volunteers. The relationships that Ollie has built while volunteering motivates his passion for service.

“Obviously, I come back for the kids, but also another reason that drives me to come back is the people. What’s great about Outreach360 is that you meet amazing people, from kitchen staff to leaders. You meet new people every time. It’s amazing the connections you make here,” Ollie said.

Ollie taught English immersion classes to 37 Nicaraguan students from the German Pomares neighborhood located in Jinotega. Ollie became close to these students as a Caminos Volunteer in 2016. Working with the students continuously for eight weeks allows Caminos Volunteers the opportunity to create long-lasting relationships.

The Caminos Volunteer Program boosts leadership skills in an unfamiliar environment. He became quickly attached to his new surroundings in Jinotega while serving as a Caminos Volunteer. Although he often felt pushed outside of his comfort zone, he felt rewarded in more ways than one, he explains.

Ollie says, “I like trying to learn from my experiences, good or bad, but working with the Caminos program was an amazing one. It helped me develop new leadership qualities in myself. Leading adults who are older than you, and kids who are tinier than you; it really builds your character.”

Volunteering abroad provides a unique opportunity for those looking to find internships in education. With Outreach360, Caminos volunteers take on the role of a teacher to educate underserved students in Nicaraguan communities.

“The students grow, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. The best example of this is this one particular student at the Learning Center. As long as I have known her, she has barely said a peep. This year, I think, she has said more to me in one week than she has said in the 5 or 6 years that I have known her. She has really come out of her shell,” Ollie said.

Outreach360 welcomes Caminos volunteers, like Ollie, to serve in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic for as long as six months. The organization immerses Caminos volunteers in cultural experiences unique to Nicaragua.

Ollie mentions, “The Caminos program is the best way to spend the summer. You get to be really immersed in Nicaraguan culture and you get to know the ins-and-outs of Outreach360.”

More information about Outreach360 Caminos Internship can be found here: https://outreach360.org/volunteer/individuals-long-term-internships/.

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7 Ways Outreach360 Volunteers Serve Sustainably

When searching for a sustainable volunteer program, it is important to consider the footprints that the organization leaves behind. Outreach360 believes education is the best sustainable solution to combat poverty in Latin America and provide the children we serve with long-term opportunities to transform their own lives; however, we recognize that is more easily said than done. In order to ensure that our organization is sustainable in the communities we serve in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, we take measured steps towards educating groups of students who might one day take over our program, allowing us to pass on our teacher torches. Poco a poco.

Outreach360 recognizes that finding an ideal volunteer program that values sustainability can be difficult. So we decided to make it easy for you. Here are 7 reasons why volunteering with Outreach360 is sustainable:

1. We offer services, de-emphasize materialism. 

There is a subtle difference between serving and helping, one that can easily be misinterpreted. Outreach360 is in Latin America to serve, not to help. Our volunteers are directly instructed not to give away money, food, or drink to students or community members in Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic. Outreach360 believes that education is the best sustainable form of service. With education, our students will be able to sustain themselves without help. These are not poor, sick, helpless people. Outreach360 volunteers share their strengths and blessings with community members, and they share their blessings with volunteers. It’s a two-way street.

2. We let the good times grow. 

At our two properties in Nicaragua, Outreach360 will be implementing projects involving sustainable agriculture. The agriculture program will provide an opportunity for our students to serve and learn. Students will have the opportunity to learn about agriculture by growing foods like bananas, avocados, and mangos. Outreach360 students can use this knowledge to plant their own gardens at home, providing their families with home-grown food and resources. The food production in our Agriculture & Sustainability Program will provide food to the Outreach360 volunteer program, to the on-site student program, and may be used to generate income for the local program.

