Our Stories

Camp fYrefly stories:

fYreflyAaron Janzen: Camp fYrefly helps us achieve our dreams
fYreflyGreg Kauffman: Camp fYrefly encouraged my son to be a leader
fYreflyEvan Westfal: I was surrounded by people that understood me
fYreflyElise Hessel: A Grade 11 student learns to become resilient
fYreflyConnor Yuzwenko-Martin: Learned that to be gay, is simply to be

More stories from our iSMSS programs:

iSMSSRomi Irwin: iSMSS helped me support my SGM child
iSMSSAnna Burn: iSMSS has made a huge difference in school halls
iSMSSFamily Resilience Project: A girl learned to celebrate who she is

Learn more: Our Impact, Our Research
                     Our Programs, Our Honorary Committe

Aaron Janzen

Camp fYrefly Participant

Greg Kauffman

Father Camp fYrefly Participant

Anna Burn

Teacher, Diversity Consultant
Edmonton Public School Board

When Anna first started working with iSMSS five years ago, the phrase “that’s so gay” was used seemingly in every second sentence by students, and sometimes even teachers. With guidance from iSMSS, Gay Straight Alliance groups have been formed at high schools across the city, and derogatory and homophobic language is now heard significantly less often in the halls. Students have been made aware of the impact of their words on each other.

“Not only students, but teachers and staff have been so supportive of the GSA program. When all the schools connect, it really helps youth realize there is a wider network in the community than just their school. While they may be tentative during the first year of program implementation, I’ve noticed a huge change in the confidence of students identifying as LGBTQ and even the allies that join to support them. Schools that embrace outreach and programs for SGM youth are giving students a place to be themselves.”

Elise Hessel

Grade 11 student and Camp fYrefly participant 
William Aberhart High School

Elise and her parents first heard about Camp fYrefly through a cousin that worked at iSMSS. After doing some research, she looked forward to connecting with other young people going through the same thing she was, never imagining that these people would become some of her closest friends.

“After enduring everyday bullying and harassment as an LGBT teen, camp taught me not only how to cope, but to become resilient. It was comforting to know that I wasn't alone. I have family and friends who love me for who I am, but it's just not the same as being around people who can truly empathize with coming out and dealing with those consequences,” Elise shares.

Connor Yuzwenko-Martin

Undergraduate University of Alberta Student
Camp fYrefly: A Reflection Fostering, youth, resiliency, energy, fun, leadership, yeah!

Before fYrefly, I didn’t know what it meant to be gay.

When I came out on my 15th birthday, all I knew about being gay was what a relatively sheltered and naive boy would. I did know that I was a member of a sexual minority, born the way I was. My parents happily accepted me, but had little in the way of advice for a gay adolescent. Thus my ideas of gay love were infected by the dominance of online yaoi communities, which dictated my expectations of relationships for the next few years. For those of you who don’t know, yaoi is an immensely popular genre in Japanese literature - spilling over into the rest of the West - that features gay male romance in extremely stereotyped roles and idealistic scenarios. Fortunately for me, a a brief relationship brought me closer to reality before I began university.

Romi Irwin

Parent of Camp fYrefly participant

Camp fYrefly is absolutely amazing! My child has attended the camp for two years, and it has been nothing but positive experiences. This Camp helped our family and most likely saved my child's life! My child lives for this camp to come around every year, and would go more if they had it more often.

The Camp – the people that run it and the people that attend – are such great human beings, and though my child has a unique circumstance he lives, has found a place where he fits in this world, and feels so much better when walking away from Camp fYrefly every year! He has a place where he belongs, and the people there are ALL fantastic, welcoming, and understanding! It has taught my child that who he is is alright in this world, and anyone with a problem with him is the one with the problem.......not him! He comes away renewed and feeling super about himself and his place in this world!

If your child has an opportunity to attend, you should jump at the chance! It will change your child's life completely!


Youth Intervention Worker

Family Resilience Project, FCSS Sector “Success Story”

This story was shared recently at the Early Intervention Sector meeting on December 12, 2012. All names are pseudonyms to protect confidentiality of the family.

Katie was referred to our program in early May 2012, via an email that her mother sent to The Institute for Sexual Minority Studies & Services. Katie’s parents were looking for resources and support for their 13 year-old daughter who felt “different.”

Mom explained that Katie had been suffering from panic attacks, anxiety and depression and that they were worried about their daughter recently coming out to them as “different” (Katie was not able to say accurately how she truly identified). Katie was distraught one evening and presenting with suicidal ideation, so her family rushed her to the emergency to be treated and soon thereafter discovered that Katie was struggling with her sexual identity. Katie was so far from openly admitting her identity that she resorted to writing it out on paper for her mom, in order to avoid speaking the actual words.

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