As the program director for the Adventure program, I often have to ask myself the question “is this actually something adventurous?” Whether it’s considering where we camp, the activities we do, the way we build our Adventure community, I feel an obligation to have this program live up to its name. Something that can be challenging physically and emotionally, but also allows for beautiful moments of personal achievement and pride. In my mind, the cave is the perfect Adventure activity.
CYO Camp has been visiting “our” cave since the 1990s, a location that I frequently describe as “drive to the middle of nowhere, and then turn right.” It’s a wonderfully secluded part of the southern Indiana landscape and a place that I would imagine very few people even know about. And we get the opportunity to take campers there every single week during the summer.
I would argue that there is no other place, at least in Indiana, as otherworldly as the cave. At no other point in my life have I found myself crawling, rolling, and walking through dusty tunnels lit only by our collective headlamps. At no other outdoor experience have I been able to experience total darkness, and near-silence so overwhelming that I could hear the sound of my own heartbeat.
The cave is one of the places where I experience God most intimately. I witness God in the incredible underground landscape that we get to explore, in our campers supporting each other in the most uncomfortable points, in the way the beams of our headlamps bounce off the shiny quartz ceilings and the newly forming stalactites. And there’s one other spot where I acutely feel God’s presence. As our eyes adjust to the darkness as we descend into the cave, they focus more on shape and movement more than color, so in the cave colorful things like shirts become muted into what are mostly hues of brown and gray. But then, as we leave the cave, our eyes are so used to the darkness that they then have to readjust to the light. We walk out with our eyes down, wanting to protect ourselves from the blinding day. And then, you see the tiniest shade of green, and you get to look up. Above you, you are met by the greenest forest you’ve ever seen. Sure, it’s the same forest you left mere hours ago, but now the shades are more vivid and bright. The dirt that now coats almost the entirety of our bodies isn’t just grayish-brown, it’s a warm red-orange-brown, the proof of what we’ve just undertaken.
I can’t think of a better way to begin our Adventure week, honestly. The cave is the perfect experience to push limits, build community, try something new, and see God in a new way.
Lauren Owen, Program & Development Assistant
Asher is a long time camper who has autism. What is noticeable about Asher is that he wanders and very rarely hangs out with the other kids in his group. He always seems happy enough with his one to one counselor and a bit of redirection. His experience is “inclusive enough.” Then, Bill enters the picture; Bill totally gets Asher which is evident by how Asher loves to tell Bill jokes. It is even clearer one afternoon when Asher is again wandering. His group is playing basketball and he is not into it. His preferred activity? Cloud watching. He wandered just a little way away and found a grassy, soft spot to lay down and stare up at the sky.
His one to one counselor, Bill, could have told Asher to get up and to come play, he could have told Asher that it is time for basketball but instead he lay on the ground next to Asher and asked him what he saw. It seemed pretty uneventful for Asher; he was just being Asher, but the other campers and counselors noticed and one by one they lay on the ground as well and some pretty cool observations were made and chatted about. All of sudden Asher was a part of something that he created and that others could be included.
Kudos to Bill for embracing this moment as this was the beginning of something significant for Asher and for the others as the boys now had common ground, a connection, a place to begin a friendship. Asher was no longer the boy who didn’t stay with the group; he was now the boy who saw dinosaurs and monster trucks in the clouds and when you are an 11 year old boy that is pretty darn cool.
This is one of our stories that encapsulate the meaning of inclusive programming at camp. While we have support and adaptions at the ready it really is the individual person and his or her approach to a child or a group of children that brings the nature of inclusion alive. Bill chose to create an environment of inclusion. He chose the activity that brought everyone in. It was not just about Asher. It was about supporting the group about bringing them together.
Yes, at camp we are known for our support and inclusion of people who have disabilities or specific diagnosis like Asher and it is quite a beautiful thing however we don’t consider that the full story. Our inclusive core value is about everyone. It is about the sense of belonging felt at camp. It is about allowing people to show up and be themselves and yes, sometimes, people need support. The truth is we all need support sometimes. Camp embraces this idea and provides an environment of inclusiveness whether a person has a disability or not. It is one of the core values that make camp, camp.