3. We buy locally. 

Outreach360 embraces a farm-to-table philosophy. The food and produce that Outreach360 purchases for staff and volunteer consumption are purchased in community markets and stores where local farmers sell their food. Additional products that we buy (volunteer bunk beds, furniture, cooking supplies, etc.) are also bought locally. In addition, Outreach360 encourages staff and volunteers to support local businesses while staying in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

4. We hire locally.

The Outreach360 permanent teaching staff in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic is made up entirely of local community professionals. This is also representative of the kitchen staff at both locations. Outreach360 employs community members for facility maintenance and repairs as well. Former volunteers will affectionately recognize the Nicaraguan policemen that voluntarily escort them up Peña de La Cruz, a mountain located in Jinotega, Nicaragua that volunteers’ hike while staying with Outreach360. Whereas former Dominican Republic volunteers will recognize the local drivers that Outreach360 continuously hires for transportation.

5. We value direct service, not voluntourism. 

“It’s not about you.” The countries in which Outreach360 serves are beautiful and worth exploring; however, it is of the utmost importance to Outreach360 that volunteers understand that their time abroad is used to serve. In order to create a sustainable program in which students can become Outreach360 teachers, volunteers participate in direct service, not voluntourism. The impact that Outreach360 volunteers leave on students will pave the way for more knowledge and growth in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

6. We support local co-operatives and industries. 

Outreach360 collaborates and works with local co-operatives and industries to support local commerce and culture. Outreach360 brings volunteers to experience local co-operatives and a variety of other local industries. For example, Dominican Republic volunteers tour salt flats and have the opportunity to purchase salt farmed on the island. In Nicaragua, volunteers visit a black pottery co-operative where they learn about the process of making black pottery and get the chance to mold something of their own.

7. We want to pass on our teacher torches. 

Outreach360 Adelante Volunteers are returning students that have graduated from the Outreach360 English language learning program. Adelante Volunteers venture back to Outreach360 to teach new students. These individuals serve Outreach360 by creating a sustainable program where students become the teachers. In the near future, Outreach360 will be giving Adelante Volunteers and native teachers the reigns of our program, which will, in turn, allow Outreach360 to branch out to other countries in Latin America.

More information about Outreach360 can be found here: https://outreach360.org/.

 

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College Student “Profits” Big from Non-Profit Work

College of William & Mary student Trey Mastaler reads with a Nicaraguan student in the Outreach360 Learning Center located in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

College of William & Mary student Trey Mastaler traveled to Nicaragua in August 2017 as an individual volunteer with Outreach360.Trey has volunteered with Outreach360 three times since 2016. He decided to volunteer with Outreach360 as an individual volunteer before the start of his Senior year of college. He says that he could not think of any better way to end the summer than with non-profit volunteer work with Outreach360.

“Outreach360 has given me such an appreciation for things that we have in the United States, like education that we take for granted. It’s also given me a second family. It’s given me friends in different places. It’s given me people I can talk to. That’s why I keep coming back,” Trey explained.

Trey taught English immersion classes to 37 Nicaraguan students from the German Pomares neighborhood located in Jinotega. He taught lessons that engaged students in reading and writing skills. Together with his volunteer partners, Mastaler encouraged students to aspire to reach their full potential in the classroom.

Trey says, “Each time I come here, the students’ English gets so much better. When I see the looks on the students’ faces at the end of the week or when they are just grasping a new concept, that’s everything for me.”

Outreach360 welcomes individual volunteers, like Trey, to serve in impoverished areas in Latin America. Each trip that Trey has participated in has offered new life lessons for him to take home; however, ultimately, he greatly admires Nicaraguans’ positivity and determination in the face of adversity.

“Being here and realizing how a lot of these people take every day as a gift and they say when something bad happens, ‘Okay. Tomorrow is a new day’. It’s an all-new perspective that I have had and that’s something I try to do now. If today was tough, I say tomorrow is a new day,” Trey said.

Volunteering abroad provides a unique opportunity for college students. With Outreach360, college students take on the role of a teacher to educate underserved students in Nicaraguan communities. Trey found himself pleasantly surprised that he enjoyed teaching younger students after his first experience volunteering with Outreach360. Having always imagined himself teaching at a higher level, he said that he felt shocked that he favored working with the students on basic grammar and language structure.

