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Realizing potential

"Living in the city I was afraid to open up to new people and be involved in something I wasn’t sure of, but CampCARE changed all that.

"Living in the city I was afraid to open up to new people and be involved in something I wasn’t sure of, but CampCARE changed all that. It forced me to realize that some people can be nice and really want you to have fun, even if they are like pro snowboarders or whatever."

Taya Brown’s personal testimony is one of the many success stories to come out of CampCARE during its relatively short history of providing snowboard instruction camps for abused children in Canada and the United States. This week has seen the children’s charity bring 25 campers from the Sea to Sky Corridor and the North Shore to Whistler for a life-changing opportunity to learn to snowboard one-on-one with a team of volunteer pro-riders, coaches and helpers. Among them is Brown, who first came into contact with campCARE in 1998 at Mount Baker, as one of the kids needing a self esteem boost. She says there’s no doubt that the camp changed her life.

"I guess it helped me realize that there is good in people that you often don’t see living in a big city like Seattle," she says. "It gave me a whole new perspective because when someone takes the time to be with you and teach you, it’s totally awesome."

The first campCARE was held in Crested Butte, Colorado in 1997 and has since moved its way into Canada. According to the charity, more than 40,000 youth have been removed from their homes in Canada due to abuse. CampCARE founder, Heidi Landau, says her goal is to reach out to kids who haven’t had positive life experiences and turn it around for them. She says it’s amazing how much difference a little love, attention and positive energy can make.

"We take so much for granted and these kids don’t take anything for granted," she says. "When they realize that we think they’re awesome and give them love, it makes them believe in themselves which is what it’s all about."

"Tom" from North Vancouver is another camp kid who’s come back a second time. He says it was scary at first because he didn’t know anyone, but he likes it now.

"It’s dope, they stoke you out with new stuff, new boards, new clothes, everything. And getting the chance to snowboard for free is like unbelieveable, it’s really cool."

Brown says attending multiple camps has really brought home to her how quickly kids can gain confidence in the right environment – even during a short three-day camp.

"At first they have their heads down and just talk among themselves and want to go back to their rooms," she says. "By the end they’re running around together and giving people hugs, and they’re all smiles."

Trust is a big thing and once you trust your coach and feel good, then you can trust someone else, she adds.

Unlike coaching programs that run in many B.C. schools, campCARE can offer a one-one-one teaching experience, due to its team of 35 volunteers. Having pro riders, including Ian Roy, Shandy Campos, Rob Picard, Rick Wunderlick and Oliver Roy, just adds sheen to the prize. Volunteer coach Holly McPhail says the camp kids have had hard knocks early in life but they are definitely goers, not quitters.

"They have been connecting turns since their first day and trying really hard," she says. "Snowboarding has a fast learning curve and you need to give a lot of positive reinforcement, which really boosts their self esteem and gets them pumped."

While snowboarding is the key ingredient of the camps, Landau says other fun activities are also part of the program.

"We take them rock climbing, cross-country skiing, swimming, hot tubbing, have writing and painting workshops as well as run youth leadership courses to help realize their own potential."

Value is an attribute Landau prides CampCARE on.

"The problem with a lot of charities is that only a small percentage of donations reaches the actual program, sometimes as low as three per cent," she says. "In comparison, 100 per cent of our funds go directly to kids in need because of our huge volunteer base and that fact no salaries are paid."

So how can Landau afford the time and money to run CampCARE, which she estimates costs $56,000 a year, let alone meet her own living expenses?

"My parents have been incredibly supportive," she explains. "They understand that helping abused kids is my life’s mission and would rather see me use the money now than after they are gone."

The "act now rather than later" mentality is one that many Whistler businesses seem to be taking on as well. One of the Whistler campCARE team coaches, Angie Roussin, says she has been "blown away" by the generosity of local sponsors.

"Everyone from the community has been helping so much with food, money, gear and support that it’s just been quite amazing."

Among this year’s major industry backers are Whistler-Blackcomb, Mount Seymour, Showcase, Westbeach, Four Star Distribution, Salomon/Bonfire, Heelside, Motorola, Vans, Helly Hansen and several top snowboard manufacturers. The 2001 campCARE group will return to Whistler several times for camps throughout this season.