It is hard to believe Kids 4 Kids is celebrating its 30th anniversary this summer. We have had over 40,000 children through our Kids 4 Kids Leadership school programs, summer camps and presentations. We have had members who have become teachers, police officers, firefighters and have served in the military. We even had a member invited to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela because of a book this twelve-year Bilaal Rajan wrote. Incredible transformations have happened at camp and during the Kids 4 Kids Leadership Programs.
Children have referred to Scott Graham, founder of Kids 4 Kids, as a second dad, favourite uncle, friend and now grandpa. Parents have used Scott’s influence on their children – “What would Scott say,” is a common phrase used by parents or “Do you want me to call Scott?”
Kids 4 Kids Leadership Program started in 1992 at Frontenac Public School in Burlington, Ontario, to deal with bullying effectively. Scott was frustrated that there were no services in the Halton area that helped children with the bullying issue. Many educators delivered the stock answers: walk away, ignore it or tell a teacher. This is what Scott heard as a child. So, Scott created Kids 4 Kids, a lunch-hour club. Scott promised fifteen students pizza if they attended. Scott wanted to create a program that was fun and inspirational. Cooperative games, hilarious stories, role plays, and discussions were all included in the program. One hundred and seventy-nine children signed up for the second program. Parents and teachers could not believe how excited children were to attend. The enthusiasm was unexpected, which triggered interest from other schools and communities; Scott was offering programs in the Greater Toronto region before long.
The program’s content was expanded to include leadership strategies, anger management techniques and ways of dealing with peer pressure. The main goal of Kids 4 Kids is to help children become resilient, respectful and responsible individuals.
Scott is always looking for a new challenge, so he decided to try his hand at offering a summer camp. The Kids 4 Kids summer camps have become one of the most popular destinations for children in the Halton area, filling in a week with over 1400 campers. During COVID, Camp Kahuna provided an environment where children could flourish, regain resiliency and balance the effects of lockdowns and school closures.
Ironically, Scott wanted to offer summer camps because he didn’t like camp as a child. In 1994, he had seven children attend the first week and fourteen attend the second. Camp started at Port Nelson United Church in Burlington, eventually moving to Brant Hills Community Center and Iroquois Ridge Community Centre, Glen Abbey and St. Paul United Church in Oakville.
The day camps were a hit, so why not try a sleep-away camp? So, Camp Manitou, a Scout camp in Kilbride, was booked for the sleep-away camp. There was an average of forty to sixty campers for the first two years. Day camps and the sleep-away camp, Camp Kahuna, were getting too big for the church locations and Camp Manitou, so we moved to Camp Sidrabene, a Latvian Children’s Camp in North Burlington. This is where all the camps are presently run.
A spectacular experience is created for the campers. We combine traditional camp activities like campfires, Capture the Flag games, and swimming with extraordinary presenters. We have had visits from Alan Frew, lead singer from Glass Tiger, musical groups, the Spoons and the Kings. Child soldiers Michel Chikwanine and Pinball Clemons inspired the campers with their incredible life stories. There have been full-size carnivals, BMX bike stunt performers, magicians like Mark Clearview and jugglers who have to entertain the campers. Camp Kahuna has become an extraordinary place that builds memories and encourages children to pursue leadership. We even have the privilege of working with a few celebrity children like Doug Gilmour’s daughter and Sarah Blackwood’s boys (Walk Off the Earth).
Along with the Kids 4 Kids after-school and lunch programs and summer camps, Scott enjoys speaking at schools across Canada and Scotland. Scott has spoken across Canada in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, and Newfoundland. In addition, he has talked to children in Perth, Crieff and Edinburgh, Scotland. One of the highlights of Scotland was speaking at George Heriot School in Edinburgh. George Heriot is a five-hundred-year-old school that J.K. Rowling used to inspire her Hogwarts School. Scott has also talked to children in Bermuda.
One of Scott’s adventures was when he flew up to Muskrat Dam, a First Nation community in Northern Ontario, and worked with the children in Muskrat Dam and Sachigo. Flying up in the cold month of January was a challenge.
It hasn’t always been easy. There has been pushback due to rigid policies at school boards and with individuals who think Kids 4 Kids infringes on things they should be doing. The operant word should be doing. With the pushback, there has been so much push-through. Scott has been blessed by hundreds of outstanding principals, teachers and parents who have offered incredible support and encouragement. Scott would not be where he is today if it weren’t for these fantastic individuals.