Trey enjoys the unpredictability of teaching as well. Although he admits that most lessons do not go as planned, he loves the challenge of working in an English language classroom. He recalls a lesson that he taught in the Learning Center about detective vocabulary terms. Despite not knowing what most of the new words meant, one student wrote an elaborate story about an international terrorist, completely catching him off guard.

It’s moments like these Trey looks back on and laughs. Waking up each day and not knowing how the day is going to go keeps volunteers on their toes, he explains. he would not want to volunteer any other way.

Trey said, “The opportunity to work with Outreach360 and be here in Nicaragua has been the blessing and joy of a lifetime. Every single day I think about these kids.”

Trey is already planning his next volunteer experience with Outreach360 for January 2018. He is looking forward to spending more time with the Nicaraguan Learning Center students, but he is unsure of when he will be returning to volunteer again.

“I don’t know if or when I’ll be back after this upcoming January. My God, I don’t know how I am going to keep it together when I leave. Jinotega might want to stock up on its tissues,” he jokes.

More information about Outreach360 can be found here: www.outreach360.org.

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Family Finds Future in Volunteering Abroad

Canadian resident Lisa Gerrard volunteered abroad in Jinotega, Nicaragua in August 2017 alongside her children, Avery Kit, age 8, and Ryan Kit, age 11, with Outreach360. Lisa, a Criminology Professor at Algonquin College in Ottawa, volunteered with Outreach360 for the first time in Feb. 2014 leading 10 college students in the Dominican Republic. After volunteering with Outreach360 in 2014, Lisa decided to bring her children to volunteer in Nicaragua.

Ryan Kit, left, reads with Nicaraguan student in the Outreach360 Learning Center located in Jinotega, Nicaragua

“I was hoping to gain some time with my children, as well as a new adventure; doing something different, pushing them outside of their comfort zone, and seeing the lessons that we could take home as a result,” she explains.

Lisa and her two children taught English immersion classes to 37 Nicaraguan students from the German Pomares neighborhood located in Jinotega. Lisa and her daughter, Avery, taught lessons to students about writing and reading. Ryan opted to teach interactive lessons involving movement and expression by honing into his passion for sports. All in all, each family member enjoyed teaching the English language.

Avery says, “I really did like the program. I really liked working with the kids. When I see them learning and trying to speak in English, it just makes me so happy to see that happen.”

Lisa Gerrard, left, with daughter Avery Kit, right, interact with Nicaraguan students in the Outreach360 Learning Center located in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

Outreach360 welcomes family volunteers, like the Gerrard family, to serve in impoverished areas in Latin America, while providing a safe and inclusive environment for volunteers of all ages. The organization immerses family volunteers in cultural experiences unique to both the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

Ryan and Avery especially enjoyed exploring Nicaragua. They admit they were both nervous about being in a new environment but were glad that they had decided to volunteer as a family.

“It’s inspiring to help other people because at the end of the day you feel good and they feel good too. I learned that no matter where you are from in the world, all kids are the same,” Ryan said.

Volunteering abroad provides a unique opportunity for families. With Outreach360, parents teach alongside their children to educate underserved students in Nicaraguan communities. This opportunity opens doors for families looking to spend quality time together.

“As a teacher, it was really neat to see my children teaching. There is so much family time, even if we were just playing catch in the backyard, skipping in the front, or whatever the case may be. At home, we are so busy, riding off to football practice, or wherever we are going. With Outreach360, you are unplugged and it is just family time,” said Lisa.

She admits that she is already planning on leading another group of her college students to volunteer in Nicaragua; however, she hopes to continue to bring her family to volunteer with Outreach360 each year. Both of her children are eager to continue to serve abroad and at home in Canada.

Lisa explains, “I don’t know how we couldn’t do it again after doing it once and having exposed my kids to this opportunity. I think it needs to become a part of our regular routine.”

More information about Outreach360 can be found here: www.outreach360.org.

