Paul Bruce and Linda Stewart coordinate the Surrey Schools work experience program. They recruit and train student volunteers for WCK City Camp. They share what the program involves and what the partnership means to the students, and to them.
How did your partnership with WCK start?
Paul: It all started over a bowl of Pho! WCK's Executive Director Shannon connected with me, looking for suggestions for a day camp. At first, it was about finding a suitable location close to the hospital, so that the camp would be accessible to kids in treatment. We then talked about a student work experience program for the day camp - this is where Linda and I jumped on in that role.
Linda: I remember in the first year, the whole idea was exciting. There was no road map - it was fun to start from scratch and build an innovative and community-led program. I felt glad to be invited in.
How do you recruit the right students?
Paul: Linda and I review the applications that come in and interview each potential student. We do group interviews where we can see how they interact with others right out of the gate. Overall, the students are really impressive in the interview. For many, it's their first experience of a formal interview.
Linda: We connect with career facilitators who have a great idea of what we want. They can advocate for students that we might miss who they know to be competent, qualified, and a great fit. From this, we've recruited a few unique young people who we could have overlooked because they didn't stand out on paper.
Who is the ideal student?
Linda: We have ideas in our mind, but we stay open. Some background in community work in its broadest sense is good, because we want them to have a sense of team. We want them to express the why - what connects them to the program. A lot of the students connect to a career interest they have, like health sciences. Some will talk to us about their personal experiences with family illness and cancer.
We want to see their spark, which is why we do face-to-face interviews. We look for the ones who light up with a sense of adventure and a willingness to take some risks. They don't have to be extroverted - even the shy ones can take risks.
What's covered in the training?
Linda: The training has really evolved. In the first year, we focused on workshops about particular skills. Active listening, teamwork, those kinds of things. What evolved after the break with Covid was more of a philosophy than a specific curriculum. For example, we run workshops that we don't overtly call "active listening," but they take on those skills intuitively.
We also cover safety skills on site, Cancer 101 with a nurse and/or parent, theatresports, arts & crafts, and more. Through the training, we build a team that recognizes that strength and leadership comes in all forms.
What do students get from the experience?
Paul: Where to start! We debrief with every student and we hear such incredible views from them. They say that they've never before had the opportunity to be with such like-minded people and that they've developed friendships to last a lifetime.
Linda: They pick up on the idea of cohesiveness. They're surprised by how close they become in such a short time. The students experience the power of being in a small, intimate group where they have the same goals. They say, "I didn't expect to get so much personal satisfaction from the relationships I've formed."
Paul: They get to go back to being a kid as well. We infuse everything at City Camp with a sense of fun. For so many students, they've had to focus on academics and they've lost the chance to be a kid. That gets to come out again and they bring that into playing with the children at camp.
One of our goals is to create lifelong volunteers. Some of the students from the first program are still actively volunteering - some have started fundraisers for WCK, others serve on committees in oncology, and others are heading up initiatives in their current place of study.
What are the most challenging parts?
Linda: Ensuring the feeling of confidence as City Camp starts. The most rewarding part is the part we feel most nervous about. It's like with teaching, everyone talks about the night before the September start where you don't sleep for thinking about all the things that could happen. Jumping into camp is where we hope we've built the foundation the students need.
Paul: The biggest challenge is getting all these students from different schools who don't know each other to form a cohesive team. In such a short time, we need them to build relationships and behave as if they've known each other for a lifetime. So far, it's worked really well and the students have embraced the process.
What have you learned about WCK?
Linda: I began to realize that it's a family experience. It's not just the child. What a wonderful philosophy - a family experience with a village of support behind them.
Paul: I've learned how resilient our kids and young people are. They're facing big medical experiences and health concerns and I see them navigate that with such power and grace. But that's matched by their sense of fun.
They have big things going on, but they're still kids and they still want to play, be silly, make a rocket, throw an egg off a roof, and help it to land safely! I've seen WCK come up with such great, innovative ways to bring that experience to them.
How does it feel to be part of this work?
Linda: In our profession, we can't always choose what we do. This partnership is a choice and it's something we believe in. We have a team that shares the same belief and philosophy, and it doesn't feel like work anymore. I feel like I get more back than I give.
Paul: I was a volunteer at Camp Good Times for a number of years, and experiencing other people's stories about parts of their lives has always been special. In this program, I get that with the kids, the families, and the students. I feel honoured.
Working with Linda is a highlight for me, too. We used to teach right across the hallway from each other, and the day she retired was a very sad day for me! What made it not so sad was her willingness to partner together in this program because she's a masterful teacher. I learn so much from her.
The partnership has been an incredible journey, and we're so thankful for it.
Check out our City Camp picture gallery!
See what an awesome time the kids, students, and volunteers have together.