Scott thrives on change and accomplishment. He has offered two anti-bullying conferences that have served over 3200 students from the Greater Toronto area. Scott didn’t want any excuses from the school boards, so he paid for both these events himself. Money, policies and personal agendas should never get in the way of helping children.
Scott is often accused of having a “secret agenda.” The only reason for offering Kids 4 Kids programs, summer camps, school assemblies and conferences is to inspire children. Scott’s reward is seeing children’s changes and desire to become leaders.
There have been doubters and haters who try to derail Scott. However, their effort is futile as Scott’s sole purpose is to inspire and help children. This is something he can not stop doing.
MESSAGE FROM SCOTT
Before COVID-19 began, I remember thinking I was too busy and had to slow down. I got my wish. I went from 100% to zero. All my after-school programs and presentations were cancelled. I was about to present in Bermuda, Calgary, Alberta and Schools – they were all cancelled.
I was three months away from summer camp and prayed they wouldn’t be cancelled.
During this unforeseen break, I worked on two ebooks, two videos, and a new speaker website for the first month. After that, I took many daily walks, but I needed to get out and do something. So I got a local grocery store job and became “Banana man.” I worked with produce, hauling bananas and other food items onto the store floor. I had never had a career that was as physical, but I found my groove.
Shortly after COVID, I decided to work for the Halton and Waterloo Catholic School Boards. I could inject a little joy and happiness with my storytelling, guitar playing, and singing; after all, I know many children’s songs and knowledge of games.
It has been two years of helping children feel good and find enjoyment in life. My Moo Moo Chicken stuffy has made it home for sleepovers. The kids have gotten excited about writing and have enjoyed my gym classes. I have appreciated teachers allowing me to teach their students and inject fun into their lives.
At one school song, I play songs all day for all the kindergarten, grade one and two classes. It was a full day of fun.
A New Hamburg custodian said, “You don’t hear kids singing in schools anymore.”
I thought about this statement and realized he was right. It used to be that when you walked down the school hallways, you heard students singing and laughing. The halls have become void of the sounds of children’s voices. It is important to incorporate moments of joy for children so they realize that learning is fun and school can be a place to enjoy.
I could have sat at home and worked on my books, but it was important to help teachers by giving them a break and an opportunity for the students to have fun. My agenda was simple: do whatever it takes to hear the laughter and joy of children.
Summer was approaching, and I was still waiting to see if I could run a summer camp. Finally, we were given the green light on June 17th – (let’s not wait until the last minute, government people). I bought a thousand dollars worth of PPE in April, wrote up COVID policies, hired, and was as prepared as possible for a cleaning staff. We had handwashing stations, limited our camper numbers, put the kids into cohorts and divided our camp into two camps.
Families were cancelling when COVID began, but more families were registering as camp got closer. It was a stressful time. Whenever a car pulled into camp, we thought Health Canada might be coming for an inspection. We had no inspections or visits from Health Canada during our 2020 camp season. We made it through a successful but stressful summer. The only thing I needed to cancel was my weeklong sleep-away camp. I turned the sleep-away week into an epic survivor camp.
The only thing I will never forget about that summer is how happy the kids were and how grateful the parents were for offering camp. So many other centers cancelled their season. I knew how vital camp would be for these kids. We had to run the camp.
Our 2021 still needed to be fulfilled of our sleep-away camp, but we felt more confident in running a camp during COVID. One of the things we were grateful for is masks were not mandated. With 120-degree weather, masks would have been a health and safety concern.
The 2022 camp season is slowly approaching. Camps filled in a week with over one hundred campers on our waiting lists. This summer, we will have our sleep-away center and celebrate our thirtieth anniversary and my sixtieth birthday. It’s hard to believe I have been doing what I do for so long. Before Kids 4 Kids, I sang in a rock band named Channel 5, competing with the Spoons for popularity. Now I’m presenting in schools with Gord Deppe, lead singer of the same band we competed with for favour.
I am grateful for all the people who have supported and encouraged me over the thirty years. Working with you has been a privilege to allow children to grow and become the best version of themselves. I told one group today that I may be the person in this gym who may become the Prime Minister of Canada, perhaps the first female prime minister. It’s all possible with the proper guidance.