Mark Lerner has been running summer programs for kids and teenagers with disabilities since 1986.
It started with a summer program run out of his vehicle, and grew from there.
In 1994, Lerner partnered with the city under the Parks and Recreation department and Summerside Express was born.
Lerner works with children who have disabilities because he was in the same position when he was young. He spent most of his life on crutches. He was born without a hip and has had seven hip replacements to date.
There are two different parts to Summerside Express.
On one side of the program, Lerner provides kids with recreational aids so that they can participate in summer programs that are already happening throughout the city. Each week Lerner places one or two children in the camp at Haig Brown as well as the one at the Gathering Place, and around five children in the Cedar School program.
With the help of their recreation aids, children with disabilities are able to participate in recreational activities with other children.
Lerner said the aids do everything from adjusting activities so that everyone can participate to helping their charges with medical needs.
The other part of the Summerside Express program is a day camp for 11 to 19 year olds. The group goes all sorts of fun activities around the island including a camping trip to Denman Island and an overnight trip to Victoria.
“What I feel that we are providing here, we are getting young people away from simply isolating themselves as well as giving them the opportunity to get involved in recreational activities and to explore their community as a whole to see that there are so many places that they can recreate and have accessibility too,” Lerner said.
The positive impacts of the program are far reaching. The recreational aids and camp leaders move on to become teachers, social workers and nurses, and Lerner often sees past campers in the community, working hard and often times giving back.
The program is funded in part by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, as well as the city. Lerner, his staff and his campers also do a lot of fundraising.
“We’ve washed a lot of cars,” he said with a laugh.
They have also taken on paper routes and bagged groceries in order to raise funds and keep the costs of the camp as low as possible so that they are accessible to everyone.
Lerner and the rest of the team at Summerside Express are hosting a small celebration on Aug. 19 at 12:30 p.m. in the gym at the community centre.
Past campers and leaders are all invited to reminisce and tell stories.