Catholic Sentinel photos by Gerry Lewin
Elizabeth Merenda helps Petra Murdoch with a second bowl of cereal at Camp Howard.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Gerry Lewin
Elizabeth Merenda helps Petra Murdoch with a second bowl of cereal at Camp Howard.
I sat at the bus stop and watched the campers check in for the bus ride to Camp Howard while moms and dads helped them load their stuff onto the luggage bus. Many of the campers had been through the process many times and were old hands at it. Others were doing it for the first time and weren’t quite sure what to do.

Five passenger buses, a luggage bus and an extra truck for the overflow baggage would make the trip to Camp Howard this day. The Madeleine School, located in the center of the city of Portland, was the point of disembarkation as it had been for several years.
Those moments after the luggage is loaded while the kids wait to get on the bus can be emotion filled, especially for the little ones who have never been away from home before.

Finally, it is time to leave. As the campers stretch to make that giant step up into the bus, they turn one more time to see mom and dad and all of a sudden a giant crocodile tear appears. Embarrassed or afraid they might cry, they hurry onto the bus and look away while at the same time they want to make sure mom and dad are still there. They find a seat and once again look to find that familiar face. This time they can’t hold it back and they start to cry. This causes a chain reaction and now moms all over the parking lot are crying.

The bus gets out of sight and after a few minutes the crying stops and the children begin to think about what lies ahead.

A ritual has just taken place. A child is taking a huge step toward learning to be independent. That is not to say that he or she will come back from camp totally independent, but children come back from camp having done something special. They were able to leave home and be on their own for a week, making decisions for themselves.

The choices and decisions they make will not be critical in comparison to those that will come later in life, but it is a big step.

I personally consider it a huge vote of confidence when parents choose to send their children to Camp Howard for their first time away from home. Our job is to make sure their experience at camp is a great one and one that would please their parents.

During their stay at camp they have some choices. Target sports such as BB guns, archery and paintball are mainstay activities that most youth expect to participate in at camp. They are time-honored activities that are as much a part of camp as singing around a campfire.

Arts and Crafts, remote control cars (when it doesn’t rain) recreational games and swimming round out the main programs.

On Thursday of the week, Mass is scheduled if a priest is available. Each day begins and ends with prayer and campers are expected to treat each other with Christian values.

Counselors play a lot of games with the kids, including predator and prey and capture the flag. Friday morning after breakfast, Capture the Flag is a camp wide activity that all the kids love.

Through the mud and dampness of this particular rainy week of camp the energy and enthusiasm of the campers was undaunted. The rain came at strategic times and main activities went on as usual.

Each evening a campfire takes place with various themes. The last campfire of the week is on Thursday. It is known as Cougar Campfire and at this event the Cougar Awards are bestowed on deserving campers. Counselors give speeches on the merits of the award winners while everyone looks on in admiration.

Now the week has come to a conclusion and it is time to get back onto the bus and head to town. The kids have made it through some spells of homesickness, aches and pains. With the help of the trained counselors, who know how to deal with such issues, the campers take another step in their maturity.

When the counselors can’t fix it, the camp nurse or the camp director come into play and help with any and all situations. The goal for all of the staff is to give campers a great week and help them through their week with kindness and helpfulness.

The last event of the week prior to getting on the bus is the good-bye ceremony. Bidding farewell to the counselors and new pals at camp is as hard sometimes as taking those first steps onto the bus to go to camp.

The cabin counselor is largely responsible for the fun a camper has at camp. Camp Howard tries to recruit counselors who will spend a lot of quality time with the kids and make the week a great memory in the life of the child. The cabin counselors who put forth great effort in this endeavor make a big difference to kids.

If you want to make a difference in the life of children, consider sending them to camp. The American Camping Association, of which Camp Howard is a member, has a wonderful quote: “Camp does a kid a world of good.”