An innovative summer camp shown to drastically improve the lives of children and youth with Cerebral Palsy is at risk of shutting its doors in Sarnia.
“It’s touch and go every year — we just don’t know,” said Christa Maclaggan, secretary for the Southwestern Ontario Optimist Conductive Education program.
Its hosts camps in Sarnia, Chatham, Windsor and St. Thomas for children ages two to 16 with varying degrees of Cerebral Palsy — a disorder affecting muscle tone, movement and motor skills.
“We know the children are out there — it’s just a matter of getting the word out.”
Conductive Education is an intense, therapeutic and holistic approach to working with youngsters with the condition, Maclaggan explained. It originated in Budapest, Hungary in the 1940s as a revolutionary education style, but is still relatively new to Canada.
“There are no training facilities in Canada,” said Maclaggan, pointing to a team of certified conductors who travel each year from Budapest to teach the four-week camps in southwestern Ontario.
In Sarnia, the camp has been running the past 15 years, most recently out of Dunlop United Church.
“It’s really an all-inclusive program — it’s not just physiotherapy, occupational therapy or speech therapy. It combines them all together,” said Maclaggan, noting a focus on independence, repetitive movement, and life and social skills.
“They have all sorts of nice, creative ways of making the day very fulfilling for the kids; it always starts off in the morning with massage, to loosen up the muscles, and then progresses through the day to use the larger muscles.”
Each child must have an adult with them at all times.
In the past, families have travelled from as far as Pennsylvania and Winnipeg to attend Sarnia’s camp.
Total cost for the camp is about $2,000 per child, but families have only been charged $100 for the entire four-week session, with the majority of costs covered by the SWONT Conductive Education Trust Fund, through the support of District Optimist Clubs, individual donations and ongoing fundraising.
Board member Rick Devolder said the feedback over the years has been nothing sort of phenomenal.
“In 15 years, I’ve seen children come to the camp and accomplish things like toilet training, and feeding themselves — which is huge,” he said. “We’ve seen some really amazing results.”