Ontario’s Rainbow Camp is laughing all the way to the bank this week after receiving a $100,000 windfall thanks to comedian Colin Mochrie, who won the money recently in a comedy game show.
Welcome Friend Association’s Rainbow Camp is a summer camp in Thessalon, Ont. specifically for LGBTQ2S+ teens. They provide a safe space for teens to be themselves and have a great summer at camp. After two years of not holding in-person camp due to the pandemic, the financial boost was well timed.
Rainbow Camp was founded by Chris Southin and Harry Stewart in 2012, when they hosted 14 campers at the United Church’s Camp McDougall for a week. With their return to in-person camping this year, they will run six weeks of camp, plus an outtrip. “There’s definitely enough kids out there for us to keep expanding for a long time,” said Stewart. “It’s just a matter of reaching them.” Camp staff focus on creating a holistically welcoming atmosphere, and say it’s different even in comparison to “regular” camps that welcome all types of people. “Coming to a place where everyone is in the same boat makes a huge difference,” said Stewart. Staff have received letters from parents saying their kids came as caterpillars and left as butterflies, with huge changes in their confidence after just a week away.
Colin Mochrie and his wife Debra McGrath have supported the camp since the mid-2010s and act as their national spokespeople. Their daughter Kinley is transgender. “It is such a great camp for these kids to go with total confidence that they’re not going to be bullied, they can be totally who they are,” said Mochrie.
Mochrie recently appeared as a contestant on a new Amazon Prime game show “Last One Laughing.” The program challenges a group of comedians to keep from laughing in the face of all kinds of surprises. “To keep focused for six hours on not laughing was hard,” Mochrie recalled. “It was funny people, and when comedians get together there’s a lot of laughs.”
Each comedian was playing for a chosen charity, Mochrie for Rainbow Camp. He kept a straight face the longest, and was crowned the winner at the end of the six-episode series. The last episode aired on March 4, and Rainbow Camp staff planned an online watch party—but the congratulations started coming in before they’d hit play. “It was pretty amazing,” said Stewart. “Like fireworks going off.”
The camp welcomes kids from all over the country and internationally (with one coming from Saudi Arabia this year). Southin has a motto: no kid is ever turned away because of financial difficulties. So subsidies are common, with over half of campers receiving some financial assistance. With that and the expansion of programming this year, the prize money puts a welcome dent into the camp’s $400,000 fundraising goal.
And how to immortalize the comedian who got them the cash? “I’m thinking maybe a statue of me out front,” said Mochrie.
Kate Spencer is a writer in Halifax.
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