"We need a new apologetic, geared to the needs of today, which keeps in mind that our task is not to win arguments but to win souls. Such an apologetic will need to breathe a spirit of humanity, that humility and compassion which understand the anxieties and questions of people."~St. John Paul II
In 1985 an associate pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fr. Bill Roland, came together with some lay persons, both parents and youth, to pilot a summer camp program at a diocesan retreat center in the mountains of West Virginia. Nestled in the beautiful Appalachian mountains on the outskirts of Huttonsville, WV, the Mary, Help of Christians Pastoral Center provides unparalleled natural beauty within which to hold religious retreats and diocesan conferences.
Through the early years, the structure of “Camp” was a work in progress—as such a program is rare among individual parish youth ministry programs—and the youth ministry team had to work diligently to establish a blueprint for success. However, hard work and solid faith paid off, as the Summer Camp program has flourished into a high quality means by which to allow youth to experience strong faith, the support of a close community, and to also have incredible fun.
Camp 2019: June 16-22
SVSC is for youth finishing 7th-12th Grade.
One of the many things that keeps bringing campers, counselors, and adults alike back to St. Vincent’s Summer Camp year after year are the profound relationships formed in this sacred place. One of the key goals of the faith formation at camp is the opportunity to grow in, and reflect upon, these relationships in the light of faith. With this in mind, every year the morning and evening prayer services invite young people to form positive and life-giving relationships with God, self, and others.
Young people encounter their faith through scripture, prayer, song, meditation, and conversation. All participants are invited to reflect on their relationships in light of the Christian faith. Together we all learn from each other as we witness to and share our own wisdom in light of our personal experiences.
Positive Relationships With God
The Catholic, Christian tradition proclaims that God is a God of loving kindness whose great hope is the flourishing of all of creation. With this in mind, we approach God as a God of compassion, who, like a loving parent, welcomes and cares for all people. In the incarnation, God draws close to humanity, expressing a desire to be in a relationship with God’s creation. Coming to know God and God’s hopes for us is an important step in coming to know ourselves and helps us to discover our life’s vocation.
Because one of our hopes for young people attending summer camp is a deeper understanding of their relationship with God, young people, especially counselors, are invited to take an active role in helping to design prayer services. Working with the support of the camp’s spiritual directors, young people help to create and lead many of the week’s services. We believe that young people and their perspectives are a great gift to the life of the church and are powerful witnesses to God’s work in the world.
Positive Relationships With Self
God created all persons in God’s own image. We come before God as we are, bringing a rich diversity to the Christian community. We stand confident as we recall that God looked on creation and proclaimed it to be very good (Gen 1: 31). It is with this ever in our minds that we invite young people to explore their own personal identity and to come to know and love themselves as God, who has even counted all the hairs upon our heads (Luke 12: 7), loves them.
Through witness talks, times of silent reflection, sharing, and journaling young people are invited to name their own emerging sense of self as a gift from God. With this in mind, we strive to create a safe and supportive environment where all young people feel accepted and affirmed.
Positive Relationships With Others
Central to the ministry of Jesus, God’s only son, was a love of people and a desire to draw near others. At camp, we invite all participants to reflect upon the key relationships in their life in light of faith. What does it mean to be a good friend, what does it mean to be a good son or daughter? How do we identify the marks of healthy relationships, and what do we do about the relationships that damage our ability to love ourselves and others? In what ways can we stand up for, and be a voice of justice and love to, those who are put down or excluded in our friend circles, at school, at work, and in the wider world? At camp we explore all of these questions through the lens of Jesus’ Good News to the poor and marginalized(Luke 4: 18-20).
Young people explore these questions in various ways throughout the week. At the beginning of the week all attendees are given a secret, special friend, for whom they spend the week doing kind acts. Campers also experience mentoring relationships through their interactions with counselors and adult staff, who provide them support, encouragement and affirmation throughout the week. Campers are also given the opportunity to share and reflect upon stories about persons in their life who have been sources of support and inspiration.
Shaving cream fights, the climbing tower, “swamp milk,” and candle light vespers are just a few of the ingredients that go into cooking up a strong community life at St. Vincent’s Summer Camp.
We show our uniquely human selves – whether it’s being the class clown in the group skits or the quiet, studious, crafty artist at banners. Diversity is an asset to the camp groups, a key ingredient. With the abundance of diverse activities, everyone can shine their brightest at SVSC. Because of this, each camper becomes important to our camp community because we highlight the gifts they have been given and give them a chance to share and grow in his or herself for the good of others.
What makes our camp community different from others? That’s easy. We use a simple recipe: respect, play, and pray. Combine these ingredients for one week on the campground in the hills of West Virginia and a well-done, close knitted community will be the result. People who play together, through water polo, Olympic day activities, World Cup soccer games, and the all-notorious game of “scoop it up,” enjoy laughing and creating memories. People who pray together through living rosaries, daily vespers, morning prayer and Mass, form a friendship on a more intimate and emotional level of happiness. Both playing and praying with the same initial outcome of progressing physically, emotionally, and spiritually has proven to create a camp community both on and off the camp grounds. From the countless photos taken before getting on the bus to go back to the “real world,” to the adults running after our campers across the field to wave our final farewells, to the Christmas Camp lock-in, SVSC is truly a community 365 days of the year.
There is never a lack of something to do at St. Vincent's Summer Camp. Throughout the week we have groups for horseback riding, zip-lining, and a climbing tower. This is on top of a lake, swimming pool, basketball court, hiking trails, and tennis courts. In addition to these, we have guided activities throughout the day, including archery, arts & crafts, team games and sports, and boating.
Every evening the groups work together in night games. These range from relay races to skits to our newspaper fashion show. In addition, unplanned tournaments for world cup, games of ultimate frisbee, kickball, and tenniball are known to pop up from time to time.
It's not just games, either. The community at St. Vincent's Summer camp encourages people to enjoy life. Some of the best moments at camp come from the whole camp coming together and joking around. We encourage each other not just through our faith, but also through our fun.
"With God's help, you will continue to succeed in your leadership and in your duties, because Our Lord's work is accomplished not so much by the multitude of workers as by the fidelity of the small number whom He calls." ~St. Vincent de Paul
At St. Vincent's Summer Camp, we equip our counselors with leadership experience to prepare them for the world as they become young adults. Most of the current leaders at our camp are actually former campers and counselors. We were blessed with a wonderful program and work diligently to give that experience back each year. One of our primary goals is to ensure each person who comes to our camp leaves with a greater confidence in themselves than they had when they arrived. Not everyone knows what they are capable of. We want to teach them.
Buddy Robrecht was inspired by St. Vincent’s Summer Camp as a camper and counselor, and now volunteers his time every year to help inspire younger generations. He is now a Psychology Doctoral Candidate, and says:
“Being a true leader implies much more than being in front of a group and being the center of attention. A true leader learns when to take charge and when to sit back and quietly guide other people towards a certain outcome. At camp every teenager from the ages of 15-18 has this chance. There a few times when kids this age are given the opportunity to lead other people, but as many find out the experience ends up being an overwhelmingly positive one as they learn the merits of a true leader - a person that influences and inspires other people.
I firmly believe that every young person has the potential to be a great leader, but many are not given the opportunity to nurture that potential. At St. Vincent’s Summer Camp, every young person has the chance to be themselves and they have an environment that encourages young people to be leaders and influence each other.
This experience was invaluable for me as I grew from a teenager to a young adult and plays a big role in who I am today. As a psychologist it is my goal is to influence and inspire other people to be better human beings, which is something born out of my experiences at St. Vincent’s Summer Camp.”