The Anchor Camp in Port Burwell, Ont. generally offers girls a number of nature-based activities and other opportunties like learning archery, but this year, in a time of pandemic, has gone virtual. It may not have been the same experience, but campers and staff maintained their excitement for the program nonetheless. Photos courtesy Anchor Camp

Camp anchors online

By  Angelica Vecchiato, Youth Speak News
  • August 26, 2020

The sun glistens across the calming blue water of Lake Erie. A bronze Mass bell rings loudly. Dozens of young girls soar out of cabins to enjoy a delicious pancake breakfast before engaging in hiking, drama, sports, crafts and, at the end of the day, a roaring campfire.

These are some of the striking images you would find on a late August morning in Port Burwell, Ont., the home base for Anchor Camp, a Catholic camp open to girls between the ages of nine and 15.

Founded in 2014 with a mission to foster Christian leaders of the future by encouraging character development, Anchor Camp focuses primarily on virtue education and finding a personal connection with God.

This year, however, Anchor did not re-open in its conventional sense. Due to COVID-19, Anchor, a camp proud of its nature-centred activities, was forced to resort to the seemingly unthinkable — bring camp indoors. Its main struggle was trying to adapt the Aug. 23-28 camp experience to a virtual setting for around 50 campers and 20 staff. It was a tricky, but worthwhile, proposition, said Joanne Simpson.

“We didn’t want to let our campers down, but we didn’t know how we could go virtual,” said Simpson, one of three camp directors, the week before camp commenced. “Yet we wanted to teach our campers about virtues and weathering this pandemic with a resilient attitude would be a great opportunity to foster character development.”

Online camp still harbours the same core ideas of daily prayer, building genuine friendships, finding happiness in serving others, Scripture meditation and offering mentorship.

Fifteen-year-old staff member Katrisse Yorca has witnessed many girls deepen their faith at Anchor Camp.

“I don’t think anyone comes out of camp without gaining something. Camp taught me the true essence of service and the joy you can receive while serving others, which is something I didn’t entirely understand before. Faith-wise, we support each other as well. I remember spending time in the small chapel with the other girls and we just prayed, talking to Jesus together and praying with each other.”

Although Anchor made the executive decision to go virtual, the camp’s integrity and distinguished trademarks remained unchanged.

“We tried to organize the virtual camp just as if we were planning for any regular year,” said staff director Maria Iriziar. “This year, we came up with the idea of ‘camp in a box’. These are boxes that will be mailed to the campers, consisting of all the Anchor camping necessities: candy, our camp t-shirt, supplies for crafts, glow sticks, rosaries and prayer.”

Anchor director Tara Costain admitted much of the virtual content is trying to bring the camp experience fully alive in the hearts of the campers.

“A big part of camping is the food, so we have transformed that aspect into online tutorials. We have our Anchor cook presenting tutorials on how to make some of our most celebrated dishes, such as the ‘Anchor Mud’ — a yummy cinnamon spread for just about anything,” she said.

“A wildlife expert will also give a pre-recorded talk on the common birds of our area along with their song and habitat; we will then make a handmade bird feeder. It will encourage the girls to venture outside to see the beauty of nature and fully understand God’s creation.”

Yorca said despite the unusual circumstances brought on by the pandemic, the excitement and anticipation for Anchor Camp remained the same despite logistical differences.

“Personally, I’m excited about virtual camp. Although we aren’t going to spend a week in cabins, we will still get to connect, and we will always be able to have fun, even if it is a different kind of fun.”

(Vecchiato, 16, is a Grade 11 student at Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School in Toronto.)

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