As soon as he arrived at Camp Kirchenwald for the Diocese’s annual camp for adults with disabilities, Mark was asking to see volunteer Gerry. The two had met during Mark’s first time at the camp in 2019, and the amicable and wise-cracking camper from York was eager to see Gerry again.
“I like you, Gerry! Do you know why? Because someone has to!” Mark jested, turning to his tried-but-true joke.
Mark and Gerry were among a number of campers and volunteers who happily reunited for camp August 15-20 for the first time in two years. The pandemic cancelled in-person camp last summer, although the community was able to come together for various virtual activities via Zoom throughout the past year.
“I really love camp!” Mark exclaimed. “My favorite thing is to fish. And they have good food too!”
A ministry of the Diocesan Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities, the camp is a summer staple for its annual attendees. Activities this year included arts and crafts, games, swimming, fishing and nature walks, bug and reptile shows, and Mass and lunch with Bishop Ronald Gainer.
The Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities welcomes volunteers to assist each year; without their help, the camp couldn’t be offered to those who enjoy its respite year after year in its quiet, wooded grounds in Lebanon County.
Jeannette Crnkovich of St. James Parish in Lititz coordinates the arts and crafts activities for the Diocesan camp. She said the week is an example of the Catholic Church in action.
“Everybody here is living their faith, whether it’s volunteers caring for the population of people with special needs, or the campers showing their love for each other and for Jesus,” she said. “This is a place where we can come together and talk about God and our faith.”
Crnkovich, a retired special education teacher who raised a child with Down syndrome, started volunteering at the camp in 2018.
“It just brings me so much joy to be here with the campers,” she said, as several were busy drawing pictures, making necklaces and painting wooden crafts nearby in the camp’s large pavilion. “Their creativity is amazing. They have such great imaginations and come up with great ideas. They see things in a different way and are so free spirited.”
Larry Kiley expressed his gratitude for the volunteers who helped make this year’s camp possible, especially with additional safety protocols concerning COVID-19, such as hand-sanitizing, working within certain bubbles of volunteers and campers, and wearing masks when together in groups.
“A generous thank you to all the volunteers and donors who helped make camp possible this year,” he said. “It is great to see everyone in person after two years of separation, and it couldn’t have been done without them.
Crnkovich encouraged men and women to consider becoming a volunteer.
“Being a volunteer here recharges your batteries. The campers are getting so much joy out of it, and because of that, you’re receiving more in return than you give,” she said. “Yes, you’re tired at the end of the day, but then you think of their smiles and laughter, and it bolsters you. You can’t help but get so much joy out of volunteering here.”
Learn more about the Diocesan camp at Kirchenwald and find out how you can be a volunteer or donor by contacting Larry Kiley at 717-657-4804, ext. 322, or email@example.com.
(Photos by Chris Heisey and Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness