SADDLE LAKE - The gymnasium at BGC Saddle Lake was filled with noise and activity last week - something that had become quite rare over the past 16 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Saddle Lake Cree Nation remains in Phase 2 of its emergency plan, activities have been given the go-ahead to resume, with precautions in place. As she sits in her office at the BGC, Candice Cardinal, who took over as executive director with the club in January of 2020, says it's been great to see youth back in the building this summer.
The club is offering a summer day camp program throughout July and August, but also hosted a two-day multi-sport and leadership camp thanks to a partnership with Hi-Tek Sports Group, and funding from Jays Care Foundation. The summer programs are also supported by the community, with help coming from Saddle Lake Employment and Training, and Saddle Lake Reinvestment.
A total of 20 youth between the ages of 11 and 17 were enrolled in the multi-sport camp, learning skills in a variety of sports, such as basketball, baseball, lacrosse and archery. A break in physical activity saw youth learn some leather-working skills too.
Chris Leroux was among those instructing the sport camp. Hi-Tek is familiar with the St. Paul area, often coming in to offer baseball and hockey specific camps. But the camp in Saddle Lake was different, focusing on team building activities and leadership development.
The overall goal was "to teach the youth about team building and leadership skills." A secondary goal was to offer those youth new experiences and expose them to different activities.
On the second day of the camp, Cardinal had already decided she would like to see the multi-sport camp return to the club.
"I've never heard so much action here," she said, from the club's gymnasium. She said the camp was a perfect way to "wake the youth up."
"I"ve not heard one negative thing yet, except 'I'm sore'," she said, with a laugh.
Part of the camp also included having some post-secondary students from the community take part in the activities, to learn the skills in hopes that they can be part of sustaining a program, and possibly work with Hi-Tek in the future.
Leroux said he was impressed by how engaged the youth were in the camp.
"These kids have been awesome."
Summer camp and more
As for the younger children, the club has been working hard to provide them with fun, new experiences this summer also. The day camp is split up into two different age categories, and the demand for the program has been very strong.
"(The camps) just filled up super fast," says Cardinal. She says that after the past year, living through the pandemic, the kids appear to be happy and thankful for the opportunity to get together this summer.
Cardinal says she hopes to continue to build a bigger and better club. Plans for empowerment camps at the end of August are also in the works, to help youth prepare for a return to school with a fresh and positive perspective.
And while Cardinal appreciates the time she had during the pandemic to focus on other aspects of running and learning the club, she is thankful to be able to see young people return to the building.
"It feels more alive."