National Volunteer Week: Meet Jessie

volunteer sitting on log in front of a campfire with tents in background

Happy National Volunteer Week! To celebrate, we are excited to recognize our many volunteers and share their stories. Volunteers at Campfire Circle are the heart of all our programs and summer camps. They come from different walks of life but dedicate their time to helping kids and families across Ontario affected by cancer and serious illness to heal through happiness. Whether through outdoor sports, pottery, workshops, or drama – their roles keep the magic of Campfire Circle alive and impactful.

Meet Jessie

Jessie has been volunteering with Campfire Circle for 15 years at community and overnight programs. The Hamilton-based 31-year-old professional boxer and millwright has been a camper with the organization since he was three, when his five-year-old brother, Robert, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Jessie continued to attend family camp at Campfire Circle after his brother passed away and became a camp counsellor at age 16. Jessie describes going to camp as his favourite time of the year growing up. For him, camp is a family affair.

“A week before camp, we would practice not putting our elbows on the table and singing campfire songs! It was a tradition in our house and we loved every part of it,” says Jessie.

Jessie and his five siblings attended family camp every year and now all of them have volunteered with Campfire Circle – sometimes all at the same time. One of his most memorable memories at camp was when his older brother, his two younger brothers, and he were in the same cabin as counsellors. He described it as feeling like home and so much fun.

“In a world where cancer exists, it can be hard to understand and it’s hard to keep your mind off it. Especially for a young kid who may not have friends who can relate. That’s why I love going to camp. Sometimes we talk about cancer and sometimes it never gets mentioned. But I want to ensure that they have an experience they might not get anywhere else.” 

volunteer and camper fishing on a boat wearing life jackets

When asked about what inspired him to become a counsellor, he described his favourite volunteer named Larry.

“Larry was this amazing volunteer. He was about 60 years old, but he was a machine! He ran every morning before all the campers got up and I knew I wanted to be like him. I’ve always said, I want to be the new Larry and volunteer for the rest of my life.”

Larry’s son was also diagnosed with cancer and Jessie admired being able to talk to someone who understood what he’d been through. At camp, he felt free to talk about cancer and the impact of it without being judged. It was a place to take a break from stress and connect with people freely.

“It’s truly an amazing place,” he says.

Because Jessie grew up with many younger siblings, he finds he connects best with campers in their teens.

“Teens like to have fun, and I like making sure they have the best time whenever they’re at camp. A counsellor is someone who is able to provide their campers with the freedom to have fun and try new things, whether it’s boxing or playing an intense game of tetherball,” says Jessie.

Jessie loves camp so much that he encourages his friends to volunteer so that, they too, could experience the magic of camp.

“You’ll never experience anything like it. Have fun. Make sure the kids have fun. You will meet a lot of great people with the same goal of providing campers with a unique and fun experience. Camp can be whatever the kids want it to be. Camp is good for your mind, and you will learn skills to use for the rest of your life.”

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