For more than two decades, the Blue Jays and Jays Care have worked to create a level playing field for children and youth across Canada. This year, though, the playbook looked a little different. While COVID-19 has impacted all Canadians, the pandemic disproportionately affects those already facing significant barriers in their everyday lives, particularly children and youth.
After surveying families about the needs of more than 600 children in its programs, Jays Care rapidly adapted its summer programs to address the challenge, by launching virtual summer camps. This online program, made possible in part by a $1 million donation from Rogers, welcomed nearly 10,000 virtual campers this summer in partnership with Toronto Community Housing and 49 Boys and Girls Clubs across the country.
“This year, it has been more important than ever for organizations to work together to support under-resourced communities,” said Robert Witchel, Executive Director, Jays Care Foundation. “Our longstanding relationships with Rogers, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, and Toronto Community Housing allowed us to make the important pivot to a new virtual camp plan so we could continue to support families in need from coast to coast to coast.”
For the last two months, campers between the ages of 4 and 15 joined engaging camp counsellors, trained by Jays Care using industry-leading best practices, for 1.5 hours of daily interactive fun, tapping into two-way video technology to play and connect with other youth. From around-the-house scavenger hunts to talent shows, the virtual camps offered an opportunity for youth to connect with children their own age and spend time with two trusted counsellors – a daily moment of joy, caring, and continuity that means more than ever after a long period of isolation.
“This has been a summer that no parent could have planned for and no child could have imagined. Through the help of our partners and terrific counsellors, we were pleased to be able to help provide fun, interesting, and safe online live programming for 10,000 kids across Canada through these virtual camps,” said Sevaun Palvetzian who leads Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility for Rogers. “These camps helped fill an unusual summer, but also brought some important new connections to everyone involved.”
“This summer, thanks to the dedication and innovative approaches of Jays Care Foundation, our partners, and our employees, we were able to offer an innovative and successful program in TCHC communities, including offering summer employment to youth in a safe and fun online setting.” said Nadia Gouveia, Director of Programs and Partnerships, Toronto Community Housing.
The summer program provided part-time employment to 550 young adults as camp counsellors, enabling re-employment for many Boys and Girls Clubs staff who had lost positions during the COVID-19 shutdown. This allowed Boys and Girls Clubs to continue their mandate of keeping kids active and building life skills, when so many other programs had been cancelled.
“Alleviating isolation for 10,000 kids is reason enough to celebrate the Jays Care virtual summer camps – but there is an even greater good for many of our Club kids,” said Owen Charters, President & CEO, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada. “We know that increased isolation has meant increased risk of mental health issues among kids of all ages. Daily contact with trusted Club staff and councillors – even virtually – has been an important way we have been able to connect with children who need us the most. We are grateful to Jays Care and Rogers for their support.”
The 2020 virtual summer camps are part of a longstanding partnership with Rogers, which has provided more than $9 million in funding to Jays Care Foundation programs in the last 10 years alone. The partnership has supported the building or refurbishing of accessible baseball diamonds as part of Field Of Dreams, distribution of more than 1,000 adaptive home baseball kits for youth with disabilities enrolled in Challenger Baseball, almost 60 Ted Rogers Scholarships for Jays Care-nominated youth since 2017, and this summer’s Step Up to the Plate food hamper initiative, which has provided 8 million meals for food banks across Canada.