School wasn’t always a welcoming place for Bernadette. Bullying at school was a part of her life from a young age.
“At one point, I found out about a petition that some of my classmates at school made to ban me from the girls’ change room,” Bernadette explained. “Some of my friends even signed it. I guess they felt uncomfortable thinking I was a lesbian. That hurt a lot. There is so much bullying around assumptions.”
Bernadette has two gay dads, a lesbian mother, and her sister is bisexual.
“When I was in grade 7 or 8, it really hit me how hard that can be for some people to understand,” she said. “Kids at school would make so many assumptions about me.”
It wasn’t easy for Bernadette to find others who could relate. The diversity club at school was geared towards the older high school students.
That changed when she arrived at Camp Ten Oaks in Ottawa.
“The sense of belonging and community that I get from Ten Oaks is something that I can feel year-round,” she said.
Camp Ten Oaks is a one-week, sleep-away camp for children and youth ages 8-17 from LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, queer) identities, families and communities.
“We are the only camp of our kind in Canada,” said Hannah Biancardi, volunteer and programs manager at Ten Oaks. “They can bridge their connections, share things, support one another and grow to be very open and accepting.”
As the grand prize winner of CST’s Inspired Minds Learning Project in 2014, the camp was awarded $20,000.
“The money helped us move to a new site which gave us a lot of room to grow,” explained Biancardi. “This has allowed us to welcome more campers who have different physical limitations.”
The funds also enabled the camp to provide subsidies to more campers.
“Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to accept as many campers as we did,” said Biancardi.
After years of having children on waiting lists, they welcomed 84 campers last year – their largest group yet.
“Camp is transformative. It’s life saving in a lot of ways “ Biancardi explained the kids not only build a support network but strength and resilience, “There is a place in the world where I am accepted and I am celebrated for who I am.”
For Bernadette, the journey has come full circle. She is now 16 years old and a Camp Ten Oaks volunteer.