Camp Bowen strives to continue a tradition
Alex Jurgensen has many fond memories of attending the former Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB) camp held at the Bowen Lodge by the Sea on Cardena Road. “Most summers, I’d attend one or two weeks since 1999,” he said. “For me, the biggest impression was seeing how much people had grown from year to year and having the opportunity to come together and really be themselves.”
Many of the friendships the visually impaired young man of 20 formed during those weeks have continued to the present day and he considers the camp to be a corner stone of his community. When the lodge changed hands in 2010, Jurgensen looked for a way to continue the tradition. “I represent the Camp Bowen Society for the Visually Impaired (CBSVI),” he said. “We took over the program and began operating in September 2010 after the CNIB closed in August that year.” Jurgensen added that the group has been working in cooperation with the management of the Bowen Island Lodge.
Jurgensen wants islanders to be aware of his efforts. “My role is that of the community coordinator,” Jurgensen said. His tasks include organizing camps and events. He is also the vice president of the organization that has its headquarters in Surrey. The president, Soma Ali, is another camper who has fond memories of Bowen Island. “I’ve been attending the camps since I was nine,” the 22-year-old said. “We really want to keep the tradition alive and give [visually impaired] children and teens the opportunity to learn day-to-day skills.” Soma believes that Bowen Island is the perfect place for it. “The residents love seeing campers,” she explained. “They are so friendly and welcoming. And for many, the camp feels like a second home.”
Jurgensen agrees, “Just walking through that door was such a comfort to so many people. Speaking from my personal experience, it is great to be there even for a short time.”
“We envision the program to continue and want to be able to provide the same level of experiences and opportunity to build friendships that the camp has provided for 49 years,” Jurgensen said. “We wrapped up the 49th camping season as we’ve continued to use the facility the past two summers.”
Jurgensen said he feels it is important to reach out to Bowen Islanders. “The community has been so helpful and has grown to be a part of the program. When it was talked about being held elsewhere, we felt that it didn’t fit,” he said. “There is the practical reason of being close to Vancouver but this is secondary to the community.”
After having the full use of the facility for 49 years, Camp Bowen currently operates on a year to year basis. “In the past two years, we were able to run the camp one weekend per year and we have raised funds with the objective to re-establish the program,” Jurgensen explained. In the past, the camp was held over approximately five weeks but Camp Bowen doesn’t currently plan to build the program up to that level. “With enough time, it could be possible to grow the program through enough attendance and fundraising to sustain a five-week program,” Jurgensen said.
There has been a big outpouring of support for the effort to keep the camp in existence, according to Jurgensen. “Our program is not self-sustaining at the moment but there is a lot of push into that direction,” he said. “Camp Bowen is not part of the CNIB - it is an independent organization. Its sole purpose is to continue running the program on Bowen Island.”
Camp Bowen offers family camps, a Braille literacy program for children aged seven to 12 and a youth program for youth aged 13 to 19. Jurgensen added that the adult program ranks as number four on the list of priorities for funding.
Traditionally, the camps have been held in the summer to coincide with the school vacation so that students didn’t miss classes. “We have people coming from as far as the other corners of B.C. I know that as soon as they leave here, they save up for next year,” Jurgensen said, adding that the adult program is planned for June to avoid taking up too much of the prime tourist season.
One of the current priorities of the organization is to raise funds for a fence that is required in certain areas of the property for safety reasons. “We have to raise $750 for a collapsible fencing unit,” Jurgensen said, explaining that a permanent fence was in place until the property changed hands and that Camp Bowen is working closely with the property manager to find a solution. It doesn’t sound like a large amount of money but using $750 for a fence means that one more person would have to be turned away from the program. “When you’re dealing with an organization of this size, every additional cost is an extra strain,” he said, adding that the funding comes from private donations. More info at campbowen.ca.