10/04/2012 04:32 EDT | Updated 12/04/2012 05:12 EST

At Camp We Didn't Just Canoe, We Built Self-Esteem

My affiliation with Moorelands Community Services began in 1976 when I was 11 years old, one of five children to a newly-single mother. She had joined a support group for single parents and someone told her about Moorelands Camp. She vividly recalls the phone call she made, asking with dread about the cost. "How much can you afford?" was the response, delivered with a kindness that brought her to tears. She paid $15 each for me and one of my sisters that first year. Of the five of us kids, four of us spent time at Moorelands.

The moment my feet touched that island paradise, I found a happiness and peace I've not found anywhere else. It wasn't just the natural setting, swimming, canoeing and arts and crafts; the people experience, which came from the camp's philosophy, was what stirred my soul. I spent three summers as a camper, keeping in touch with friends over the winters. In 1981 I went up as a counselor-in-training and returned a counselor. I spent three summers as a counselor to campers and I would have spent more, had I not suffered a spinal cord injury in late 1983.

Moorelands remains clear in my consciousness, because its impact was so profound on my life. My own life is a success story, and part of the credit, unquestionably, is due to the ways in which Moorelands helped me develop during crucial years. It gave me a confidence I'd never had, it built rock-solid connections I still have, and it gave me a sense of competence I experienced for the first time. I'll never forget the exhilaration of portaging my first canoe -- after that I felt like I could do anything.

While Moorelands memories have stayed with me all these decades, I leapt at a chance to become a member of the organization's Board of Directors four years ago. What I have learned since joining has impressed me so immensely, my respect and pride have grown exponentially. Fiscally Moorelands is exceedingly responsible. But it's so much more than that. Over these last couple of decades in particular, Moorelands has evolved in a remarkably difficult environment for charities. Programs are nuanced and developed, based on evidence gathered from studies that prove what works. The Wilderness Camp I knew and loved in the 1970s and 1980s is quite different than what it is today, but in ways so positive, it's head-spinning.

There are now opportunities for kids to be involved in Moorelands programming year-round. In addition to the Wilderness Camp, there is a Day Camp in the city, after-school programs, and leadership programs. We provide baskets to 250 of those families at Christmas, impacting about 1,000 people. Moorelands is the only organization in Toronto to provide Baby Bundles to new mothers who have nothing and are referred by social agencies.

I am both an example of and a witness to how this organization improves the self-esteem of young people who already have enough going against them. It has done so for 100 years, and is managing to get better at it as time marches along.

I am so very pleased that we have been chosen as one of the Scotiabank's Featured Charities this year for the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon. I participated in the 5km Charity Walk the past two years with my Service Dog, Bella. We were granted special permission for her to attend, and she was a "hit" with everyone. We both look forward to this year's event as well!