A youth camp, run largely by serving police officers, said farewell to director Paul Brookes and deputy director Michael Gee, who both stepped down this month.
Brookes restarted the Youth for Change and Inclusion (YCI) camp in 2003 and has tirelessly run it since then. Campers and colleagues paid tribute to him and Gee at the most recent camp in early May.
The program is held at Camp Pringle, located at Shawnigan Lake, and is an annual four-day youth camp aiming to provide youngsters with leadership skills and the space to discuss big social issues. These include stereotyping, discrimination, residential schools and homelessness.
Campers are then encouraged to return to their schools and set up peer groups, working to meet some of these challenges in a positive way.
Brookes first attended the camp in 1999, when his wife asked him to volunteer with her. He says he was blown away by what he saw and the lasting skills and experiences the campers gained.
“The camp is a chance to be authentic and real, with no judgment and repercussions,” he says. “It’s a bold step for a lot of youth to step outside their comfort zone and spend four days somewhere [unfamiliar], but they all come away with a pivotal experience in their life.”
When funding for YCI dried up, Brookes was determined to find ways to keep it going. After three years of meetings, fundraising and organizing logistics, the camp was saved thanks to the long-term financial support of the Victoria Police Department and Coast Capital Savings.
Since the re-boot, Brookes and his staff expanded the vision of the camp and it now hosts 60-90 teenagers a year.
Supporting a staff of 10 VicPD and Saanich PD officers, are 10–15 teachers who accompany the campers from their schools each year. An additional alumni program welcomes back around five graduates of the camp who mentor the campers and share how their advocacy has continued beyond school.
The YCI camp is an immersive experience and attracts a diverse mix of campers from all walks of life. Brookes has called it “community beyond geography,” as many come from overseas and speak English as a second language. Teachers select the majority of campers, inviting those interested in social issues and who have high leadership potential, although all students are welcome to apply. The camp also provides opportunities for a selection of more troubled students, exhibiting behavioural difficulties or drift, often helping them find purpose in a community that can help them meet their latent potential.
Brookes has seen 1,100 campers pass through the program and many say they value seeing the “person behind the badge.” The camaraderie they experience and the friends they make are what many remember after they leave.
As well as presentations from inspirational figures, the highlights for many campers are the talent show, campfires and a candlelight circle ceremony where the magic of camp comes alive, with each person lighting their neighbour’s candle and saying what inspires them.
Youth normally pay $80 for the four days, but this fee is waived for those experiencing financial hardship.
A selection of Vic PD officers will continue to organize next year’s camp, including Const. Sue Hamilton, who has worked on the program for nine years. She says the camp will continue to honour Brookes’ legacy, bringing youth together to explore issues surrounding hate, intolerance and injustice, motivating them to be a force of change within their schools and the wider community.
For more information or to support the camp, visit their facebook page at facebook.com/YCIcanada.