Shelly Lynn Nellis (left) with daughter Ainsley

An allergy-safe retreat for all children

Zajac Ranch and South Surrey moms working to increase registration for overnight camp

While some parents feel a twinge of panic when they drop their children off for their first sleepover, it can usually be chocked up to separation anxiety.

But for parents of children with life-threatening allergies, it’s a whole different feeling when a small mistake can lead to a hospital visit – or worse.

For children who live in fear of anaphylaxis – a serious allergic reaction that can be deadly – the options for safe sleepovers and overnight fun are usually slim to none.

However, two South Surrey mothers are hoping to change that.

Shelly Lynn Nellis and Marnie Miller are reaching out to other families who have children with severe food allergies about a safe summer sleep-away camp at Stave Lake’s Zajac Ranch.

Nellis, whose eight-year-old daughter, Ainsley, is allergic to nuts and dairy, was interacting with the camp organizers through her work when the idea came to her.

“I said, ‘you know what, there’s nothing like this in British Columbia. I would love to see if Zajac Ranch is interested in putting on a camp for children with severe food allergies,’” she said.

The not-for-profit getaway, located in Mission, has been running summer camps for children with disabilities and life-threatening conditions since 2004, Nellis added.

The camp chefs will consult with BC Children’s Hospital pediatric allergist, Dr. Edmond Chan, to carefully plan meals and snacks free of the top 10 allergens, as well as meals accommodating those with celiac disease. On top of that, the camp staff will receive training from a nationally-recognized anaphylaxis  organization and medical staff will be on location, just in case.

“A lot of allergy families will support one another, but even though it’s a completely safe camp, staff has been trained, food is safe and there are doctors and medical staff, a child that has been very in tune to close caregivers their whole life – it doesn’t matter how old they are, there is a fear.”

She noted that her 12-year-old son, Luke, has only been able to stay overnight at close family and friends’ homes because of his severe allergy to peanuts and tree nuts.

The Grade 6 student said the opportunity to enjoy camp without fear would be a great experience.

“I like the idea of going to camp. It’s fun and you don’t have to worry about what you’re eating,” he said.

However, Nellis and Miller noted that without adequate registration, the camp may not end up taking place.

Currently, there are about 17 children signed up, but approximately 40 are required.

“There may be some apprehension from parents who have children with allergens, because they never are really away from us. Most outside family members or friends cannot understand the depth of all this,” Nellis said, noting even Ainsley has reservations about being away from home after suffering four anaphylaxis episodes in her life.

“It’s very scary for me because I just get so freaked out. When I find out (I had dairy) I almost want to cry or scream,” she said.

However, with every measure being taken to ensure a safe experience, both moms are hoping other families will follow suit.

“As a parent, I’m thinking, where can I give him that independence and confidence in a safe environment? I want to give him the tools to grow up,” Miller said. “He can go to camp with kids just like him, and won’t be excluded.”

The week-long camp costs $685 and is open to non-allergic friends and siblings.

Each camper will recieve a free Allerject epinephrin auto-injector, as well.

For more information on the allergy safe camp, visit or email



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