Engineering Challenge volunteers collaborate to restore historic and healing campsite - United Way Alberta Capital Region

Engineering Challenge volunteers collaborate to restore historic and healing campsite

October 11, 2022


Over 70 United Way volunteers from 16 Edmonton-region engineering firms came together to transform Camp Yowochas, a year-round outdoor education centre and campsite run by YWCA Edmonton. 

Many hands make light work 

Every year, Engineering Challenge volunteers come together to lend their time and skills to do local good in our region. 

This September, more than 70 volunteers from 16 engineering firms across Edmonton came together for United Way’s 16th annual Engineering Challenge to transform Camp Yowochas, a year-round outdoor education centre and campsite on Lake Wabamun, for YWCA Edmonton. 

Activities at Camp Yowochas are focused on outdoor education, team building, experiential education, leadership development, environmental education, and outdoor recreation. The philosophy at Camp Yowochas is that every child should be outside, learning about nature and about themselves in the process. 

This year, United Way’s Engineering Challenge renovations included upgrading multi-use campsites, refurbishing staff cabins, and creating a brand-new archery range for campers.  

These upgrades will enhance visitors’ experiences while creating a nurturing, healing space to promote mental and physical wellness, says Katherine O’Neill, CEO of YWCA Edmonton. 

“Having the Engineering Day of Caring coming and helping with repairing, building and improving some of our infrastructure is so invaluable. From the materials to the volunteers’ hours, that is such an invaluable gift for our not-for-profit because all of our dollars go to the frontline. This is such an incredible gift from the community to help improve Camp Yowochas.”  

Engineers come together to do local good 

United Way’s Engineering Challenge started in 2006 with three visionary firms (Colt, CoSyn, and Stantec) and has grown over the years to include 16 like-minded engineering organizations who seek to make direct and sustainable impact in the community for the most vulnerable through their involvement with United Way.  

While the Engineering Challenge promotes friendly competition within the engineering community for a good cause, the purpose of this Day of Caring is to collectively make an imprint in our community by undertaking a community project, while fostering teamwork and innovation as volunteers come together for a greater good.  

“Camp Yowochas helps a lot of people, so that really helps extend the value of your contribution. The staff here already do so much to help everyone, it’s such an amazing project,” Dan Serediak, a third-year volunteer with Local Engineering.  

This year’s Challenge included volunteers from The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA), Associated Engineering, Bantrel Co, C-FER Technologies, DIALOG, Enbridge, ENGGYAC, Fluor Corporation, ISL Engineering, Local Engineering Ltd., Magna IV Engineering, NDT Global, Rally Engineering, Stantec, Thurber Engineering Ltd., and Worley. 

We’d like to extend a special thank you to Ward pihêsiwin Councillor Tim Cartmell for joining us to proclaim September 16th as “Engineering Challenge Day” on behalf of Mayor Amarjeet Sohi. As a former engineer himself, Cllr Cartmell emphasized how much he appreciates seeing the engineering community rally around United Way through skills-based volunteering. 

“What you’re doing is really, really cool. What you’re doing is tremendously valuable, and there are so many people that are going to come to this place, after you’ve left, that are going to reap the benefits.”

A camp for exploration and for healing

Camp Yowochas (pronounced you-woke-us) officially opened in 1953, and in 1981 started offering a year-round outdoor education centre and camp.   

“YWCA Edmonton’s Northstar is equity, opportunity and choice. It’s really about community building and bringing folks together, ensuring that everybody—no matter who you are—belongs in our community. From counseling services to youth programming, to our Indigenous-led retreats, et cetera, we bring folks out to Camp Yowochas to experience the magic of this place and to connect with nature and, most of all, to build communities.” 

Programs at Yowochas range from summer camps for youth to women’s healing retreats, with visitors having the opportunity to engage in a variety of outdoor activities, including archery, ziplining, nature hikes, and canoeing on Lake Wabamun. 

“During the summer months, hundreds of children come here for summer camp. But in the off season we have hundreds of other folks from all ages come to Lake Wabamun, including most recently we had Indigenous-led retreats called Healing Haven. And these are family members impacted by the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirit crisis,” Katherine shares.  

“And so, they come, and they are on the land doing ceremony and gathering and healing. From healing to learning to playing to gathering, Camp Yowochas is a place for people to just come together.” 

Yowochas staff work to ensure that campers have opportunities to develop their self-esteem, build friendships, foster appreciation for the natural world, and promote character and value development.