The Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation was established in 1995 to honour the life and memory of Louis Turpin, a young Ottawa man who died of AIDS at the age of 34. Snatched from this world too soon, his family found hope and solace in the appearance of a snowy owl outside Louis’ window on the day he died. Appearing in his final hour of life, the mystical bird seemed to be there to welcome and carry the young man’s spirit to safe refuge as the family bid him goodbye.
Originally established to raise money for local initiatives and organizations that support people affected by AIDS, the foundation’s mission has since expanded to include the annual Camp Snowy Owl. Now, each summer, Executive Director Lise Turpin is able to carry forth her brother’s legacy by offering a safe, welcoming refuge to people in the Ottawa area living with AIDS, as well as their families, caregivers and loved ones.
One of the camp’s original funders, the Community Foundation provided a $10,000 grant in support of the 2013 camp season, which was filled to capacity with 45 campers and 25 volunteers. Offering a holistic outdoor experience, including swimming, kayaking and canoeing, Camp Snowy Owl honours and celebrates diversity amongst its campership and provides medical care through the provision of a registered nurse onsite.
“According to our campers, just getting away from the city for this one special week has provided them with countless benefits,” says Lise. “From feeling a sense of family and belonging to enjoying a freedom from judgment or stigma, our camp seems to offer something unique for them to look forward to each year. After four years of running the camp, every summer reunion is more joyous than the one before and it’s incredibly rewarding to be part of creating new, happy memories for all our campers.”
Located at Providence Point in Lanark, word of Camp Snowy Owl’s success is already spreading far and wide. Applications have been flooding in to the camp earlier each year and inquiries are coming in from AIDS service organizations across the country for people wishing to come from outside the catchment area. A Montreal organization has even expressed interest in sending a member of its staff to the camp to learn how to introduce a similar model in Quebec.
“We’re so pleased to have been able to realize this dream in memory of my brother, and to be able to share it this way,” says Lise. “It`s really thanks to the generosity of our community and grants like the one provided by the Ottawa Community Foundation that we’ve been able to offer this invaluable respite to an often hidden population. Since Louis’ passing, the power of the snowy owl has inspired us to create this lasting tribute to his life, becoming a symbol of the love, compassion and beauty of the human spirit we see every day in the fight against HIV and AIDS.”
For more information about Camp Snowy Owl and the Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation, visit http://www.snowyowl.org.
“I’m waiting to meet new friends and looking forward to catching up with those who I haven’t seen since last year. There are always, of course, campers who are only there in spirit, but they are remembered with joy, love and tears. Hope is a thing best shared and together we all find some. I’m waiting to spend the time with my child that life often doesn’t allow. This illness has robbed us of time that we should have had together.”
“Camp…the place where I can put aside for a week all the things that consume my life: my meds, the constant doctor’s appointments, attempting to keep a job, while not wanting to disclose my HIV status to my boss as to why I am taking so much time off, and wondering how am I going to be able to meet my Trillium deductible if I am unable to keep my job. I want my biggest problem to be if I will be able to fit everything into my days at camp that I want. Kayaking, swimming, Arts & crafts, the Camp Olympics, hiking, campfires, yoga, the talent show, remembering our friends, celebrating our lives and those who have gone before us and one of the most loved events, Family Portrait Day, and so much more.“