The location was different but the fellowship and fun were the same during this year’s Diocesan camp for people with disabilities. Traditionally held on the grounds of Camp Kirchenwald in Lebanon County, plans were changed this year due to the ongoing Covid-19 virus.
“The decision to host a virtual camp this year was all about sustaining our camp community’s bonds and relationships while providing some escape from Covid’s impacts,” said Lawrence Kiley, director of the Diocesan Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities. “A core group of staff and volunteers decided we had to do something to connect our camp families and friends. Basically, we all missed seeing our campers, and could not wait for another year to pass. We all agreed that a virtual opportunity to connect, at least for those able, would be very important, as it is with any other family during these trying times.”
Plans were quickly made to use technology to host this year’s event, which kicked off on Sunday, Aug. 9 with a sing-along. Monday evening, Bishop Ronald Gainer joined the campers for a time of faith sharing. On Tuesday, campers enjoyed story time, and Wednesday brought a craft and scavenger hunt. Thursday was the ever-popular dance party, and Friday evening was the talent show.
During his faith-sharing time with the campers, Bishop Gainer said that he always looks forward to camp week and is glad that everyone could still gather. The campers asked Bishop Gainer several questions, including his thoughts on the current unrest in Beirut and wanting to know if God receives letters written to him and left under a camper’s pillow.
“God loves each of us as if we were the only person in the world. He certainly knows your prayers. I think it’s beautiful that you are writing them down. And don’t worry if they (the letters) don’t disappear,” said Bishop Gainer.
Toward the end of his time with the campers, Bishop Gainer explained one positive experience we may be having during the pandemic is having the opportunity to spend more time with our families.
“With the pandemic, we might be asking, ‘Where do I put my trust?’ This virus invites us to ask, ‘What do I really value?’ said Bishop Gainer.
On Wednesday morning, the campers got bubbly by making Bubble Snakes during the craft session. Jeannette Crnkovick led the craft time, walking each camper through the process. Giggles, laughter and bubbles abounded as the Bubble Snakes came to life. Thursday night, campers and adult volunteers showed off their dance moves during the virtual dance party.
“Our virtual camp means a lot to me, to our staff and to our campers. I feel it’s a testament to the strength of our Diocesan camp’s unique bonds and friendships,” said Kiley. “We are a close camp family, and just like many families, we support and pray for each other, and we miss each other during long separations. This virtual camp gives us the chance to overcome the separation and isolation that Covid brings, and to spend some time with our ‘family’ while renewing friendships and having some fun.”
Kiley added that while the camp staff and volunteers missed interacting with the campers and their families in person, they are excited for what the future holds using technology.
“I feel that this virtual camp week has laid a foundation for more virtual sessions and events to come in the future, during our camping ‘off-season.’ For a while, I had been hoping to do more during our off-season period to keep connected, and I think this week’s virtual activities serve as a model for doing just that,” said Kiley. “I also must recognize and thank all our volunteers who have worked passionately behind the scenes to bring our virtual camp to life. We simply could not host this camp without our dedicated volunteers, and I am truly grateful for their time and their heart in serving our awesome campers.”
To learn more about the disability ministries in the Diocese, visit www.hbgdiocese.org/disabilities-ministries.
By Rachel Bryson, The Catholic Witness