LIVONIA — "Tradition" is a word that pops up often when Molly Share gives her take on what makes Camp Stella Maris so special.
For nearly 90 years, the Livingston County camp has proven consistently successful with its blend of Catholic spirituality and abundant fun, all taking place on a 33-acre facility on scenic Conesus Lake.
"I met kids this past summer whose great-grandparents came here. They come and want to experience the same things," said Share, the first-year camp director. "The traditions and the history are what keep this camp going. It’s very cool to pass those traditions on."
With registration already underway for 2015, that summer magic is once again available at Camp Stella Maris. Offerings consist of day camp, for children ages 5-12; overnight experience, ages 6-11; four-day stay, ages 7-15; and resident camp, ages 7-15. (For dates and other details, visit www.campstellamaris.org or call 585-346-2243, ext. 104.)
Camp allows emotional, spiritual growth
Camp Stella Maris was founded in 1926 by two seminarians. In its early years the camp was run by clergy and served only boys. Today, Stella Maris — an affiliate of diocesan Catholic Charities — has grown to accommodate some 2,000 girls and boys each summer with the assistance of more than 100 trained staff members, many of whom are former Stella Maris campers themselves. Share noted that the summer camp draws participants from all parts of the diocese, and even a few from other states and countries.
Another element of diversity is the programming, which covers all months of the year and appeals to a wide range of children and adults. For instance, in February Stella Maris held a weeklong ski camp as well as a vacation camp for winter recess. Among the other offerings are a children’s before and afterschool program all school year; camps for families as well as adult groups, including senior citizens; the Adventure-Based Learning Experience (ABLE) program, featuring a high ropes course; leadership training; and rental of camp facilities for retreats, company outings and private parties.
"A big goal of ours is to market this as a year-round facility that we offer to kids and adults," Share said.
Yet the cornerstone of Stella Maris’ success remains its summer program, which Share said is fixing to be better than ever this upcoming season. She said modifications have been made within the five areas of programming — water fun, ball field, spiritual, adventure and arts/nature — so campers can have increased options "and create their ideal version of camp," allowing them "to grow in competence and grow in mastery for things they really enjoy."
Share noted that Stella Maris offers scholarship money based on need and welcomes participants with physical and developmental disabilities. She added that while summer camps are open to people of all faiths, the Catholic tradition is highly evident. That includes Mass three times per week and a focus on spiritual development — "relationship with self, relationship with others, relationship with God," she explained.
There also is a huge quotient of fun, from the Color Wars theme featuring a variety of competitions and kids painting themselves in their designated color; the Ham Jam Talent Show that awards the winner a trophy with a pig on top; Best of the Best Week paying tribute to the most beloved programs in camp history; and all kinds of camp songs, cookouts and field trips.
In order to fully appreciate the Stella Maris experience, Share said summer camps are "unplugged" — meaning that cell phones, Internet and calling home (barring an emergency) are not permitted, although campers are allowed to listen to music on their iPods. Share said this can be an initially tough adjustment, but not for long.
"We’re going from sunup to sundown with exciting and challenging things," she said. "They’re so engaged and having so much fun, they don’t really have a chance to think about (the lack of electronics)."
She added that fully focusing on camp allows young people to rediscover an intangible not easily available through digital devices: direct human interaction.
"Being unplugged really allows you to grow within yourself and grow with the people you come to camp with. It’s bringing it back to those interpersonal relationships, being engaged with others in the community," Share said.
The payoff from this process, she said, is the formulation of lasting bonds.
"By the end of the week, you’re crying because you don’t want to leave these people," she remarked. "You’ve only known them a short period of time, but relationships and friendships that begin here become lifelong."