Camp Vincent 2012 summer staff were trained for one week before seven weeks of camp began in Bothwell, Ont. Photo courtesy of St. Vincent de Paul camp

Countdown to summer starts as camps prep for youth

By 
  • March 1, 2013

Camp registration season is here, and as youth and parents decide which camp is best for summer fun, camps are dealing with the challenge of how to offer a rewarding and unique experience.

For faith-based camps, the toughest challenge is “to get (teens) excited about their faith and to take part and be involved” and “to go to a camp that has the name Catholic in it,” said Peter Leitmann, director for the Knights of Columbus Ontario Catholic Youth Leadership Camp (OCYLC).

There is a daily Mass and prayer is incorporated into the program multiple times each day.

“Any time a young person hears anything religious or Catholic or church… (they) tend to hide in fear or hide because it’s not cool or they don’t want to take part because they think ‘oh, it’s going to be boring,’ ” he said.

Many of the high school students that attend OCYLC for the one-week camp in August come from Ontario’s Catholic school system. The camp’s location can move around the province from year to year, improving access for students in different regions of Ontario.

As the years go by, Leitmann says it gets easier to combat teens’ hesitance.

“As campers go through it, they go back and they talk to a bunch of their friends, talk to their school teachers and the chaplain in the school,” he said. “They relay information back to the people who could possibly attend the next year or help make decisions of who to send next year.”

But there are challenges to running a summer camp in general.

Meg Doherty is director at Ekon, a traditional children’s overnight camp run by the Jesuit Fathers Canada. One of Ekon’s biggest challenges, said Doherty, is “providing programming that appeals to a wide variety of children.”

Ekon runs for eight weeks in July and August, offering one to two-week programs, co-ed or gender specific, for two age groups: junior for under age 12 and senior age 12 and up.

With campers having diverse interests, Ekon offers a wide range of activities, like arts and crafts, drama, dance, poetry and sports such as kayaking, basketball, sailing, rope climbing, windsurfing and canoe trips.

Located in Rosseau, Ont., Ekon offers non-mandatory Mass daily and one mandatory Mass at summer’s end, but welcomes students from other faiths and different economic backgrounds. At the cost of $500 a week to enrol one child, the camp tries to offer bursaries “to provide enough funding to allow children to come that otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to go to summer camp,” said Doherty.

Finances are definitely the top challenge for the St. Vincent de Paul Camp or Camp Vincent in Bothwell, Ont.

“We keep our camp fees lower than what it actually costs to run the camp,” said Collin Girard, camp director and administrator. “We try to open up access to the camp to as many different populations and demographics as possible.”

In the past, Camp Vincent has charged about $200 per week for one child, but this year the camp needed to increase fees to $250, said Girard. Last year, the camp’s expenses were about $300 per week per kid. Camp Vincent receives financial support from the local St. Vincent de Paul conferences and the camp appreciate outside donations.

Fifteen meals a week for each kid is included in this overnight camp that runs seven one-week sessions, each week with a different theme, like survival week in the past and Hunger Games week this year. Most weeks are gender-specific and two weeks are co-ed. Last year, Camp Vincent accommodated 720 kids over the summer.

Camp Vincent operates with about 45 staff, including health care aids, lifeguards, kitchen staff, directing staff and camp counsellors. But Girard says retaining summer staff for more than a year or two is difficult.

“Our counsellors on average get paid $285 a week, which doesn’t quite match up to minimum wage,” said Girard. But he says the benefits go beyond money.

As for the benefits to youth, “Kids that attend every week will be better, smarter. They will be able to retain what it is they’ve learned in school that kids usually lose over the summer…

“They’re able to interact with peers much more effectively, able to interact with different groups that don’t match their demographics much more effectively,” said Girard.

“One or two weeks at a residential summer camp can give a child enough psychosocial development that will then ripple and last for years and years.”

 

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