Wild Northerner Magazine Spring 2017 - Page 80

True Wild Northernerner

Close to her heart

BY SCOTT HADDOW

Wild Northerner staff

Ashleigh Quarrell is a True Wild Northerner.

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Quarrell, 29, is also a born lover of the outdoors. She was an August baby and less than a month after being born, her family had her at camp and enjoying the wilderness and lake life.

Her passion for being outdoors started young and it has stayed with Quarrell, true and never wavering.

“I feel at peace in nature and life slows down,” she said. “I can focus on the things that are important. I grew up in the outdoors and at the family camp. I lived there full time in the summer. I love to go camping, fishing, swimming, hiking and enjoying nature in the bush. I still go to the camp as much as I can. My favourite is lounging and swimming by the lake and having campfires with family and friends gathered around.”

Quarrell is the camp director for Camp Quality Northwestern Ontario. This allows Quarrell to act on the biggest desires in her heart - being outdoors and helping people.

She began her journey with Camp Quality when she was 18, volunteering as a camp companion. She did this for six years and also joined the camp organizing committee.

This will be her fourth year as camp director.

“I had the chance to step up and do more and I did,” Quarrell said. “It’s wonderful and neat to be a part of a support system for families dealing with cancer and help give joy back into their lives. I do a lot of volunteering. Camp Quality is closest to my heart. It’s inspiring and I get to be outdoors.”

One summer, when she was a camp companion, Quarrell was waiting for the buses with kids to show up. As the vehicles drove up to the camp, Quarrell could feel the excitement of the kids as they approached and delighted in hearing the buzz of anticipation coming from the buses. As the kids poured off the buses, it was a moment that struck Quarrell and still resonates deeply to this day. It was her “all in” moment.

“To see the smiles on the kid’s faces and feel their excitement that day made it clear to me I was going to be in for the long haul,” she said. “Connecting kids to nature is important and gives them opportunity to experience new things. In my 13 years, every year is different and every camper is different. It makes every moment special for all of us volunteering at the camp. We want kids to be kids at Camp Quality. Everyone is there for that reason. I work with compassionate people and it is a great experience each day.”

It’s not a difficult to find out why Quarrell gives her time for this cause.

“I’ve built a lot of meaningful relationships with campers and their families,” she said. “It’s a touching experience that lasts. Your payment is in smiles and laughter. No words can describe the good feeling it gives. I am who I am and I have no regrets. I’m proud of who I am. I’ve been shaped by a lot of good experiences with good people. It has given my life more meaning and more purpose. It drives me to do more.”

Quarrell works as a communications officer for Confederation College. Being in northern Ontario and living in Thunder Bay is her idea of paradise.

“It’s fantastic here,” she said. “I’m in a city, but working on a campus with lots of trees, so it’s like being in a park. I always feel connected to nature. I drive a few minutes out of town and I can do anything outdoors. It’s a good balance. My backyard backs on to a river. How beautiful is that? It’s a comfortable and inviting town.”

Camp Quality Canada features six overnight camps in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario for children affected by cancer between the ages of 4 and 14. The camps focus on kids building new skills like swimming and hiking, kayaking and storytelling, making friends and gaining memories to last a lifetime. There are more than 450 volunteers, including camp staff and medical practitioners who help out. Camp Quality Canada is a volunteer, non-profit, charitable organization that strives to improve the quality of life for children living with cancer through camps and year-round family support programs. Camp Quality Canada has been around since 1988.