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Mission’s Zajac Ranch for Children struggling for more camp counsellors, volunteers

Camp usually takes 500 kids a season, may have to take less unless they get more hires
Zajac Ranch for Children is a summer camp for kids with disabilities and life-threatening illnesses. (Photo by Zajac Ranch)

It’s been two years since Zajac Ranch for Children has been able to open its doors, but getting the staff ready to welcome the kids back has been a challenge.

They usually take in around 500 kids with disabilities and life-threatening illnesses who would be unable to attend regular summer camp, but this year, unless more counsellors can be hired, it may be less.

“We just got to keep on hoping that we get some, or cut down on the children that we take in I guess,” said the camp’s founder Mel Zajac. “I think we can open a full camp.”

He noted the outlook is more positive than before as they’ve had some recent inquiries, but their usual pool of 22 to 24 counsellors has been nearly halved.

Zajac said he thinks their hiring woes are similar to restaurants, hotels and the tourism industry. He said their hiring season also started several months later than its usual start in January, due to uncertainty in the easing of public health restrictions.

They got the OK at the end of February, Zajac said, but it was too late for some of their overseas hires.

“Everybody is looking for help right now,” he said.

Zajac’s daughter, Karen, said they were unsure if they would be able to open at all.

“Everyone wants to go to camp, especially after the last couple of years,” she said.

The nine-week camp officially starts at the end of June and runs until the end of August. They are also looking for more volunteers, and to hire a local chef from Mission or Maple Ridge.

Camp counsellors are usually younger, but still have to be over 19-years old, Zajac said.

He said working at the camp is like “working in a resort area,” and their volunteer nurses compare it to taking a vacation, with activities like kayaking, canoeing and horseback riding.

“A lot of counsellors like that they have a chance to do all those things,” Zajac said. “It’s a beautiful place.”

SEE ALSO: Rough road to Mission’s Zajac Ranch requires paving, says founder