"Work Camp lets the community get involved, helps them know what we're about and helps us make contacts within the community," said Rona Samugh, operations manager at Camp Ooch. "Individuals and groups come up and help us prepare the grounds and they get a little taste of the true magic of what goes on here."
Camp Oochigeas, located nearly three hours north of Toronto on Lake Rosseau, is a camp for children with childhood cancers, servicing over 450 children from three GTA area hospitals. Camp Ooch, as it's known to all, "provides a magical experience for young cancer patients who ordinarily can't get away from the hospital," according to Samugh. For the last thirty years, Camp Ooch has provided an opportunity for young cancer patients to get away from the hustle of hospitals, make new friends, journey outside of their comfort zone, and, perhaps, "realize that they're not that special -- in the best way possible. That they still can be -- and always were -- just regular kids."
Jays Care has been a Granting Partner of Camp Oochigeas for years -- first funding the reconstruction of a barn at North Camp in Rosseau and later funding the establishment of Camp Ooch Downtown, located mere minutes from Sick Kids Hospital, through a Field of Dreams grant.
Dressed in a Jays Care Community Crew T-shirt and Camp Oochigeas bandana, Tayabee walked the camp grounds with purpose -- as someone who was not only there to volunteer, but to pay her dues to a place that was instrumental in her survival.
"In 2006, when I was 14, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma," explained Tayabee. "I had stage 2 cancer by the time I started treatment, which was short and very intense. I took about 27 pills a day along with two separate IV drips followed by a month of radiation."
During her treatment at Sick Kids Hospital, Tayabee was introduced to Camp Ooch by a number of friends she made at the hospital who were campers during previous summers.
"They convinced me to try it -- I had originally signed up for two weeks with the intent of only staying one, but as soon as I got here, I knew I would stay the full time. Everyone here has that one thing in common, you don't feel different and you can't really use your cancer as an excuse."
Tayabee, now eight years in remission, became a regular at Camp Ooch, where she made some of her best friends and has volunteered regularly since graduating as a camper at 19.
From June 13-14, however, Tayabee returned as a member of the Jays Care Community Crew -- 22 members of which had volunteered their weekend to take part in Work Camp 2014. In the weeks leading up to the campers' arrival, volunteer groups make their way up Highway 400 to help prepare the camp grounds. Jays Care Community Crew members spent Friday and Saturday painting, gardening, and providing the necessary manual labour to ensure the camp was ready to provide yet another magical summer.
"Our partnership with Camp Oochigeas has been a point of pride for many years," said Jays Care executive director Danielle Bedasse. "The Blue Jays are committed to providing sport and activity opportunity for all Canadian kids -- to be able to provide this to children who are dealing with a very adult issue is tremendously important."
"Coming back as a volunteer this time with an organization like Jays Care [and the Blue Jays] feels different than coming as a camper," explained Tayabee. "I realize how much goes into getting camp ready for the campers -- everything that happens before the magic happens. To be part of an organization like Jays Care, that makes places like this a priority ... it makes me happy to represent them. This is what other people did for me and now, with my Jays Care co-workers, I get to pay it forward."