To say that Ayesha Madden knows a thing or two about Muskoka Woods is an understatement. As a team member at Urban Promise — an organization of urban missionaries serving in the GTA — she has attended Muskoka Woods with some amazing young leaders for over a decade. Prior to that, she was also one of our summer camp staff members!
We recently caught up with Ayesha to ask about her Muskoka Woods experience with kids from her community.
Why was it important to you to bring Urban Promise kids to summer camp at Muskoka Woods?
It was vital to bring the kids and youth to Muskoka Woods because they rarely have the opportunity (if any) to be engrossed in a refreshing environment that is different from their usual surroundings both physically and socially.
How did summer camp, in your experience, benefit the kids from Urban Promise?
The experience was highly beneficial because they had the opportunity to try new activities. This gave way for them to expand their comfort zones by doing things they were previously scared of. For instance the giant swing can be a scary experience for many, however the kids/youth were encouraged to at least give it a try and go a little bit higher than they thought they could, even if that meant just getting their harness on and climbing to the top of the ladder.
Can you recall a success story or special moment from your week at camp?
There are too many to share! From our girls performing their dance during Impact to our boys winning Classic. Although there are many stories to share, I want to highlight when my boys played Kamati during Week 8. At first, none of them wanted to participate because they had never heard of the game before and didn’t want to get dirty. After a firm talk with them, they reluctantly decided to participate. However, once they began to play, you could see their confidence grow as their leaders and female peers from the group — along with the Muskoka Woods staff — loudly encouraged and cheered them on. By the end of the first round they were fully invested. As a result, they ended up beating the oldest cabin to become the Kamati champions for that week.
Another story I want to share is about one of my youth who was really hesitant to come to Muskoka Woods because they had been struggling with social anxiety and homesickness since the pandemic. However, I really wanted this particular youth to come as I knew it would be a great experience for them and a chance to have a healthy change of scenery. After encouragement from their family, and myself, they had decided to come despite being opposed to the idea. Fortunately, they did not regret their decision! They felt comfortable and safe at Muskoka Woods as they were able to take breaks whenever necessary and got a chance to destress while being surrounded by nature and friends.
As a youth group leader, what was your favourite part of the Muskoka Woods summer camp experience?
Many of the kids and youth we brought up have had to grow up faster than their peers because of the responsibilities they are given from a young age. Being physically away from those responsibilities and/or other pressures helped them to seize the opportunity to live fully in the moment and not worry about the stress back in Toronto. Something that will also never get old for me is watching them realize they are seeing a shooting star for the first time. The child-like awe in their eyes always brings a smile to my face.
In your opinion, why should people give to the Muskoka Woods Youth Foundation?
It is hard to describe in a few words what the experience of being up at Muskoka Woods provides for the participants involved in my organization. These kids have so much greatness in them and I have seen first-hand the impact Muskoka Woods has had in helping unlock their potential.
Something that often gets overlooked is the space that Muskoka Woods provides for youth to create deeper bonds with their peers and, most importantly, their leaders. The building of a relationship between the leaders and kids grows when we are in our regular setting back in Toronto but doing a retreat at Muskoka Woods accelerates that process exponentially! After spending a week in Muskoka with the kids and youth, I always find that they are more inclined to initiate expressing their needs to the leaders as opposed to us trying to pull it out of them. This in turn makes it easier for the leaders to support the kids in a more intentional way. So yes, investing in the Muskoka Woods Youth Foundation means a child living in difficult circumstances will have some fun days at camp, but that description really doesn’t do the foundation justice. Their time away at Muskoka Woods creates a ripple effect of positive impact on the participants that lasts far beyond a week.
Your gifts change the course of lives for young people who attend Summer Camp. The investment you make not only creates new opportunities and possibilities for them, but will echo through generations as they return home and influence their friends and family. Give today.