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A youth camper in 2014 comes back to volunteer in 2023, for the Rotary Alberta Youth Entrepreneurship Camp

A youth camper in 2014 comes back to volunteer in 2023, for the Rotary Alberta Youth Entrepreneurship Camp

Sonja Mellema, a local youth from Taber, Alberta, first joined the Rotary Alberta Youth Entrepreneurship Camp in 2014. Now, in 2023, she continues to return to volunteer, while working with a tech start-up in Calgary, Alberta.

Nine years ago, Mellema had ideas of becoming an orthodontist, pilot, or engineer when she’d graduate high school. It wasn’t until her first year of Camp she realized business could be a career route for her, specifically one she was very interested in.

I absolutely loved Camp. It brought kids together from all over the province, and I am still friends with the people I met. It was an amazing experience and right up my alley. I learned the entrepreneurial toolset, which wasn’t something I was exposed to at school. It was a good educational experience, but it was also transformative for me from a social standpoint,” says Mellema.


Working as the business operations lead at the start-up, Aligned Outcomes, Mellema says almost everything she learned through Camp was transferable. After her five years attending, she was accepted into business school shortly after graduation, and also started her own copywriting business while studying at the University of Calgary.

Camp really opened up my eyes that this was an opportunity. It helped me go the start-up route — I prefer start-up culture, and I’d say Camp heavily influenced that,” she says.

Rotary Alberta Youth Entrepreneurship Camp invites students aged 13 to 15 to learn the basics of owning a business, applying for a loan, and creating a profitable product, to then sell at a market on the final day. For one week, the youth acquire new skills at Eagles Nest Ranch, all while participating in other camp activities. For Mellema’s first year, her group designed custom mugs and candle holders, and her second year they made baking-in-a-bag and custom tote bags.

Once campers reach the age of 16, they can return to camp as youth leaders, which Mellema did.


I think that’s why the camp has lasted 25 years. It’s because everyone who attends the Camp is always ready to give back, whether it’s their first year, or 25th year. It’s electric and fun. Everyone is incredibly happy and excited to be there, and they’re willing to go the extra mile,” says Mellema. “It’s a helpful and encouraging environment. If someone is struggling, there are so many people who are willing to help. And if someone is having a great time, they want to share that.

Mellema says she feels she was given so much when she joined the Youth Camp, and she would like to continue to have campers feel inspired the way she was. It helped her gain confidence, ensure a sense of self, and solidified what she wanted in life. The structure was beneficial, starting as a camper and having the opportunity to return as a youth leader to build those leadership skills, and then volunteer.

I could talk about Camp for days, because it really is transformative for a lot of kids, including myself. Being a youth leader is something I really cherished. It was exceptional. And here I am now working in the business world,” she says. “I got so much from those around me at camp including my fellow youth leaders, Greg, Sean, and many others when I was in Camp, so I want to come back and do the same thing for future campers. And I think we all have that mindset.


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