Believing in Big Canoe

by Sean Lypaczewski – Former Camper & Staff, Current Board Member

The simple act of believing in someone can change their life forever.

Here’s an example:

When I was ten, I just really wanted to belong somewhere. It’s probably a really common feeling, but as a ten year old it felt entirely unique and alienating (though I didn’t know the word alienating yet, or unique… maybe…)

The good news is that I went to camp. My parents enrolled me at Big Canoe and all of a sudden I was surrounded by what I thought of at the time as the single most amazing group of people ever assembled. Older kids! Teenagers! People in their twenties! Instead of being that too cool for school thing that I saw everywhere else, these people played. They danced, they sang, they were silly. They ran in the woods as fast and as hard as they could to win a game just like I wanted to. They made sure that every kid felt involved- that, if I wanted a red handprint of paint on my face because I was on team red, then they were going to put a red handprint on their face too.

I had a counsellor and resource “buddy” who from day one liked me. Day one! They wanted to know who I was, they asked me about what I liked. They made me feel cared for. And I mean sure, kids make bad choices, and we had to have consequences. But they understood. And what’s more important, they still liked me.

All my heroes lived here. When adults talk about kids needing role models I think of my ten year old self looking in any direction at Camp Big Canoe that summer and finding ANOTHER role model.

One night after the evening program we were all hanging out by the playing field and nurse’s cabin before our counsellors finally herded us back to our tent lines. I don’t even remember what we where doing exactly, or which staff member came over, but somebody did and they said:

“Hey, in a few years you guys would be great staff members.”

Cue the music. Cue to that part of the movie where the main character’s life gets flipped upside down. Where they do that weird camera thing where he or she zooms in and everything else zooms out. My mind was blown.

She thought I could be them someday.

She believed in me.

I can honestly say that moment changed my life. It was not only the reassurance that this place would always welcome me back – the spot where I discovered my love of music and acting; the place where I learned that you don’t have to be good at sports to love running, chasing, hiding, swimming, canoeing, and more importantly tipping canoes – it was also the incredible realization that one day, if I wanted, I could be the hero for someone who needed it. I could be the one who sang, who danced, who showed it was ok to be silly, to dress up just for fun, and to run your butt off in a game not because there was a trophy at the end of it, but because it was the single greatest way to spend an evening. That one day I could be a living example that trying, and giving it everything you possibly had was way more fun then sitting out and being “cool”.

Camp Big Canoe changed my life. It does to this day still. It is still populated by the single most amazing group of people you will ever meet. People who believe in each other, who believe in the importance of fun, of community, and of laughing so hard you just might poop. You don’t, but it’s that kind of silliness that’s in short supply sometimes, and we can all use a bit now and then.

Most importantly, now that I have kids of my own, I look forward to summers to come when they get off the bus, swing into my or my wife’s arms, and tell us how the most amazing someone changed their lives. Simply by liking them for exactly who they are.

Simply by believing in them.

Author Bio

Camp Big Canoe is a not-for-profit overnight recreational camp for kids ages 6-16 in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada

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