Jamboree supports children’s medical needs
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For 26 years, the Little Valley Jamboree has had a big impact on the lives of children with special needs and their families.
Each year, musicians, businesses and volunteers join together to bring the fundraiser to the stage, including bands that donate their time and talent, and this year will be no different.
“The community coming together to help kids in need is what makes it special,” said Colleen Woychyshyn, one of the festival organizers, during a recent interview.
The annual volunteer-run, two-day festival held in Erickson raises support and money for children with special needs throughout Manitoba, but typically the recipients are the families of Westman children.
Funds raised through donations, auctions and raffles assist families with the costs of medical needs, special needs devices, travel and unexpected expenses related to their child’s condition.
Those can be items such as wheelchairs, renovations to homes to make them more accessible, therapies and medical aids the children might need, Woychyshyn said.
The jamboree was started by Rod Lewandoski, a musician who wanted to help children, and his wife Evelyn, with the support of family, friends, his band members and other musicians and local businesses.
Starting in 1998, the festivals were held in Polonia, north of Neepawa, but as the event grew it was moved to Erickson in 2006.
Rod Lewandoski died in December 2020, and Evelyn still sits on the jamboree’s committee.
“He was a very giving person who loved kids, and he’d tour around to many of the care homes in the area too, and perform,” Woychyshyn said of Lewandoski. “He was just a stellar guy.”
Woychyshyn said the music festival continues to grow. The more families the event helps, the more supporters it gains, she said. Since the jamboree began, more than $550,000 has been donated to children with medical needs and their families.
“It’s almost like a jamboree family,” Woychyshyn says. “Once we’ve had a child as a recipient, their friends and family keep coming back, or keep supporting the jamboree. They network out to each other. They get to know all the other recipients and their families.”
This year, the jamboree will be held June 17-18 at the Erickson recreation centre and will benefit three children — 10-year-old Kaleb Bootsman of Hamiota, seven-year-old Roran Unrau of Kenton, and four-year-old Jaxson Bruce Amiotte-Boles of Erickson.
Unrau, who lives with severe autism, was nominated by a family friend who is a band member of Lazy Creek Express, which has played at the jamboree. His mother Rebecca said her son’s selection to be supported by the jamboree came as a pleasant surprise.
“I think it’s going to help improve our quality of life day-to-day,” Rebecca said.
Unrau’s enthusiasm for things he enjoys is described as contagious and inspiring, and despite his autism he seeks connection with others. However, he is non-verbal and his other autism-related challenges include eloping (which is a tendency to run or wander away from caregivers or secure areas) and intense sensory needs.
His mother said funds from the jamboree may be used to build a fence to make their yard safer and more enjoyable, and to create a space where he can use sensory play items that help calm him, provide him happiness and help with his development.
“For us, supporting Roran is giving him a higher quality of life with equipment, and space and safety measures that we’ve not been able to really provide before,” Rebecca said.
Woychyshyn said the bands that volunteer their time to perform at the jamboree (typically a dozen play during the weekend) span a range of musical genres and mostly come from the Westman and Parkland regions. As of press time, organizers weren’t ready to share the lineup for this year’s show, but it was expected to be public soon.
Besides the on-stage entertainment, there is an outdoor kids’ area that includes bouncy houses, a “panning for gold” station, a money mountain where they can dig for coins and tokens for treats and face painting.
For adults, there are beer gardens too, and proceeds from the sale of food and alcohol go to six Erickson-area groups that provide workers for food and beverage service and security. The jamboree has flowed more than $90,000 over the years back to those community groups; that’s in addition to the money collected for the children through the auctions, draws and donations.