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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Fundraising committee secures Camp Bryerswood

by Sylene Argent

It has been a busy ten-months for the members of the Bryerswood Youth Camp Optimist Club, which was formed with an intent to raise the $500,000 needed to purchase the local 25-acre campsite, which features a pond, cabins, and plenty of space to learn, play, and participate in seasonal activities.

  Thanks to the dedication of the club’s members, it was able to secure Camp Bryerswood from the Girls Guides of Canada, just before the negotiated deadline of October 30.

  In 2017, Girl Guides of Canada announced it would sell its Ontario-based campgrounds, including the local 25-acre campsite. Around that time, the Bryerswood Youth Camp Optimist Club was formed, and had to go through court to get standing as a club, so it could negotiate with Girl Guides.

  In December, it was able to sign the agreement of purchase for Camp Bryerswood, then began fundraising to cover the $500,000 cost to purchase.

  Cathy Robertson, Vice President, and Kathi Poupard, President of the Bryerswood Youth Camp Optimist Club, were involved with Girl Guides previously, and decided to get like-minded individuals together to try to preserve the site for future generations of youth to enjoy, when they heard the property was going up for sale.   

  “We have had some great pledges come in,” Robertson said, noting as of last week, $242,850 was raised, with another $13,000 in pledges. Combined, that is 52 percent of the fundraising goal.

  In addition, Poupard noted the Club was able to solicit the help of a social-investor, who prefers to remain anonymous, to bring the club up to the purchase price of $430,000. The $500,000 goal was made to ensure there would be enough money to pay off any other bills that may come up, related to the cost of purchasing.

  The social-investor’s assistance will give the Club a five-year mortgage they will have to pay back. “That’s why we are still appealing to people to continue to donate,” Robertson said.

  The social-investor, “Believed in us so strongly, that he wanted to make sure we hit our target,” Robertson said. “It was really exciting.”

  The past ten-months of fundraising have had its ups and downs, Robertson said. The Club has received some really great support from within the community. “We are confident we will get there. Now that people know we have the funding, hopefully they will be more positive in deciding to donate.”

  The Bryerswood Youth Camp Optimist Club’s future camp programs will include all youth of Windsor, Essex, and Chatham-Kent, whether it be through youth groups, church groups, schools, Cadets, or Guiding. The vision for the campsite is to provide structured, outdoor leadership, learning, and empowerment programs for youth.

  It is hoped programming will be able to take place next summer, if COVID guidelines allow, and even earlier for weekend camping, Poupard said. “We are not exactly sure when we will be open yet, as there are a lot of things to do, but we will definitely be letting people know when we are open and available to rent.”

  Poupard explained securing the camp is the end of a long road, but the beginning of another. The Club has had a long-range development plan made that has a lot of great ideas for the future, so the camp transforms from a trailer camp [which it was when it started as a KOA camp in 1972, before Girl Guides of Canada purchased it 20-years, later] to a really wonderful youth camp. The plans are fabulous. We are really excited about that.”

  Robertson explained the plans include adding a dormitory, washroom area, an Indigenous Medicine Wheel, yurts, and refurbished cabins. There will also be opportunities to learn about nature.

  Going forward, it will also be an energy efficient camp and will use the opportunity to teach about using solar energy to cook and complete other tasks.

  “It is going to be an exciting opportunity for the youth of the community and the youth of Chatham-Kent,” Robertson said. “It may be a long road, but it will be an exciting one.”

  Those who would like to make a donation can do so through its website, Donations can also be sent in via cheque.

  In addition, the group plans to host more fundraisers, including another rib and chicken dinner at the River Canard K of C, a popcorn sale, and a clothing collection, amongst other plans.  

  Poupard and Robertson thanked everyone for the generosity and support, and for believing in them.

  They are looking forward to getting the camp’s keys in their hands by the end of the month.  

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