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I Started a Team From Scratch!

Penn State 2017 graduate Alyssa Gehman reads with a Nicaraguan student in the Outreach360 Learning Center located in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

Penn State Alumni Alyssa Gehman traveled to Jinotega, Nicaragua for two weeks in August 2017 as an individual volunteer for Outreach360. This was Alyssa’s first time traveling to Nicaragua as an individual volunteer, whereas in the past she has traveled with large groups of fellow college classmates. Alyssa has volunteered with Outreach360 five times since her first trip to Nicaragua in March of 2014. What makes Alyssa so remarkable is her dedication to volunteering with Outreach360, which ultimately has inspired her to lead large groups of Penn State underclassmen to volunteer in Nicaragua without administrative support.

Interacting with the kids is what keeps her coming back, she says. Alyssa’s experiences volunteering with Outreach360 prompted her to lead not one, but two volunteer trips from Penn State. Most notably in the winter of 2016, she pioneered a volunteer trip for 16 people from Penn State as a Campus Representative intern with Outreach360.

“It was like having a part-time job on top of school, on top of having an actual job, and on top of everything else going on, but it was the best thing I ever did. I loved it,” Alyssa remembers.

Alyssa was inspired to share the Outreach360 volunteer experience with her fellow Penn State classmates after having participated in volunteer trips with Penn State Altoona’s student-run service organization called Students Committed to Service. Although she had organizational support on the Penn State Altoona campus, that was not the case at Penn State.

Alyssa explains, “I started from nothing. I had no organization, had no funds, had no special way to advertise. It was all just through word of mouth and maybe a few posters. Somehow, after months of work, I had a huge group of 16 people willing to volunteer.”

Alyssa taught English immersion classes to 37 Nicaraguan students from the German Pomares neighborhood located in Jinotega during these trips. Her group engaged the students in creative lessons that encouraged the kids to get on their feet. Together, she and her Penn State classmates made learning fun.

The rewards for leading such a trip empowered Alyssa to become a leader on her campus. Affectionately known as the “Nicaragua Girl” at Penn State, she embraced her love of service by sharing her experiences with everyone who would listen.

“Realizing that I could do it by myself was amazing. I love leading other people, kind of being the ‘mom’ of the group, and sharing my passion. I’m so happy I got to bring a group down otherwise I would have had to go by myself or I might not have even gone,” Alyssa stated.

The best part about her experiences with Outreach360 over the years has been the number of forever friends that she has brought back home with her. She recalls a memory with her now best friends after they ran down the streets of Jinotega to get a smoothie on their last day in the country. They barely made it back to the volunteer house before nightfall, but the smoothie was worth the mad dash, she says. It’s simple moments like these that have brought Alyssa closer to her Outreach360 volunteer family.

Outreach360 welcomes pioneer volunteers, like Alyssa, to serve in impoverished areas in Latin America year-round. Alyssa says the opportunity to work with Outreach360 will push you outside of your comfort zone, but the trip is worth the travel. She hopes that other volunteers will feel inspired enough to lead trips of their own one day.

“Outreach360 has changed my life. I don’t know where I would be if I never came on this trip. I’ve learned so much about myself. I learned my purpose in life. I’ve met so many amazing people that I will probably be friends with forever. I’ve learned so much about what I want to do and who I want to be as a person after I came here,” she said.

More information about Outreach360 can be found here: www.outreach360.org.

 

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More Than Just a Field Trip in Nicaragua

As a Caminos volunteer this past summer in Nicaragua, I had the privilege of sharing many wonderful experiences with the students in the learning program. We shared a wonderful celebration of International Children’s Day with a party that included “pin the heart on the student” and salsa lessons, we shared the joy and excitement of seeing a helicopter fly over the learning center one day as we were singing songs at recess, and we shared endless amounts of laughter as the students learned what it means to hit turbulence. What ended up being my favorite and most cherished shared experience was the field trip to Managua that we took the children on towards the end of the summer.

