Picture this. You wake up on a warm day in July, as the birds are chirping, and the sun begins to cover the camp in a warm glow. After grabbing a cup of coffee, you head outside to sit and relax on a Muskoka chair by the lake.
It sounds like dream, or the image that may pop into your head as your co-worker describes their perfect vacation. Prior to the pandemic, this was Sandra's summer reality as a CNIB Lake Joe volunteer.
For 60 years, CNIB Lake Joe has been providing enriching camp experiences for Canadians with sight loss – where children are encouraged to shine, youth are empowered to thrive, and 'kids of all ages' enjoy recreational pursuits. Located in the heart of Muskoka, Ontario, CNIB Lake Joe is a one-of-a-kind accessible camp that stretches over 12.5 acres on the northwest corner of beautiful Lake Joseph.
Sandra started volunteering with CNIB as a Vision Mate, a program that connects volunteers with participants for friendly conversations. The first time she heard about CNIB Lake Joe was during a peer support group in her hometown of Newmarket.
“I remember hearing about the camp, and I thought it sounded quite exciting” explains Sandra. “After speaking with a CNIB staff member about the camp and looking into it more, I thought it would be a wonderful experience to help out with.”
She stayed at CNIB Lake Joe for the first time in 2017 and spent two weeks helping with the adult programs.
“It truly is a magical piece of property,” says Sandra. “They have a huge meal hall, a swimming area, boats for tubing and sailing, a large waterslide and so much more. The locals that live along Lake Joseph are incredibly supportive of the camp as well.”
After they settle in, campers register for their preferred activities for the week. As a volunteer, Sandra helps with many different activities, and often learns something new.
“I remember I was helping guests with the paddleboards, and a woman said I should give it a try,” explains Sandra. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, you must be joking,’ but I was standing on it by the end of the week! I told someone to take a picture, so I could show my kids.”
One summer, Sandra even tried her hand at archery.
“Yes, they put me down for archery one summer,” laughs Sandra. “They have a huge bullseye that they stick balloons on. When you hear the pop after the arrow hits, there's a lot of excitement!”
Each day of fun comes to an end with a campfire. Campers bring their instruments and showcase their talents, and it becomes a group singalong.
“The talent that these campers have is absolutely amazing,” says Sandra. “One gentleman sounded like a trained opera singer – he was so good.”
There are so many wonderful things about CNIB Lake Joe, but Sandra says the truly magical part of camp is how everyone comes together to pitch in and make it possible.
“It’s amazing to see so many different people from so many diverse backgrounds come together to support the campers,” explains Sandra. “The fact that I’m able to help give them a week of fun they’ll never forget is incredible.”
While COVID-19 has paused in-person programming at CNIB Lake Joe, Sandra continues to volunteer as a Virtual Vision Mate, connecting virtually with participants – eagerly waiting for the camp to re-open.
“I would love to volunteer until I can’t anymore,” says Sandra. "As long as I can be of help to them, I’ll be back at CNIB Lake Joe each summer.”
If Sandra's story inspires you volunteer with CNIB, apply today!