Teams of spacemen and pirates suited up March 23 to strike down pins and raise funds for the Ten Oaks Project (TOP) at the charitable organization’s annual bowl-a-thon, held at McArthur Lanes.
The event, now in its eighth year, raised $40,000.
Founded in 2005, TOP operates Camp Ten Oaks, a summer camp for queer children and youth from queer families; Rainbow Families, a support, education and advocacy group for queer parents; and Project Acorn, a leadership retreat for young people aged 16 to 24.
The bowl-a-thon and a curling fundraising event held annually in Toronto cover one-third of TOP’s operating costs, president Lee Rose says. The remaining funds come from individual donations and grants.
Although TOP began catering to kids from queer families, gay children are coming out of the closet earlier, Rose says, and in recent years, he has seen TOP’s client base shift.
“It’s great that we’re in a space where we are able to provide an environment for them and they are able to be safe, out and who they are,” he says.
Camp Ten Oaks will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year, and Rose says the camp will relocate to a larger space. “We’re growing beyond the site we’re at now. We’re looking for a new place to continue to build the magic that is Camp Ten Oaks.”
TOP’s summer programs are currently being planned. Volunteer and programs manager Hannah Biancardi says it is an exciting time for the organization as TOP staff interview prospective additions to the team.
Biancardi says the biggest challenge facing children from queer families is not seeing themselves represented in mainstream conversations.
“At school, [they’re] not seeing their families represented in the books they are reading, in the lesson plans, in the celebrations for Mother’s and Father’s Day, or even in conversations [like], ‘What did you do this weekend with your family?’ Quite often they are getting teased and bullied for having a family structure that is quite different from a lot of their peers. That leads to a lot of isolation.”
The youth advisory committee (YAC) drives the programming at Project Acorn. It now has 15 members, the largest committee to date, ensuring that no youth taking part in Project Acorn will feel isolated, says Erica Butler, YAC’s coordinator.
Project Acorn’s theme for 2013 is “Thrive,” and Butler says she is looking forward to engaging programming.
Queer parent Sean Butler attended the bowl-a-thon with his daughter and her friends.
Although he has not utilized TOP’s services, he says it is important to support the organization. He admits he has been on the receiving end of strange looks and prejudice as a queer father.
Rose says it’s supportive fathers like Butler who make up TOP’s community.
“This is more than just fundraising; it’s community building for us,” Rose says. “The camp happens in the summer and Project Acorn happens in the summer. This is a chance for us to be out in the community celebrating what it is that makes Ten Oaks what it is.”