Brandon Keir and Alea Wilson

Brandon Keir and Alea Wilson

Easter Seals Camp Winfield gets surprise makeover

Hundreds of volunteers shine up Camp Winfield thanks to huge community effort

It’s a transformation beyond expectations.

On Saturday, an army of 300 volunteers showed up at Easter Seals Camp Winfield to initiate an extreme makeover of the facility, which opens its doors to children with mental and physical disabilities.

“With what’s being done here, they end up with the best camp in the world,” said Stephen Miller, Easter Seals president.

“We’re thrilled by what’s going on here. It’s amazing.”

The catalyst for the makeover began in the spring when Relish Transport owner Rob Ellis and his wife Lisa toured the property and noticed the aging infrastructure.

“Throwing money at it wasn’t a solution but getting a group of people together to renovate the camp would be a better use of time and money,” said Lisa Ellis, who lives in Armstrong.

From there, the couple enlisted members of their ball team and the planning moved ahead — including approaching friends and businesses from throughout the Okanagan and as far away as Vancouver and Quebec.

“It took on a life of its own. The support was insane,” said Leah Riley, a Vernon resident who was on the organizing committee.

“Every person we talked to wanted to be part of it.”

Between donated products and volunteer labour, about $1.2 million was invested in the camp, including a new outdoor barbecue area, irrigation, a fire break, a new outdoor amphitheater, cabinets, appliances, furniture, a tarp for the waterslide, painting, landscaping, handicapped doors and new air conditioning in the dorms.

“Something was going on in every corner,” said Riley.

While everyone was busy, a small group focused on a memorial garden, a secret project that was only unveiled after the work was completely done.

“It’s a place to say goodbye to their friends,” said Riley of the campers, who are devastated when a summer friends dies.

The community investment was a major boost for the non-profit camp, which operates on a limited budget.

“We scrounge, we fix, we repair, we patch. We do  the best we can,” said Rick Harker, who is the caretaker along with his wife Marlene.

“This is beyond anything you can dream of or fathom to see all of the brand new stuff.”

Despite the months of planning and all of the hard work Saturday, Riley says the entire project was worthwhile as the camp can continue to provide children with the fun and independence they deserve.

“We want to inspire other people to do something like this,” she said.