Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Annual Camp for Adults with Disabilities Reunites ‘Camp Family’

Ask any of the campers and counselors at the Diocese’s annual camp for adults with intellectual disabilities why they come to Camp Kirchenwald each year, and they’ll give you the same answer: family.

“My favorite thing about camp is getting to come and see my ‘camp family’ every year,” said volunteer counselor Caitlin Nealon.

“Yeah, we’re family!” responded Lauren, a longtime camper, as she threw her arms around Caitlin and erupted into laughter.

If Camp Kirchenwald is all about family, then its hearth is the main pavilion, tucked away along a tree line where campers and counselors gather several times a day for Masses, meals and entertainment throughout the week.

Shielded from the sun and later the rains on August 14, some 20 campers and their volunteers gathered beneath the protection of the pavilion to welcome Bishop Timothy Senior for the celebration of Mass on the eve of the Assumption.

Campers served as lectors, choir members, candle bearers, cross bearer and gift bearers, and in carrying the bishop’s miter and crozier during the liturgy. It was an affirmation of the dignity of life, and of the gifts and talents of people with disabilities.

In his homily, Bishop Senior told the campers and counselors that Mary is an advocate who loves us very much.

“Mary’s Assumption into heaven gives us hope,” he said. “Death does not have the last word; God is ultimately in charge, and His plan is not for us to be sad, but to live forever with Him.”

A visit from the bishop is an annual highlight of the camp, and this year was no different as attendees were eager to welcome Bishop Senior into their camp family for photos, conversation and dinner.

At the conclusion of the Mass, Megan, who served as one of the lectors, told The Catholic Witness, “Being a lector is awesome. I like to read, so it was awesome to read to everybody today.”

One of the numerous campers who have been attending Camp Kirchenwald for at least ten years, Megan said her favorite thing about camp is, “I get to see my friends every year.”

Fellow campers Emily and Tabitha were also eager to talk about their experiences, as they laughed and joked with Caitlin, Lauren and Megan.

“I’ve been here ten years at camp. I like fishing, and doing arts and crafts,” Emily said.

Tabitha is a ten-year participant, too. “What I like most about camp is, I like to swim and I like doing the arts and crafts,” she said. “I don’t know all my ways around here, but I’ve been called a min-counselor at times because I really like to help out.”

Helping each other out – that’s the beauty of the week at Camp Kirchenwald, as volunteers and campers support one another in Christ-like ways, whether offering reassurance during times of challenge or encouragement and praise during activities.

The camp for adults with disabilities is a program of the Diocesan Office of Life and Dignity, held annually at Camp Kirchewald in Colebrook, Pa. The camp is dependent on volunteers who are willing to assist campers during such activities as hiking, swimming in the pool, canoeing or fishing in the pond, and during arts and crafts and meals. No special qualifications or minimum time is required for volunteering. If you’re interested in serving as a volunteer at camp, contact Kate Neri at 717-657-4804, ext. 317, or KNeri@hbgdiocese.org.

(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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