Standing at the entrance to Camp Kirchenwald, a 340-acre site of wooded trails, lake activities, a swimming pool, athletic fields and cabins in Colebrook, Alicia Kocher was eager to reunite with her camp family – participants and volunteers with whom she has formed bonds over the past 20 years.
Miss Kocher was 13 years old when she first volunteered at the Diocesan Camp at Kirchenwald, a weeklong August tradition that has been welcoming people with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities for more than 30 years.
Now, Miss Kocher, a Dauphin resident, is a familiar face there; a friend to participants and her fellow volunteers.
“It’s like a reunion of family when we come here,” she told The Catholic Witness. “You get an incredible sense of community when you’re participating with the folks who come.”
This year’s Diocesan Camp at Kirchenwald was held Aug. 13-18. But the connections made here last throughout the year, as participants and volunteers stay in touch through phone calls, text messages and social media.
“You can’t help but love the people who show up, and many of them having been showing up year after year,” Miss Kocher observed. “You can’t help but build community among the campers and the folks who come out to experience life with them.”
The Diocesan Camp at Kirchenwald has been an initiative of the Diocesan Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities since 1986. This year, some 47 volunteers staffed the camp for 43 participants – 28 men and 15 women – ranging in age from 18 to more than 70 years old.
Approximately half of the participants at this year’s camp live at home with their parents or in a private residence; the other half live in group homes.
Volunteers from some 20 parishes joined participants in a variety of activities, including nature walks, swimming, arts and crafts, games, a carnival, a talent show and meals.
“Our volunteers are an incredible asset,” said Larry Kiley, Director of the Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities. “We can’t thank them enough. Donations have doubled this year, allowing us to further reimburse the cost of camp for participants.” The cost for the full week of camp is $575.
The Diocesan Camp at Kirchenwald offers a time of respite for the participants’ family members and caregivers, and it’s also a time of renewal for volunteers, Miss Kocher observed.
“I look forward to camp the way that people look forward to Christmas and New Year’s,” she said. “It’s my renewal period.”
“Day-to-day life can bog you down,” she said, “but when you’re around the folks at camp, you see how grateful they are for the time you spend with them. They find happiness in walking to the lake, setting the dinner table, or helping to clean up after an activity. The campers show me how blessed I am.”
Volunteers this year ranged in age from 17 to more than 70 years old; 25 men and 22 women.
While some of them shared God-given talents in activities such as fishing or arts and crafts, experience is not required to serve at the camp. All you need is an open heart, Miss Kocher said.
“All it takes to be a volunteer at camp is to be a caring individual,” she said. “The participants come year after year, and they’re excited to experience something that they can’t experience at home. How many of them can go out their back door and take a canoe ride, or go fishing or hiking? To be a volunteer, you just need to be willing to share these kinds of activities with people who might need a little assistance. You just need an interest in spending time with people.”
“The camp participants are happy and excited people, who are eager to be at camp to have a good time,” Miss Kocher said. “They just want to be part of a community, and that’s the beautiful thing about the Diocesan Camp at Kirchenwald. “It’s a community of love and care, and they feel it. It’s a family.”
Next year, the Diocesan Camp at Kirchenwald will take place Aug. 12-17. Anyone age 16 and older is welcome to volunteer for full-time or part-time duties. All volunteers are required to complete the Diocesan Clearance process and attend a brief training session prior to helping at camp.
For more information on volunteering or sponsoring a camper, contact Larry Kiley at 717-657-4804, ext. 322, or email@example.com.
Want to Volunteer Next Year?
In 2018, the Diocesan Camp at Kirchenwald will be held Aug. 12-17. Anyone age 16 and older can volunteer for full-time or part-time duties. All volunteers are required to complete the Diocesan Clearance process and attend a brief training session.
For more information on volunteering or how to sponsor a camper, contact Larry Kiley at 717-657-4804, ext. 322, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness