Some of the fun at Mission's Zajac Ranch (Photos: Zajac Ranch Facebook)
By Spencer van Vloten
August 10th, 2021
Zajac Ranch for Children in Mission has provided years of summer wonder for campers with disabilities and medical conditions.
We talked with Carmen Zajac, President of Zajac Ranch for Children as well as the Mel Jr. and Marty Zajac Foundation, about how the camp started, and why it means so much to so many BC families.
How did Zajac Ranch start?
Carmen: I lost 2 of my brothers in separate sporting accidents 8 months apart, and my parents decided to turn the family’s grief into something positive.
The Mel Jr. and Marty Zajac Foundation started by donating to children’s hospitals, to Variety Children's Charity, but my dad had always wanted to build a western themed camp for underprivileged kids.
Then he met Paul Newman, and from him got the idea to focus on kids with disabilities and medical issues, and that’s how the Zajac Ranch began. We bought the site in Mission, and turned it from a correctional facility into a magical place.
From left to right: Mel Jr., Marty, and Mel Sr. (Photos: The Mel Jr. and Marty Zajac Foundation)
Why does Zajac Ranch mean so much to campers with disabilities or medical issues?
Carmen: Because we’ve designed the ranch for people with disabilities and medical issues in mind, they’re often doing these activities for the very first time after a lifetime of not being able to do them at other places.
They’ve never been in an environment where they experience stuff like this, and it just has a huge impact in terms of confidence— they come to camp thinking they couldn’t do something, but now realize they can.
Tell us about the activities at the ranch - and the animals!
Carmen: There are so many activities. Horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, archery, high ropes, low ropes, a climbing wall, swimming, our trampoline in the sky known as the sky net, arts and crafts, theatre and skits. And many others.
As far as animals, we have 7 horses, chickens, roosters, a mini horse, sheep, goats, a donkey, cats, and dogs. The influence of animals is so calming and therapeutic, and for many campers it's something they never forget.
Just some of the furry friends campers get to meet at Zajac Ranch (Photos: Zajac Ranch Instagram)
How are you doing now, in light of what’s happened with the pandemic?
Carmen: We’d been registering campers when things went south, and we still wanted to be there for them and their families.
So we came up with family camp, where families could enjoy the ranch while still in their own little bubble, with their own rooms, own eating space, and so on. Everyone loved it, we ran family camp again - it was so popular that it was full within 2 hours.
A tour of Zajac Ranch (Video: Zajac Ranch YouTube)
People had been really confined and wanted to get out for an experience like this, and it was great because the parents now actually got to see their children at camp doing all these amazing things.
How can people support Zajac Ranch?
Every bit of support enables us to keep offering summers full of fun and memories.