These students have been in this learning program for three years, so at this point they know how things work. They know when we will have a celebration instead of class, they somehow always know who the upcoming week’s volunteers will be, and they know that every summer they get to go on a field trip. So, in the weeks leading up to the trip, they were ecstatic. They could barely contain their excitement. They couldn’t stay in their seats or pay attention to the lessons we planned, and all they could talk about was the field trip. Two days before, one of the students said to me, “Teacher Lucy, I know what I am going to wear; my Outreach360 t-shirt, shorts, my tennis shoes, a hat and my sunglasses.”

As an upper middle class American who attended a small charter school from Kindergarten to 8th grade, and was involved in many organizations apart from that, I am a seasoned veteran when it comes to field trips. Having been on countless field trips myself, and having taken the refugee children that I work with in the summer when I am home, I was sure that this one would be just like the rest of them. I was anticipating a quiet bus ride full of sleeping students, and a long day full of standing around listening to people talk while having to make sure bored kids don’t wander off. What I didn’t realize was that this was going to be a field trip unlike any I had experienced before, and one of the most rewarding days of my life.

We arrived at the learning center at 5 am, only to be greeted by the students in their very best attire waiting patiently, but excitedly, to get on the bus that they had been assigned to. The boys were fully equipped with mounds of gel holding their hair in just the right place, and the girls had all sorts of hair bows and clips, some even had their hair straightened. The bus rides did not include sleeping students, but students pretending that the two busses were racing, cheering for the bus drivers by saying “Si se puede!” or “Yes you can!”, and singing silly songs at the top of their lungs. This was all before 8 am.

What followed was a very long, very hot day of making our way around the city of Managua. We stopped at the airport, a retired airplane, walked through a historical plaza, went on a boat ride and finished the day with dinner at McDonald’s. The attitude the students had throughout the day was amazing to me. It was a smoldering day in the middle of July, and we were outside, many of the students were wearing long pants, but not once did I hear any of them complain. They never said a word about how hot they were or how hungry or how tired. They were all so excited and so happy to be there that they were content to just be, no matter the circumstances.

I don’t think I can emphasize enough how long of a day this was. We started it at 5 am and it didn’t end until 9:30 pm. That being said, it was also one of the greatest days I’ve ever lived. Being able to be a part of such an exciting day in the students’ lives and seeing everything we taught them culminate in something as sensational as being able to experience the things they learned about was something I would have never dreamt would happen before this summer.

The students’ excitement and curiosity could be felt by everyone around them throughout the entire day, and honestly throughout the entire summer. The growth that I saw in the students this summer not only in their English skills but also as people was incredibly fulfilling, and the relationships I formed with them, as well as the other volunteers, are so special to me. I know that after this summer, I have a second family in Jinotega that will welcome me back whenever I get the chance to return. And believe me, I will be returning.

As my counterpart Jessica Mathias so eloquently put it, “Jinotega is a home to me now. Come see why.”

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I will choose to look differently at the world today.

The wonderful thing about Outreach360 is that it gives anyone the opportunity to invest in another person’s life.  As a typical American, I came to Nicaragua this summer with a whole bag of assumptions that my role would be a superhero to those less fortunate. Thankfully, I was quickly corrected in my thinking. The magic of Outreach360 is that it equips people to be on an equal playing field. As those that are born into wealth, it is hard to comprehend that others that are not are still as able, happy, and capable. It’s a shame that such an assumption is made without any true knowledge of the vast variety of nations and ethnic groups we have in our one small world.

As a Caminos volunteer this summer, the thing that struck me most was the repetition of this one small assumption that plagues the lives of each visitor that comes to our humble Volunteer House. They marveled each week at the electricity, cleanliness, and general joy that permeates the area. Each week we would grin, nod, and listen to their thoughts and say yes, it’s a great way to broaden your understanding, isn’t it? To me, this was the most crucial thing you could learn from a trip like this. These kids have rescued us from a life of believing that our one small piece of this planet contains all of life’s answers. We teach kids to dream, but they taught me to dream differently.

