Family Camp blends faith, fun - Catholic Courier
Katie Offerman (right) helps 5-year-old Johnny Swiderski put on a friendship bracelet during morning prayer at the Camp Koinonia's Family Camp July 20. All campers gather for morning prayer each day. Katie Offerman (right) helps 5-year-old Johnny Swiderski put on a friendship bracelet during morning prayer at the Camp Koinonia's Family Camp July 20. All campers gather for morning prayer each day.

Family Camp blends faith, fun

As teens in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mary Ellen and Mike Cammilleri spent a good portion of each summer at Camp Koinonia, which is nestled snugly in Italy Valley near Naples. They thoroughly enjoyed the weeks they spent serving as teen staff for the camp’s annual Family Camp program, and at the same time they got to witness many families living out their faith in a variety of ways.

Family Camp wasn’t just a fun teenage activity for the Cammilleris, who married in December 2004 and later moved from Spencerport to Denver. The couple always knew they’d make it back to Family Camp someday, and when their daughter, Lucy, turned 2, they decided the time was right to make that dream come true. The Cammilleris participated in the second week of Family Camp, which was held July 10-15.

"We drove out from Denver because we wanted our daughter to be able to experience the fun and the loving, spiritual, open, sharing Catholic community that is Family Camp," Mary Ellen Cammilleri said. "We are already planning Family Camp into our schedule for next summer."

The Cammilleris aren’t the only former teen staff who now come to Family Camp as parents, according to Gary Stevens, chairman of Camp Koinonia’s board of directors. Former teen staffers who now have their own families accounted for four of the five families who took part in the second week of Family Camp.

"It appears there’s a new generation of families coming," Stevens said.

This new generation of families is part of the reason Family Camp, which usually runs for three weeks, added a fourth week to its offerings this year, he noted. Family Camp seems to be in a growth mode, and has been for the past four or five years, agreed Deacon John Brasley. Deacon Brasley and his wife, Belinda, are program directors and spiritual directors for Family Camp.

"More and more families are inspiring their friends to go to camp with them. We’ve also noticed that some of the teen staff who haven’t come with their families before are asking their families to come," Deacon Brasley said.

Each family that spends a week at Family Camp is assigned one or two teen staff, depending on how many children are in the family. Teen staff stay in the same cabins as their assigned families and help the parents care for their children, which allows the parents to spend some free time together. Each day at Family Camp begins with a communal breakfast followed by morning prayer. After that, the children break into small groups according to their ages, and the teen staff lead these groups in games, crafts and activities related to the day’s theme. The adults, meanwhile, discuss how that theme relates to their own lives and experiences.

After lunch, the families enjoy free time in the afternoon, followed by dinner, Mass and family sharing time. In the evening the adults and teens participate in such activities as campfires and square dances while the teen staff watch the younger children in their cabins.

"I think the parents can really let the teen staff take the burden off their shoulders," said Amy Weise, assistant program director for Family Camp’s second week.

"I don’t know what we’d do without our teen staff. They really are the heart and soul of the camp. They’re really what makes the camp work," Deacon Brasley said.

The teen staff, many of who belong to youth groups at diocesan parishes, are willing to live their faith out in the open, and by doing so they set a great example for parents and children alike, he added.

"They are just wonderful examples of their faith for the younger kids," agreed Julie Szczepankiewicz, who attended Family Camp’s fourth week with her husband, Bruce, and their four children.

The teens show the younger children that their faith is nothing to be ashamed of, and that in fact it’s cool to be Catholic, Szczepankiewicz said.

"The kids just love it. My daughter is 8 this year and she just basks in the attention from the older kids," she said.

At Family Camp, the Brasleys’ children got to know people of all ages on a really deep and respectful level, and that gave them a lot of self-confidence, noted Belinda Brasley. The camp functions as its own community of neighbors, which is one of Szczepankiewicz’s favorite aspects of Family Camp.

"It really felt like a little piece of heaven on earth, a little microcosm of community. It’s really the community that impressed me the most, the idea that you’ve got all these people that are trying to do the same thing we are, live their lives and raise their children in the faith," she said.

"I think what makes it special is that it’s a unique opportunity for families to spend quality time together just having fun and growing their relationships without all the distractions of the world," Belinda Brasley said.

Szczepankiewicz said one memory in particular sums up her thoughts about Family Camp. Her daughter was just 5 the first time she went to camp, and one morning after breakfast Szczepankiewicz lost sight of her daughter and began frantically searching for her. She found the girl a few moments later hanging out with the teen staff. When Szczepankiewicz told her daughter how worried she’s been, her daughter said, "Mom, I’m just going to morning prayer," like it was the most natural thing in the world.

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