Karen Jensen’s daughter Dakota had been to several summer camps over the years, but getting her to talk about camp adventures was another story.
Dakota, who has autism, would mostly give one-word answers, according to her mother.
But after attending the Youths Can Fish 2 camp a few years ago, the reaction Jensen saw from her daughter was totally different.
“My daughter came back from the camp saying, ‘This is what we did,’ and, ‘I out-fished the boys.’ She just had so many stories and she actually communicated that she loved the camp.”
Jensen was so taken with the reaction, she now sits on the board of the not for profit organization as its secretary, as well as managing the social media accounts.
Since 2003, Youths Can Fish 2 has been helping get underprivileged kids to summer camps twice a year where they can learn to fish, pick up survival skills and even become experts in the kitchen.
Carla Tetz helped found the group with her then-husband and another friend. She is now the president of the organization.
At the time, she and her husband were foster parents who also loved to camp and fish, and they realized that many children in the foster care system weren’t getting the experience of sleeping in a tent or reeling in their first fish.
“We partnered with Alberta’s Promise many years ago, and our goal was to enable as many kids as we could and as many opportunities as we could,” said Tetz.
The group hosts two trips a year – one on the May long weekend, and then a week-long excursion to Cold Lake in the mid-summer. In 2017 they took 64 kids in total fishing.
It isn’t just fishing. While in Cold Lake they take several field trips as well.
“We actually get to tour the (air force) base. The mayor is very accommodating in making sure we get to explore little things like that for field trips,” said Tetz. “The fish hatchery – that’s a big deal because it’s not even open to the public.”
Along the way, the youth learn about ethical fishing – catch and release, or cooking and eating all that they do catch with no waste. They even do some workshops with Indigenous educators.
Cooking and cleaning skills are put to use at the end of the summer, as the group runs a barbecue at the Shaw Charity Classic golf tournament every year to raise funds.
“When they help us at the fundraiser they get to learn about customer service skills,” said Tetz.
Jensen has helped at the golf tournament, and she said it’s great seeing the kids reunite after their week at camp.
“They actually get to reconnect and tell stories – like, ‘Do you remember when we did this?’ They rekindle that friendship and share their memories,” said Jenson.
She said she volunteered because she likes the grassroots aspect of the organization, which has almost no overhead. With just a small volunteer board, money that’s raised goes direct to costs of activities for the kids.
Tetz said there are still costs. They tend to use mostly new fishing equipment rather than donated.
“It’s hard to have the second-hand rods with kids,” she said. “We learned that really quick in the game.”
Youths Can Fish 2 week-long summer camp is fast approaching. Tetz said donations are always welcome, but what they could really use is a few more volunteers.
Jensen said for her, the reward from volunteering comes in seeing other kids get the chance to go to camp.
“It takes a community to raise a child,” she said.