And so, that is reason enough for anyone to come and try this thing we call ‘stepping out of our comfort zones’. It’s a huge decision to say, I will choose to look differently at the world today. However it is an essential way to becoming a person who can love anyone. That is the beauty behind a wonderful program like Outreach360- besides the fact that it is well run, well done, and so easy to fall in love with. It teaches you what love looks like past your current understanding. I urge anyone that stumbles upon this blog to not hesitate on an experience like this. It doesn’t matter your credentials or your abilities, all you need is a heart and room to let it grow.

Jinotega is a home to me now. Come see why.

Nos vemos pronto,
(See you soon)

Jessica Mathias
Caminos Summer Intern 2015
Nashville, TN

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A Family of Three

The Monilaws served with us for three weeks in Nicaragua.  This is their story: 

At first I thought, I’d like to volunteer teaching English somewhere.  Get out of the daily grind and experience something completely new!  This idea turned into; how could I bring my family? Which turned into; could we actually all volunteer together somewhere?  After much research I came across outreach360.  One of the few organizations who not only welcomed children but allowed them, encourage them, to participate as volunteers.  This idea, I loved!  As a family of three; Sydney – 11, Stacey – 4, and myself, I thought this could be the perfect fit!

We chose Nicaragua for many reasons, one in particular being Sydney is enrolled in a Spanish immersion program in her school and I wanted her to have the opportunity to use the Spanish language she had learned as well as experience one of the cultures/ countries she had been studying.  Stacey and I were happy to get away from the cold Canadian winter to just about anywhere!  So, Nicaragua it was!

When planning this trip, traveling with 2 children brought many questions and logistical planning.  Would we actually be able to teach?  Would we have culture shock?  What if we didn’t like the food?  What kind of precautions should we take? So after everyone had vaccinations, packed medicines for every possible ailment, a month worth of snacks, and Spanish vocabulary was practiced, we arrived at Outreach360 only to realize all the worrying was for nothing.  We felt nothing but comfortable and welcomed (not to mention excited) the moment we stepped off the plane!  Outreach360 staff really made us feel at home.

Outreach360 has 10 principles to keep in mind when volunteering with them.  One being “Its not about you”.  I adopted this principle when we first arrived and really focused on the mission of Outreach360; to help children who may not otherwise have the opportunity to reach their full potential.  The Learning Center was amazing and the kids who are in this program are so eager to learn.  They are smart kids and I felt so fortunate to have the chance to work with them for 3 whole weeks.

One of my favorite moments was teaching the kids at the Learning Centre hockey!  We thought bringing Canada’s national sport to the kids of Jinotega would be a great experience and something new for them to try.  We packed 8 hockey sticks with us and it took less than 30 seconds for the kids to catch on to the idea of the game.  The laughter that ensued was contagious as they ran back and forth across the backyard, sticks in hand!  We all enjoyed teaching them and are so glad we can leave a small part of something we love as a family, with them.

It turned out Outreach360 was the perfect match for our family.  I could go on and on about the amazing staff, fantastic volunteers, and of course the inspiring students.  I will definitely leave with more than I expected to and our experience in Jinotega is one all three of is will not soon forget.      -Katie

“Outreach360 has been one of the best experiences for us.  It makes it clearer, after being in Jinotega for 3 weeks, that the work being done by volunteers and staff is benefiting the kids.  The kids are open to any recreational activity; we brought hockey sticks from home and they loved playing hockey!  I also met some pretty amazing volunteers and even though it’s about the kids, meeting volunteers who are also so open and friendly really MAKES this experience.  The kids are all so unique and having met them I can see what individuals they really are.  (I won’t spoil the experience for you with too much detail, you’ll have to come see for yourself!)”  -Sydney, 11

“My favorite part was camp because I was making so many new friends!  I’m so happy because I got to bring my hockey stick and play hockey with the kids.”   -Stacey, 4

 

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