The comfort of camps: how Y programs help vulnerable children like Darcy and Jade


Father’s Day is supposed to be a happy time for families, filled with laughter and fun activities with dad.

But this wasn’t the case for the Height family.

On Father’s Day last year, Matt Height, 43, a husband and father of two, had a significant stroke that has left him severely disabled and needing 24 hour care.

What should have been a happy day for the young family, was only the beginning of a traumatic and saddening experience, particularly for Matt’s children Darcy, 11 and Jade, 9.

“During this first month we didn’t even know if he was going to survive… It was highly traumatic for the kids. They had to get to know this new dad,” said Matt’s wife Meagan.

Matt was a Senior Sergeant in their local area in Gippsland.

His stroke was well known about and the children were exposed to the constant question of ‘how’s your dad’ from people in the community.

They not only had to come to terms with this almost new person as their dad but the complete life change it had caused.

They were in and out of hospital and had to face this new reality of their dad having an acquired brain injury.

Down to one income with a significant increase in living costs due to care and medical expenses, meant Meaghan still had to continue full time work.

She knew the children needed a break from the trauma and pressure of such an extreme life change, but because of the need to work, she couldn’t give them this herself.

With a camping program background, Meagan understood the important benefits of camps for her children.

Meagan said: “I needed a place where I knew they would have a great time in a positive and safe environment. Where they could go and just have a break from it all and could also give me some time out as a parent.

“I knew the YMCA had credible camping programs and the kids had learnt to swim at the local Y in Warragul, so I thought it would be a great place to send them.”

The children came back with new friends, skills and memories.

Meagan says taking the children out of their comfort zone and spending time with new people was incredibly beneficial for them.

“It teaches them how to be resilient in the face of change and a new unknown environment. When they’re there, they also learn important social and emotional skills. They have to learn to be tolerant and accepting of other people who are often going through their own problems too.”

Not only did they grow as individuals, but they grew closer as siblings. Knowing no one else at camp, they had to learn to rely on one another and the importance of being there for each other.

“Jade commented that she was afraid of the dark one night but that it was okay because Darcy was there to help her,” Meagan recalls.

“My kids gained so many skills from going on camp and we’re already planning the next one… it gives them something to look forward to.

“It’s a place where they can just go in and be who they are.”

The funds raised from the YMCA Father’s Day Fun Run will provide more subsidised opportunities to families like the Heights Family.

To begin fundraising, click here

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