Thursday, May 23, 2024

Annual Camp Shines Light of Friendship, Encouragement and Service

If Brittany felt even the slightest bit nervous about sharing the words of “Hail Mary, Gentle Woman” in sign language in front of nearly 50 campers, volunteers and staff at Camp Kirchenwald, she certainly didn’t show it.

Then again, there was no reason for Brittany to be nervous, because she was among supportive and encouraging friends as her fellow female campers sang the Marian hymn while she signed.

“I did it!” an excited and beaming Brittany exclaimed afterwards, high-fiving everyone in sight, including Bishop Ronald Gainer.

“I knew I could do it! We’ve been practicing,” she said of the presentation, planned especially for the bishop’s visit on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The bishop celebrated Mass for campers, volunteers and staff, and joined them for lunch afterward, a traditional visit that he makes on the holy day, he told the group during his homily.

The annual Camp for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities is a program of the Diocesan Office of Catholic Life and Evangelization. This year, 22 campers are participating in the week, which is filled with traditional camp activities of fishing, swimming, hiking, board games, music and campfires. There are also special activities: making tie-dye shirts, a magic show, a presentation on wildlife and conservation, a week-ending talent show, and the visit from Bishop Gainer.

Several campers served as lectors and altar servers for the Mass, celebrated in the camp’s spacious pavilion. Tom Lauer, a member of St. Michael’s Guard, prepared the campers for their special ministry of service, putting them at ease as they practiced the Entrance Procession.

For campers Ronnie and Brian, it was their first time serving as candle-bearers. They flanked Emily, who carried the Processional Crucifix.

“I’ve carried the candles before at my church, but I haven’t carried the cross yet,” Emily said.

Brian said he felt famous to carry a candle for the procession.

“It’s an honor to serve at Mass,” Ronnie said. “The bishop is great!”

A Place for Everyone

“This camp is a place where everyone is included. They can be a part of everything here. Jesus always hung out with all people, not just a certain kind of people, and the camp here is a way to include all people,” said volunteer Sister Kristen Forgotch, ASC.

She said the camp is an important ministry of the Church. “It says to each of the campers, ‘The Church cares about you, you are included and you are part of the Church. The Church is a vast community and all of its members are needed.’”

“Camp is also a way for families of campers to have a respite week, to say to them, ‘We see what you’re doing and we want to help you too,’” she added.

Trained and compassionate volunteers care for the participants – many who have returned year after year.

Sister Kristen, a second-grade teacher at Resurrection Catholic School in Lancaster, said the campers teach her to roll with the punches and to fully be herself.

“As a teacher, I normally want things to go a certain way, and most of the time they do. Here, sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, sometimes the campers want to do different things than what I thought were planned,” she said. “They’re teaching me to try to relax, be myself and be patient. The campers are so much themselves. They show every bit of personality, and they encourage me to do the same.”

Volunteer J.C. Mendyka of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Waynesboro spent most of his week with William, a first-time camper.

“J.C. is my buddy,” William said. “Good guy. Good friend.”

William said he was looking forward to “swimming and fishing,” and said he enjoyed the marshmallows he roasted during the camp’s first night. “It’s good food. I like it here,” he said.

Sister Kristen and J.C. Mendyka are among a number of volunteers who – along with the staff of the Office of Catholic Life and Evangelization – make this camp possible from year to year because of their willingness and dedication.

“For me, it was a calling to volunteer,” said Mendyka, who first heard about the camp through the Knights of Columbus.

“It’s one of the most gratifying things that I could do. You get 52 weeks in the year, and this is one of the most worthwhile weeks that I have,” he said.

For more information about the Camp for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities and how you can volunteer next year, contact the Office of Catholic Life and Evangelization at 717-657-4804 or

(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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