Camper's Story: Michael
Tour for Kids Impact: Graham Tait
Volunteer's Story: Ali Skalk
Michael Gibbons: I’m a cancer survivor, ex-camper and counsellor for Camp Kindle. I was a camper for 5 years and worked at Camp Kindle as staff for 4 years.
When did you know you wanted to be a counsellor?
I knew I wanted to be a counsellor when I was 17 in my last year as a camper. I thought to myself, this is so much fun, I can’t imagine not coming back next summer. At the time I was participating in the Counsellor in Training Program (CIT), a program for teens to get exposure of how camp is run and what a counsellor and leader does. During my month as a CIT’er, I started to learn that there is so much work that goes into making sure every child gets a phenomenal experience at camp, and how much passion and care counsellors had for their trade. As I learned more about what it took to be a counsellor, I was really drawn into it, the idea of being a part of the magic of camp really appealed to me, and started my first year as a counsellor the following summer when I turned 18.
What do you enjoy about being a counsellor?
The biggest thing you get when you’re a counsellor at a cancer camp is the feeling of gratitude. There are so many amazing people around you working 16-17 hour days with one sole purpose: To make every child’s week at camp the best time of their life. Many of these kids have had a really rough time, and it’s extremely rewarding seeing them open up, have a ton of fun, and really get to be kids. In all my years of experience with cancer camps, the campers really just want that one thing: to be kids. When a child is on treatment, they can lose a huge amount of freedom in their lives. They lose a lot of energy, sometimes they don’t fit in as well with their peers, and they get less time to have fun. When they get to camp they have the opportunity to have a huge amount of fun and forget about their treatment or prognosis.
That’s where we come in. As a counsellor you get to be the catalyst that really makes the fun times happen. You get to let the kids be kids and have fun. The biggest difference between a cancer camp and a regular camp is just that – you’re helping children have fun that haven’t had fun in a long time.
Graham Tait: Tour for Kids rider 2 years, National Rider in 2016. Graham is passionate about cycling, the outdoors and active living. The physical, emotional and mental health journeys are often decades-long and difficult for children and families affected by cancer and other serious pediatric illness.
What brings you back to Tour for Kids every year?
I love coming back to Tour for Kids every year because I get to spend a weekend with my wheel family, hear inspiring stories, visit with children and families affected by childhood cancer, and, of course, feel like a kid back at camp again (staying at two amazing places in Alberta – Camp Kindle and the David Thompson Resort). The cycling, food and company is top-notch!
Why do you participate at Tour for Kids?
I love participating in Tour for Kids because it is well organized, fun, and I know every penny of fundraising helps sends kids affected by cancer (and their siblings) to these amazing camps. What is better than a summer camp experience? It is something many of us fondly remember from our own childhood. A place where we learned about independence, team work, friendship, inclusion (and midnight snacks)! I know the kids are so well supported at camp and carry this joyous experience through their lives. The opportunity for exhausted parents to have a break and know their kids are safe and getting the best out of the short summer is so important too!
Describe how it feels when you arrive at camp after cycling?
Arriving at Camp during the 2016 and 2017 Tour for Kids, I’ve jumped off my bike and dove straight into playing some live music with some good friends. It is an awesome time to chat with people, share dinner and good company, and to wind down as we look forward to the final day 3 of the Tour.
What message do you take home with you after visiting camp/riding Tour for Kids?
I am always able to bring home some humbling and inspiring stories from Camp and the Tour to share with my own family. The strength and courage of the kids and families, passion and hard work of the volunteers and organizers, and the camaraderie of fellow cyclists and everyone else is amazing.
If you could describe your experience in one sentence what would it be?
Tour for Kids and Camp gets you outdoors and inspired about all the positive things in the world, and the difference that can be made at the grassroots level.
This summer I will have been volunteering with Tour for Kids for 6 years. I am a 20 year old student in Calgary, currently studying Health Science at Mount Royal University.
Why do you participate in Tour for Kids?
In 2011, my older brother Grant was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He passed away later that year and left my family feeling devastated. We hadn’t been involved with volunteering, but Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta led us to Tour for Kids in 2012. We saw the opportunity to give back on a beautiful weekend, and volunteering was the best decision we ever made. My mom and I were rest stop volunteers and my dad worked crew, and we all had an amazing time. Tour for Kids allowed us to contribute to a cause that so greatly impacted our lives in the most fun way.
What brings me back is the feeling of community you build over the weekend with all the riders and volunteers alike. Every person on the ride has the biggest heart and makes the weekend so fun and memorable. Everyone wants to hear my family’s story and really cares about making a difference, just like we do. It gives me hope seeing such an amazing group participating on Tour year after year.
Describe how it feels when you arrive at camp?
Camp Kindle has the warmest energy as soon as you drive in. I was lucky enough to attend camp once as a teen, and my brother was able to go to summer camp once when he was in treatment. He didn’t stop talking about how much he loved camp for a week, and from then on it held a special place in my heart. It’s such a unique place where kids going through so much can forget all their troubles and just have fun.
A few years ago my family and I got the honor of dedicating the Grant Skalk Tipi Village at Camp Kindle. Now every year on tour, we get to sleep in the tipis he loved so much. It feels like he is with us in those tipis, and that is a feeling I wouldn’t trade for the world. We also love sharing his story with other volunteers and cyclists by showing them the tipis. Grant’s tipi village deeply connects us to Camp Kindle and makes arriving on tour that much more special.
The night we spend at camp on Tour a group of campers always comes and gives us a show, and we get to hear from a child or family facing childhood cancer. It makes me smile seeing the campers have so much fun, and it reminds me of how important the experience was to Grant. It is always exciting and heartwarming to see the joy camp brings to campers, volunteers, and cyclists alike. Returning to camp every year brings back so many amazing memories of the happiness it has brought to so many families like my own.
If you could describe your experience in one sentence what would it be?
For me, Tour for Kids is heartwarming, impactful, and so much fun.