“There’s so much magic, so much fun, so much glitter.”
That gay wonderland would be the Ten Oaks Project and its camp programs. And those would be the words of Anna Penner, chair of the project’s Toronto community engagement committee. On March 21, Ten Oaks will host Acorn Prance, a dance-a-thon fundraiser.
“It will benefit all of our programs,” Penner says.
Since 2005, the Ten Oaks Project has offered two camp experiences to children and youth of LGBT identities, families and communities: the one week sleep away Camp Ten Oaks (for those aged eight to 17), and the four day Project Acorn (ages 16-24), both of which take place on a campsite just outside of Kingston, Ontario.
Penner says they never turn campers away based on costs, and that all of Ten Oaks Project’s programs are subsidized. This has meant incurring a lot of expenses and therefore the need to fundraise.
This year the fundraising goal for Acorn Prance is $15,000, and dancing is the name of the game. Participants are encouraged to wear costumes and come up with fun team names and dance routines. You can raise money online, and be part of a team of three to eight members.
“The goal really is just to create a fun and friendly space, while also raising money for a great cause.”
It’s a cause that has changed the lives of many. In past years, the program has welcomed 72 campers each summer and this year 10 more will come aboard. While most campers are from Toronto or Ottawa, young folk from across Canada have participated as well. “There really is a wide range of areas that people are coming from and I think that it’s because our program is so unique,” Penner says.
Gavin Barill, 19, is a former Ten Oaks camper. From Toronto, he first attended the camp when he was 13. Ten Oaks was a staple of his summer from 2009 to 2012.
“In general it just made me a happier person,” Barill says. “Because I was a gay teenager my parents wanted me to have a safe environment.”
But the subsidies were crucial. “I probably couldn’t have gone to camp if they didn’t have the subsidization they do.” An anxious teenager, he was timid about being gay and says that knowing he was in an accepting environment was vital. “That did make me more comfortable.”
The more comfortable he felt, the more he opened up. “Important friendships were made. And long lasting ones,” he says. “There’s something so special about the bonds that were made because it is such a shared experience.”
It’s an experience Penner wants to ensure others can enjoy for years to come. On the same day the Toronto fundraiser occurs, a bowl-a-thon fundraiser will be happening in Ottawa. The goal is to raise $55,000 between the two.
“It’s just such an incredible opportunity to make magic for kids from LGBTQ communities and families,” she says.
“It needs to be there. It changes lives.”