Camp Oasis replaces stigma with laughter

What happens inside a person that causes action? What happens when that action becomes so strong it makes a national difference?

Jacklin Rostron-Wilde can’t put her finger on where her internal power comes from, but she sure knows why. She was watching a CBS television documentary on a little girl in an affluent part of Florida who was living the secret hell of HIV/AIDS. The program focussed on the child’s holiday from that secrecy when she attended a camp in Wisconsin. Camp Heartland. For kids living with HIV/AIDS.

Jacklin thought of her own two kids, healthy & highly charged, and wondered what was out there for Canadian children suffering from all the medical and social implications of this disease.

And from that little seed of care has grown a national camp that is fuelled entirely by generosity of spirit. Camp Oasis. Giving kids a holiday. Focussing on setting aside the epidemic of dying so a child can enjoy living. Treating as a priority the emotional wellbeing of children… kids who deserve dignity, love, nurturing and acceptance. Kids who live with physical and emotional pain, who often live in secret, whose dignity is reduced on a daily basis.

These are big issues to tackle and Jacklin–mom, waitress, wife, daughter–has intrigued scores of people in her endeavour.

The Y has made available one of its waterfront camps in the Muskoka region and Jacklin’s Camp Oasis takes the last full week of August and brings in completely different staff to offer a week of relief for what is now 60 children. Medical staff from Sick Kids Hospital in downtown Toronto offer their time to serve Camp Oasis’ young participants. Camp counsellors volunteer their time to lead singsongs, waterplay, boatings, hiking, land sports, camp fires, an arts and crafts centre. Volunteers from around the lake bring their big boats in for speed boat outings.

Jacklin knows how sick some of her campers are. That’s why the 24 hour Club Meds facility is so important… children have fully trained medical staff for the intravenous, injections, medical attention which so many of them need.

Jacklin says kids come from every province in Canada. Camp Oasis pays their flight and their flight attendant assist and some as young as six years old have come for a week of being a child. She and her husband, Duncan, pick the kids up at the airport and transport them to Camp Oasis where Jacklin’s whole family spends the week, the result of the year’s fundraising. Her two children, who are 8 and 10, say their week at Camp Oasis is more important to them than any trip they could ever have.

The gifts come. Cash gifts. Gifts in kind. Like the friend who designed their simple pamphlet. Or the friend who designed their website. The lawyer who helped with their charitable status. The man who offered to bring by his boats to take the kids for rides. The people who mobilize a petting zoo or carnival games for a special day at the camp.

Since Jacklin saw that television show, and then went to Wisconsin to meet Neil Willenson at Camp Heartland, she’s felt that this is her mission. “Meeting Neil Willenson was like meeting the other half of myself,” she said, as she tried to explain what has motivated her to voluntarily work this hard for something. This summer will be the fifth for Camp Oasis and at least 60 6-16 year olds will be there. Jacklin looks back on the time it’s taken to mobilize and run the facility.

During that time she’s had to conquer her fear of public speaking. She’s had to learn how to make a computer do what she needs it to do. ?She’s had to work with professional people to move things along.

“I can’t put into words what I get out of this,” she says. “I feel satisfied. I feel like I’m making a contribution to children’s lives.” When she hears someone else speak about Camp Oasis, she feels filled with emotion. Sometimes she finds it difficult to speak when accepting a cheque because she’s feeling overwhelmed from listening to what a presenter has said. She talked about how horrible it felt when one of their campers didn’t return the following year. AIDS had taken her.

Gifts are what make Camp Oasis work. Jacklin says some of their gifts are as small as $10, money that comes from children and families who hear about her work and are moved by it.

Other people offer to display camp literature in their public areas. Other hold local fundraisers like golf tournaments. Others want to volunteer.

Other people will send a full $400 sponsorship fee, which covers the cost of one child for their camp term. Others send money for air fares. She hasn’t been really focussed in raising corporate money, but that’s her next agenda. She expressed tremendous gratitude to the Royal Bank who’s given a five year sponsorship of reducing amounts each year. RBC started out with a $25,000 the first year and is dropping it by $5,000 increments until its five year commitment concludes. This money has been an incredible boost to the camp’s beginning. In fact, it was at the Royal Bank’s Economic Forecast seminar last week that Jacklin and Camp Oasis came to light… I was fascinated as she went to the front of the room to receive the annual cheque here in Barrie at the Holiday Inn.

Intrigued, I approached her table and asked for a pamphlet. And then in our phone conversation later, it occurred to me that angels come in many forms. And Jacklin is one of them.

Thanks, Jacklin.


Camp Oasis, 905 849-8558. website


On another note. Communications is a murky thing. When I wrote about the quilt last week, I thought it was an amusing story and one that we can all identify with. How often have you lost something that you’ve never found, and the only relief from it is that you finally forget you owned it? Turns out that Buffie Woronka, owner and presenter of The White House Craft Sale, has been getting calls from people who feel accused of theft of the quilt. Goodness! In no way was anyone accusing anyone of theft, slippage, or that Buffie stages an event that’s full of thieves. It’s a story about mystery and consequence and things that matter to people. That’s all.