Asher still comes to camp; he is 14 now. He has become kinda known for his quirky sense of humor. He makes people laugh and not just his one to one counselor. He stays with his group a bit more these days, often on the edge of the activity but camp is home to him. He knows he is welcome and he can be himself.
Angi K Sullivan
CYO Camp Co-Director
When I was a kid the transition from summer to school year was wrapped in shopping trips for clothes and supplies, a half day to start the semester and a new bed time (yuck). Maybe it was the same for you. I’m aware that it isn’t all that different these days as kids and families everywhere are in some way or another making way for new routines which I have noticed lately is marked by the posting of first day of school pictures on Facebook and Instagram. I love these as tokens of memories to be treasured as we have this front row seat to watch our friend’s children grow from year to year. It’s good stuff.
A transition is also happening at CYO Camp. It goes a little like this.
Our last summer campers depart at 2pm on the last Friday of our last summer session. After we wish our last camper a “happy rest of the summer” we then go into super freaking (cleaning/organizing) and flipping camp with our summer staff of about 70 people! It is kind of a big place! Some equipment and supplies are put away until next summer; others are re-invented or adapted for a school year purpose. After we clean, we gather to commemorate the summer with a staff closing dinner, a slide show, a campfire and the unveiling of the newest touch board that will take its place among the others at the end of the evening. The VERY next day we welcome the first group of many to kick off our school year. It is a fast and furious physical transition of our space, our programming and us.
This transition of course isn’t new to us as each year we busy ourselves with the work needing to be done to create CYO Camp experiences for all of our participants and within this we are reminded of the gifts of all seasons as we leave one and enter the other. We reflect (quickly) on the passing season as we dive into the new one. We love summer; it brings warm weather, outdoor adventures and a celebration of people ages 5 up through college age. People who come to camp and fill the hills with songs, play, dance and prayer! Summer camp weeks last six days and the work day isn’t done at 5pm. This is an incredible, abundant energy that embodies so much of what CYO Camp offers. It is a beautiful time and when that time is over we often feel accomplished and ready to move on to the new people and programs of the school year which is also a beautiful time that has its own incredible energy. The school year season brings new schedules, hours of hosting and leading groups of all ages in faith, outdoor education, retreats, and challenge low and high. It is a welcoming of people of all ages to be a part of the mission of CYO Camp.
What a whirl wind our transition from summer to school year is and I can honestly say we wouldn’t trade it for the world! It sometimes gets messy in the middle, and it is hard and hot work but we accept it as a gift. Moving quickly from one time and space to another is important; our lists of to do’s and decisions to be made move us forward in providing the CYO Camp experience for all our people.
As Nancy Levin wrote, “Honor the space between no longer and not yet.” And we definitely honor it all.
Angi K Sullivan
We’ve Come a Long Way Baby... This saying has been around for a while. I remember it from a childhood ad or a title of a song!? Anyway as I thought about my next entry and what piece of camp I wanted to share it came to me. CYO Camp has come such a long way! Some pretty cool humans started this camp in 1946 and now almost 71 years later we are a vibrant, successful faith filled option for children of all abilities. I hope our founders are proud of the work we do; I hope we are keeping their dream alive. In this spirit I’d like to share a list of things you may or may not know about CYO Camp Rancho Framasa. You will see in this list how much we have happening and how far we have come from our beginnings. Enjoy!
Angi K Sullivan
CYO Camp Co-Director
Our guest blogger this week is Ainsley "Boo" Sullivan who spent all but the last 9 months of her life living at camp. She graciously agreed to share her perspective for camp's blog.
I'm fifteen years old. While I don't technically live at Camp anymore, it's safe to say that it is my home. I grew up there; I'm still growing up there. When I was a lot younger, I played with counselors and went creek stomping with my siblings. When I got older I did jobs and actually got to know the staff. Even though I grew up, the one thing that never changed was what I did. I'm an observer, on Camp and just in general. During staff training I sit on tables and listen to my parents talk or play games and dance with the counselors. When the summer gets going I work in the canteen serving popcorn or run errands for my parents. I sit in the summer office and draw while tuning in and out of the random conversations.
