The space camp kids are "go" for lift-off.
In a surprise announcement Wednesday night at Ronald Harvey Elementary, Save Our Space Camp co-chairs Heather Kemp and Sandra Der announced that the group had raised the $133,000 needed to send its 71 students and 22 chaperones on the trip later this month.
"We're thrilled to announce that every child is now paid for to go to space camp," Der said, to the cheers of some 120 parents and kids.
The announcement draws to a close three weeks of frantic fundraising to save a trip to Quebec's Cosmodome that had been scuttled due to the collapse of a Nova Scotia travel company, one that cost the parents and students involved about $250,000.
Parents, students and businesses across North America rallied to the cause, fundraising and donating tens of thousands of dollars.
Der said the group suspected that it had reached its goal on Monday but didn't have the last chunk of change in hand until Wednesday.
She and Kemp were overjoyed when they saw the new total. "We were sitting on the couch doing a happy dance with a spreadsheet!" she said.
This takes a lot of pressure off the group, Kemp said. The April 19 silent auction will still go ahead, however, and now has an extra-special item on the block: an official NASA mission patch from former Canadian astronaut and current Liberal MP Marc Garneau that has actually flown in space.
Any extra cash from the auction and other events would likely go towards youth charities plus other community groups, Kemp said. Those groups will be picked in co-operation with the St. Albert public school board after the trip.
Shana Dahl, the parent who spearheaded Save Our Space Camp, said in an interview that she was ecstatic at the campaign's success.
"It was more than I could ever have expected," she said. "It's hard to imagine that three weeks ago nobody ever believed this would be possible."
Kemp thanked everyone for the support. "Every dollar to this camp meant something to us," she said. Little kids donated their allowances, while companies like Melcor Developments and St. Albert Dodge signed over sizeable cheques.
"Everywhere we were going, people have been saying, 'How can we help?'"
She singled out 630 CHED's Andrew Grose for his role in rallying supporters and organizing the April 12 comedy night fundraiser. "He jumped in with two feet," she said, and was vital to the campaign's success.
The kids on the trip worked exceptionally hard, Kemp said. "They've been working four- to six-hour shifts at barbecues. They were in the cold, rainy snow last Saturday collecting bottles." A few did 10-hour shifts at the recent Lifestyle Expo asking for donations.
"They've earned this trip," added Der.
Kemp said the trip has the same itinerary as the one originally planned through Nova Scotia's Experiential Education and Tours, with stops in Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa.
The highlight will be space camp at the Cosmodome – an actual NASA space camp, Kemp said. "They get to sleep in simulated rocket ships. They get to go in teams and build their own rockets and learn about space."
Kemp's daughter, Abbey, said the Cosmodome would definitely be the coolest part of the trip. "It means a lot to me."
This campaign gave many parents and students the chance to meet each other for the first time, leading to lasting friendships, Der said. But it also made for some long hours, with some parents working well past midnight some days to co-ordinate the effort.
Dahl said she's not sure if she'd step up to do this sort of thing again. "This has been the most amazing experience for my family," she said, but she was looking forward to some quiet evenings at home.
This campaign was never about getting her son, Brennan, to space camp, Dahl said. "It was about saving this trip for all these children and saving the trip for every year after." Now that Global Tourisme has signed on, local schools know they have an organizer available for when they next do this tour in 2018.
"In four years when my daughter is ready to go, we now have a group to manage it."
It's also taught the kids an amazing lesson, she added. "They can take a bad thing and turn it into something good."
Abbey summed up the moral of this tale. "If something gets cancelled, you shouldn't give up on it. You should try and get to where you want to be."
The trip runs from April 26 to May 3.