July 25th, 2024

Camp celebrates 30 years of supporting youth

By Justin Sibbet - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on June 26, 2024.

Submitted photo A youngster spends some time with Topper the horse in a corral at Camp Carmangay. The southern Alberta camp is marking its 30th year offering support for youth.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDjsibbet@lethbridgeherald.com

Providing an adventurous ride on a horse or a lazy float down the Bow River, one southern Alberta camp has reached a milestone since it’s opening in 1994.

For 30 years Camp Carmangay has offered free camping and youth support to those in Alberta. Camp manager, Brian Nimijean says it began as a safe space for troubled youth to learn, play and have fun away from harm. However, he says it has grown and evolved as the obstacles facing children have also evolved.

“These camps are intended just to address mental health (issues like) depression, discouragement, isolation, feeling abandoned and anything that goes along with just no fun,” Nimijean says.

At the root, he says his goal is to get kids away from electronic devices and get them outside where they can experience childhood under the sun and stars rather than in a basement.

“Our kids are in peril,” said Nimijean. “I’m sounding dramatic, but I’ve seen the result of it. I’ve seen the anxiety of it, just a kid being alone too long, watching TV on a beautiful day.”

While the camp offers single day services for parents to drop their children off and pick them up 10 hours later, Nimijean says it also offers free onsite camping for families.

“Mom and dad get a chance to reconnect with their kids, bond with their children. (This) is something that they want to do, but can’t do.”

He says the primary obstacle facing families is the rising cost of everyday goods, which prevents parents from being able to spend time away from home with their children.

“I was at the grocery store… four bags of groceries were right up against 300 bucks. Well, there’s my weekend money to take the kids anywhere.”

Despite the challenges, Camp Carmangay has made a difference in some lives. One of these individuals is Cecilia Johnson. She has spent the last decade volunteering with the camp because of the life-changing impact it has had on her.

“I grew up in a very bad lifestyle,” says Johnson. “Being out here keeps me out of trouble, keeps me away from drugs. I was a known drug addict when I was in the city and when I’m out here, I’m completely different and I’m the real me and happy.”

She says the camp provides an escape for those who struggle in their everyday lives, but it is also a good option for those just seeking a retreat.

“We just let kids be kids. We don’t tell them what to do.”

Johnson says this provides a way for children to learn on their own while in a safe, supervised environment.

“You show them once and then if you let them figure it out on their own afterwards, they literally have more fun than if you just poke at them.”

Nimijean says that is a core principle of the camp because it allows children to express themselves while enjoying mother nature. He adds everyone is welcome and no one is turned away.

Camp Carmangay is open Thursday through Sunday and will officially celebrate its 30th anniversary on July 3.

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