BY: KELVIN GAWLEY, BLACK PRESS
Despite exponential growth in its 12 years of existence, Mission’s Zajac Ranch still has room for more kids, but it needs help fulfilling that goal.
In 2014, its first year, Zajac welcomed 50 campers with life-threatening and chronic illnesses. It now takes in approximately 500 children over the course of its one to two week sessions throughout the summer.
The camp’s president, Carmen Zajac, said it was her father’s dream to start a camp for children with all types of medical issues, a first of its kind in the region.
“As long as they can get an OK from their [doctor], then they’re good to go,” said Zajac. “We get children that are on feeding tubes, we get paraplegics, quadriplegics, non-verbal children and they all get to participate in the activities to the level that they can.”
To illustrate the kind of effect the camp experience can have on participants, Zajac tells the story of a boy with Tourette syndrome – a neurological disorder that causes someone to have involuntary movements or vocalizations – who first came to Zajac Ranch when he was 8 years old.
The boy felt ostracized because he was often kicked out of places for involuntarily shouting. He was welcomed at the camp and kept coming back year after year, said Zajac.
At 15, he became a leader in training for two summers and is now a counselor.
Zajac recalled a recent conversation with the boy, who told her: “This camp didn’t just change my life, it saved my life.”
“And that just gives shivers up my spine, when I head that,” said Zajac. “And that’s what we hope comes from camp.”
The camp has benefited from the support of many donors both corporate and private over the years.
In 2011, longtime sponsor Telus installed high-speed fibre-optic internet to the property, something Zajac said has helped the camp operate better and attract more campers.
The ranch previously had a very slow dial-up connection which made it hard for its staff and volunteers to stay in contact with campers’ doctors and parents.
Zajac said many parents find it reassuring to know they can be in direct contact with Zajac Ranch for updates on their child. She said many campers come from across the country and, for some, it’s their first time ever sleeping away from their parents.
Zajac said she is very grateful for the donations, sponsorships and technology the ranch has received from Telus over the years (a $770,000 value, according to the company).
Another revenue stream for the ranch comes from renting out its property to private and corporate functions in its off-season.
Zajac said the camp currently has a gross annual revenue of $600,000 from its various sources but that comes short of its $750,000 operating costs. Once that gap is closed, the camp will be able to achieve its goal of not charging any campers’ families to come.
The camp can also often use material possessions, especially building supplies, according to Zajac.
Those wishing to rent the property, donate, volunteer or contact Zajac Ranch can do so through its website.