Counselors dish about life at camp

by Jessica Langdon
jessica.langdon@theleaven.org

To give parents an idea of what their kids can expect this summer, The Leaven turned to a panel of experts: camp staffers who spent last summer leading kids through the activities and helping them grow in friendship, confidence and faith.
They are:

• Faith Bila, a member of Church of the Ascension in Overland Park and a student at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minn.

• Abby Donart, a member of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Shawnee and a student at Kansas State University in Manhattan

• Kayla Mauro, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park and a sophomore at Kansas State University

• Jordan McEntee, a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood and a sophomore at the University of Kansas in Lawrence

• Dan Weger, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa and a seminarian in his first year of pre-theology at Mundelein Seminary, near Chicago

What should every camper know before arriving?

“They should know that they are entering a safe place where they will be loved and taken care of. Although they might be a little nervous at first, it is important to have an open heart and be ready to see what great plans God has for their experience.”
— Kayla

“Come to camp with an open mind!       . . . When you come to have a good time, you will, because when you are having fun, everybody has fun and camp is FUN.”
— Abby

“Every camper should know that they will be loved — no matter who they are, what color hair they have, how tall they are, how many freckles they have, or anything like that. Everyone on staff wants them to grow closer to Jesus, have a ton of fun, and feel like Prairie Star Ranch is their home.”
— Jordan

“Open up your heart, be willing to try new things. And no matter what, you will have people who love you afterwards.”
— Faith

What activity should every camper absolutely try?

“The new Wet Willie water slide is an absolute must. It looks scary from the top, and you think twice about going down, but it is so much fun. Totally worth it.”
— Jordan

“High ropes. I know it seems high, and it can be scary, but it is so worth it. When I was a camper, I was afraid of heights. I did it anyway, to help my buddy who was even more afraid than I was but really wanted to go. I instantly loved it. You won’t regret trying.”
— Dan

“Do high ropes. We have the coolest team of people on ropes and they will not let anything happen to you. Everyone I know who was nervous and tried it was so happy they faced their fears. And you always get to zipline at the end!”
— Abby

Then there’s this very important consideration for any prospective camper: How’s the food?

“The menu changes all the time and it is all good. The cooks are always stupendous.”
— Dan

So what foods are staffers still dreaming about?

“Mac ’n’ cheese and mini corn dogs for lunch were always my favorite. I’d say 99 percent of kiddos love mac ’n’ cheese, so you can’t go wrong there. But my all-time favorite camp food is the Reese’s peanut butter cookies on picnic night. I may or may not have eaten six in one night before . . .”
— Jordan

“I wish I could still eat the roast beef. YUMMY!”
— Faith

“Cream puffs. They are perfect.”
— Kayla

What is your best advice for a homesick camper?

“Tough it out. Keep participating in Bible studies and activities, even though it may seem hard. As long as you try, you will have fun and, before you know it, you’re going home, and you cannot wait to come back.”
— Abby

“Get involved. As long as you are participating in everything, you will have a blast. I mean, there is climbing, running, puzzles, games, swimming, canoeing, horseback riding and more. The campers who get homesick and don’t have fun are the ones who don’t do anything.”
— Dan

“Whenever I had a homesick camper in my cabin, I would pray a rosary with her to calm her down, and [I’d] remind her that Mama Mary is always here with us. That usually tends to cheer them up!”
— Jordan

“God loves you so much and he wants to let you know that! He wants to spend a few days with you without any distractions, so even though being away from home is kind of hard at first, it is so worth all the great memories, new friends, and the deeper relationship with Christ. He tells us that he will be with you wherever you go, and when you are away from home, he will be with you so much more! All exciting adventures can be scary sometimes, but doesn’t the good always outweigh the bad?”
— Kayla

What should parents know before sending their kids to camp?

“Don’t try and hide candy or snacks in their baggage. We’ll find it and that’s awkward. Tell your camper that you love them and you want them to have fun at camp, and leave them in the hands of their counselor quickly. The kids who have the toughest time getting into camp are the ones whose parents had a tough time letting them go. They love you (whether they say it or not) and will miss you, but the more you play to that, the harder it will be for them to have fun.”
— Dan

“They should realize that their kids are going to be having an incredible experience while they are at camp, and they should be prepared to listen to lots of really amazing stories of their exciting week. Even though you are not with them physically during their time at camp, the time you take to listen to them when they come back is the best way to show them how much you care.”
— Kayla

“Parents: Your kids are in safe hands! While they’re at camp, don’t worry about them — pray for them. They are going to be changed in one way or another while they are here, and prayer is the most powerful weapon for them to come closer to Christ.”
— Abby

“Parents should know that we as counselors have everything under control. We know what to do if there’s bad weather. We know what to do if your son or daughter gets sick. And most importantly, we know how to have tons of fun and guide your kiddos in their relationship with Christ. That’s our job, and we love every minute of it.”
— Jordan

What skills did you pick up from a summer spent working with so many kids?

“I learned my capacity to love. I learned that my heart can open up so much more than it already has. The campers teach me more about myself than I could ever know. They help me to become a better woman of God. Hope is the name of the game.”
— Faith

“I’ve learned to thrive out of my comfort zone. Camp is all about new experiences, climbing up tall poles, singing louder than you ever have before, meeting new people, and offering all of that up to Christ. It’s different, it’s crazy, it’s ridiculous, but it’s so amazing.”
— Jordan

“Over the four summers I’ve worked there, I’ve learned to include everyone — and being able to see God in everything and everyone.”
— Dan

“I have learned to see the beauty God has put into every single kid that comes through camp.”
— Abby

What moment from camp has stayed with you since summer?

“Last summer at camp, one of my campers left eucharistic adoration absolutely bawling. I went over to comfort her and ask her what was wrong, and she just said, ‘He loves me so much. I kept wanting to sit down, but I looked up at his bruised knees and saw what he did for me, and I just couldn’t leave my knees.’ That was so beautiful.”
— Jordan

“For me, it has simply been being able to witness Christ transform the hearts and minds of the campers. There is no greater joy than to watch a child learn to love Christ with their pure childlike faith. I have learned so much from them.”
— Kayla

“Something that I always think of when I think about camp is the community we have there. The counselors we have there are the cream of the crop and you won’t find much better. Being able to spend a whole summer bringing kids closer to Christ helps you develop deep and long-lasting relationships with them. Week by week is never the same; new kids and switching jobs with new partners every week helps us to grow with different people, which creates a faith-filled atmosphere for the kids every single week. Camp truly is a family, and that is what sticks out to me.”
— Abby

What do you miss most?

“I miss the decompressions after the ropes activities. Seeing campers’ faces light up when you make a connection to their own life with something that seemed so distant and far away from any connection with Our Lord. Then hearing what they had to say back, and opening up new thoughts.”
— Faith

“I miss the joyful environment. That place is like a huge holy bubble of joy that, once you’re in it, you never want to leave. If I could live there forever, I would. But it’s our job to also take that joy out into the world.”
— Jordan

“The people. Everyone on staff is super joyous and happy to be there. It is exhilarating. They are also holy people, and that holiness rubs off on you. Iron sharpens iron, after all.”
— Dan

“Being able to serve Christ in a very real way alongside my friends. The only thing greater than loving God is the opportunity to love him in the midst of an amazing community. I love how camp is such a family-oriented community, as well. It is always so cool to see how God brings not just [individuals] but whole families closer to Christ. I miss being immersed in that edifying environment every day.”
— Kayla

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