Summer camp can mean different things to different kids, from bad food and bullies, to lifelong friendships and golden memories. The Summer Arts Scene for Youth (SASFY) seems to fit the golden-memories category. Last year’s camp ended with the kids throwing homemade boomerangs out over the audience at the end of their first Culminating Gala Arts Extravaganza.
Thanks to Westsiders Claudia Kargl and her husband Jim Gray, the arts have been added to the mix of summer camp experiences available here in the Valley.
Claudia Kargl is a photographer and musician who began SASFY three years ago to let local youngsters explore their creativity and to fulfill a promise to her dying mother.
In 2008 when Claudia’s mom, Ella Wald, was in the final stages of a terminal disease, she told Claudia, “When I was a child I wanted to pursue the arts as a career, but my parents didn’t think much of the arts and discouraged me.”
That didn’t deter her, though. Ella was hard at it when she left Vienna in 1976 to move to the Okanagan where she continued to paint and make music. A love of the arts flowed from mother to daughter and Claudia studied fine arts in Indiana and Salzburg.
That sickbed conversation struck a chord already reverberating within her and confirmed her understanding that kids need to be encouraged in their artistic ambitions. In 2009 she sat down with members of the local arts community and representatives of School District #23 to plan a brand new approach.
In 2010, 41 kids registered to take the nine workshops SASFY offered. Now heading into its third summer at George Elliot Secondary School in Lake Country, more than 50 students are registered in the program with more than a month to go.
Although multi-disciplinary, SASFY doesn’t offer sports or outdoor games. Instead, the students, who range in age from eight to 15, get the opportunity to paint, take pictures, sing, dance, drum, make videos and even carve wood.
“One of the presenters is carver Rick Wiebe,” says Claudia. “The kids call him Mr. Chips and he was the one who showed them how to make the boomerangs and how to throw them so they sailed out over the heads of the audience at the Creekside Theatre and safely back to the stage.”
All of this has had a big impact on the young artists who attend the week-long camp. It’s become an instrument of personal growth for many. In one letter thanking the program a single mom described her son’s experience.
“It made a huge difference in his life and how he presents himself to this day!?…?He had a ‘hate on’ for doing anything in the artistic world because he felt he wasn’t good enough.…By the end of the week, he was holding his head higher and, for the first time in his life, taking pride in what he did artistically.”
Others have found the program both beneficial and entertaining. Older kids become mentors to the younger artists and “siblings encourage each other instead of competing,” says Claudia.
Every minute of the week, from when their parents drop them off or they hop aboard the SASFY shuttle to the time the campers head for home, is highly structured and the kids don’t mind in the least bit.
Workshops run two hours and are held in rotation so they’re never scheduled for the same time each day. This lets groups like the photography workshop capture early morning and afternoon light in different sessions.
The summer camp has become so popular that last year several international students from Mexico, New Delhi and London, England, were enrolled.
Support for the program has come from a across the Okanagan community. A number of businesses including Tim-br Mart and Terasen Gas, along with the Central Okanagan Foundation and the Rotary Club of Lake Country have contributed funding for either bursaries or capital items like computers.
SASFY has been breaking even since inception. Fees began at $250 per child, but this year it’s down to $175 plus materials (based on the different workshops). Bursaries to cover all costs are available by application. Transportation is available ($15 for the week with School District #23 providing the bus and picking up the operating costs and insurance) from Mount Boucherie Secondary School on the west side and Springvalley Middle School in Kelowna.