Vacationers know the best times are spent with friends

by Nikki Buffie

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Trekking along the trails of Kananaskis Country to the breathtaking views of waterfalls and lakes in the Rocky Mountains…

Afternoons spent exploring shops and museums of Southern Alberta towns, while trying to judge which town has the best ice cream shop.

Late nights spent making s’mores and singing songs around a campfire…

…these are only a few of the great activities we do as a Between Friends Vacationers group!

It’s like you’re on a vacation with your friends, because… oh wait, you are!

Vacationers is an incredible program offered by Between Friends in the summer months for adults 18+ to learn new skills, make new memories, and develop friendships.

As a past Vacationers team leader and now the Between Friends Vacationers Leader – I can tell you that this program has not only impacted my life, but the lives of our Vacationers staff, and most importantly… our participants.

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Nothing drives our staff more than knowing the excitement the participants have leading up to a trip. This is what motivates us to plan activities that will encourage everyone to overcome obstacles, challenge themselves, and learn new skills.

It’s a regular occurrence for participants to save up money all year long just to be able to afford one of these trips.

It is the unexpected moments that bring the individuals and us so much joy and appreciation.

Moments like:
– seeing someone we never thought would willingly stay in the boat while White Water Rafting (because he loves the water so much) has the time of his life floating with his friends down the Kananaskis River.
– when someone who usually gets anxious in crowds gets up at a Karaoke Bar to sing her favourite song in front of people she has never even seen before…
– when our group is on a hike with Rocky Mountain Adaptive Sports and someone with mobility issues makes it to the top of Grassi Lakes.

“The best moments are when the participants do things they never thought they could do!”

We challenge our participants to break down barriers that have been put up by society, but we also challenge ourselves. Our staff works hard to ensure that our activities are adapted accordingly and inclusive for everyone. We focus on encouraging our participants and our staff to step out of their comfort zone and to do things they have never done before.

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As a past Vacationers Team Leader, I often forgot that I was even at work.

I will never forget one evening on our trip to Jasper last summer (2015).

Some people were roasting hot dogs over the fire, some were playing soccer on the beach.

I was french-braiding one of the girl’s hair, and music was playing softly in the background.

I thought to myself… “this is exactly what my friends and I like to do on vacation.”

And at the moment, I once again remembered why I was there – my job was to foster an environment where people could leave their troubles at home, spend time with friends, and just be themselves.

2016 was my second summer with Between Friends and I have witnessed so many friendships blossom between participants. We see phone numbers being exchanged and plans being made to see each other again.

We have staff members who have developed organic friendships with our members and spend time with them outside of working hours. These are the reasons we do what we do.

It’s not because of the money or the recognition. It is because of the impact we are making and the opportunities we are providing these individuals that really count.

About the program

Between Friends Vacationers program is offered for adults ages 18 and older who would like to participate in structured group trips. Throughout the year, participants take excursions that vary from 1 to 5 days in length. These trips include everything from adrenaline inducing adventure activities like whitewater rafting in Banff, to mellow nights in relaxed surroundings.

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Between Friends Vacationers typically operate on a staff to participant ratio of 1:2 or 1:3. Members who require 1:1 are welcome to participate with the assistance of a Personal Aide.

Vacationers Trips

Between Friends Vacationers offer opportunity to enjoy a relaxing break from the usual or an adventurous getaway. Groups of 8 take excursions that range from sleepovers and camping to city tours. All Vacationers Summer trips are wheelchair accessible.

This year’s Vacationers summer day trips included:
– Spaceships & Planes – a trip to the Bomber Museum in Nanton exploring historical planes, followed by checking out the Star Trek capital of Canada (Vulcan) and even a movie museum!
– Duelling Pianos at Aussie Rules – An evening at Aussie Rules getting the complete piano bar experience.
– Kennel and Canmore – A visit to the Snowy Owl Dog Sled Tours kennel (home to over 170 dogs) and sightseeing in Canmore.
Calgary Zoo – an afternoon with the animals!
Grandstand Night – an evening at the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” watching the young Canadians and performances from the Alberta Ballet at the Grandstand Show.
Rodeo Roundup – an afternoon enjoying the excitement of the Calgary Stampede Rodeo.
Calaway Park – Exploring Canada’s largest outdoor family amusement park taking in live stage shows, thrilling rides, fun games, street performers & more.
– Dinner Theatre – An original three-act musical comedy combined with a delicious four-course meal in a totally unique way at Jubilations Dinner Theatre.
Heritage Park – Discovering ‘How the West was Once’ at Canada’s largest living history museum spending the day checking out rides, exhibits and shops.
GlobalFest Fireworks – Ending the summer with a bang! Vacationers went to this world-class international fireworks festival. Many onsite activities including cultural pavilions, an aboriginal tipi village and ethnic food booths.

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In addition to the day trips Vacationers also take part in an assortment of other trips, ranging from a single overnight all the way to a 5 day, 4 night getaway to Edmonton or the Rocky Mountains.

Spring & Fall Trips

An annual event that is met with extensive popularity, is the Vacationers Spring & Fall Trips. The Spring Trip is a weekend trip hosted at Easter Seals Camp Horizon in Bragg Creek. At Easter Seals Camp Horizon, participants enjoy a mix of relaxation and fun, adrenaline-pumping activities. There’s a giant swing, high and low ropes challenge courses, hiking trails, tranquil scenery, relaxing surroundings and more!

Activities are weather dependent, of course, but all accommodations are wheelchair accessible!

Leader Support

Between Friends Vacationers leaders know how to have a blast! Members receive a phone call from a leader two weeks before the trip, at which point families can provide information on medication, emergency contacts, and effective tools for the best care of each participant.

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