SummerDaze of fun, faith

By  Luc Rinaldi, The Catholic Register
  • July 28, 2010
Summer DazeTORONTO - The spirit of Don Bosco is alive at the Catholic day camp SummerDaze, where, through song and games, kids find just the right combination of faith and fun.

SummerDaze, which runs out of St. Benedict’s parish in northwest Toronto, was founded in 1989 by Salesian Brother Bernie Dube to serve youth in the summer. In its first year, it had fewer than 25 campers and five staff. It now hosts around 200 campers weekly with a staff of more than 50, most of them volunteers. It ran through the four weeks of July and was open to children aged seven-14.

“There’s always a spiritual lesson to be learned within the fun,” said Foster Kwon, camp director.

Kwon, 21, was first introduced to SummerDaze at age 11. Having been a camper for three years, a volunteer leader for another two and a paid counsellor for three, he is now in his second year as camp director.

“I’ve had the rare pleasure of seeing every aspect of the way the camp runs,” said Kwon. “I love the fact that I get to be the role model that I used to look up to.”

The camp is rooted in Don Bosco’s “Preventive System,” which ties spiritual formation and education into fun. The system integrates the Catholic faith into the games and activities that the campers are drawn to, allowing them to learn about their religion through what they enjoy. SummerDaze follows a model of fun first, with faith always tied in afterward.

Each of the activities and events that the camp offers are done in a safe, nurturing and friendly Catholic environment, based on Don Bosco’s three principles of “reason, religion and loving kindness.” The faith is kept in mind in a game of Frisbee golf just as much as it is when the campers have the opportunity to participate in the sacrament of Reconciliation every second week.

While SummerDaze has a paid administration and counsellor team of about 15, the core of the camp’s leadership is its volunteer youth leaders. The team is made up mostly of high school students who have often been campers themselves in the past.

“Just being a camper and seeing how your counsellors treated you makes you want to come back and do the same for the kids now,” said Destinee Betke, 16, one of the camp’s volunteer leaders. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone come to SummerDaze and not enjoy themselves.”

Betke attended SummerDaze as a child before she and her parents moved to Burlington, Ont. Now, during the summer, she lives with her grandparents in Toronto so that she can volunteer at SummerDaze.

As a youth leader, Betke stays with the kids throughout the day, guiding them through and participating in each of their activities. A typical day begins with a morning prayer led by one of the two Salesians present at the camp, followed by the first period of activities.

Divided by age, campers have a choice between sports like dodgeball or ball hockey, drama or arts and crafts where one activity is rosary-making (more than 450 rosaries were made in the first two weeks of camp and donated to organizations such as Canadian Food for Children). Before lunch, the group walks to Flagstaff Park for swimming or other activities, and in the afternoon, campers participate in their choice of games before they go home at 4 p.m.

Each Wednesday, campers go on an off-site excursion, which this year included Ontario Place, Centre Island and Wild Water Kingdom. Friday also serves as a special event day, where the activities are based on a specific theme and campers participate in a talent show to close out the week.

“It’s just really great,” said eight-year-old camper Ross Furgiuele, who is now in his third year at SummerDaze. “The leaders are really fun, all the kids like you and everyone gets along.”

Those involved with the camp recognize it’s not just the funding that separates SummerDaze from other camps. They say it’s the atmosphere, the staff and spirit of Don Bosco that makes it special.

“I’m very proud of all the staff; that’s what really makes camp work,” said Kwon. “They could be making a lot more (money) working for the city, but they’re here instead.”

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