Two years ago I started baking for the counselors. I'd make a list of treats and have them write their names by it. I'd bake everything late at night so I called it BAM! Baking; Baking At Midnight. I love baking for the staff. Walking into the lounge the following day was awesome. I didn't know what it was, they were average treats; but their faces would sort of light up. Perhaps it was the fact that is wasn't the same food they'd been eating all summer. They run up to me and search through the box to find theirs. They'd tell me it was great and then proceed to tell me weird stories about their campers or how they slipped and fell down a hill that day. That was a common story. These moments made my day.
I’m going to get a bit poetic here but, Camp bonds people in a weird sweaty, slipping in the rain, dunking in the pool, make sure you put on bug spray outside the cabin, way. It's a big magical place. And I basically live there.
Boo Sullivan, Camp Kid
A few weeks ago I happened upon a parenting blog by Rachel Macy Stafford that brought tears to my eyes. Reading it filled my heart with the purest of joys as it spoke to me about the way I strive to be with my own children but also the way we at camp strive to be with those who we meet at camp. I want to highlight here a few of the shining pieces of that blog.
First, the title, A Relationship Worth Protecting, was a hook for me. Every writer knows there has to be a hook if you want someone to read your writing. Rachel Macy Stafford grabbed me right away as I am someone who thinks a great deal about relationships. I think about navigating them and also how I can protect them, essentially protecting the people I love. There were lessons for me in the words on the screen. Oh, right, I quickly reminded myself, THIS is what we do at camp and suddenly it wasn't only about parenting. At camp we protect each other by building each other up, plain and simple, participant/camper centered to us is also people centered and relationship centered. This blog is a beautiful reminder starting at the very beginning, it’s title. It’s worthy to protect our relationships.
Second, a quote the author built her words from “Can you see your love for me shining through? Cuz what you see in me, I can see in you. And soon enough, you and me we’ll be out of time. And kindness will be all we can leave behind.” - Nimo Patel
It’s about love, right? We are all embraced by God’s love and are at the center of His creation. And we also have each other…human beings were created FOR love. What a gift! Again, this happens at camp. Camp is a place where love for our Creator and for each other happens every day. Our staff members give of themselves freely and humbly every day. They share their faith; they lovingly support. The smaller moments are my favorites, hiking in the rain a program staff members lends a rain coat; in the dining hall, a summer camper gets the last piece of pizza; someone loses a retainer and we see it in the trash---dumpster diving becomes a thing at camp.
The author of the blog shares this about her daughters, “Just as she is shaping her little sister’s self-esteem through words and actions, I am shaping hers.” This is true at camp as well. We as camp staff are shaping the children and the future. Every day encompasses humility and giving to others. Another layer is teaching others about this love. We often talk about the joy of letting another go first, or letting someone else have the bigger cookie and that putting ourselves second is love and pleasing to God.
Third, the author’s closing lines, “We all need someone in our corner … to have our back … to believe in us when we don’t believe in ourselves. We can do that, my friends. We can do that for our sisters … our brothers … our children … and for each other. We can do that for the people who are learning how to treat others by watching us live. “
Yes! Life is so much sweeter when we are in it together, when we have each other's backs. This kindness and supporting each other speaks loudly in our Catholic teachings. St. John Bosco, CYO Camp’s patron saint, teaches us to be in and among the children, to meet them where they are, to build them up so they can become closer to God and live better lives. He took care of so many so they could grow closer to God and do the same for the next guy.
And finally, the author’s personal pledge,
The Presence Pledge
I hope you feel like a welcomed spark to my life, not an inconvenience, annoyance, or bother to my day.
I hope you feel comfortable in your skin, not constantly wondering how many things you need to change before you’re loved and celebrated.
I hope you feel heard, valued, and understood, not dismissed for being too young or too inexperienced to have an opinion or know what you need to thrive.
I hope you feel capable and confident, not incapable of doing something without constant supervision and correction.
I hope you feel brave to bare the colors of your soul, not pressured to hide your light or play small to gain acceptance.
I hope after spending an hour … a day … a lifetime in my presence,
I leave your heart fuller,
your smile wider,
your spirit stronger
your future brighter
than you could have ever imagined by yourself.
We can all strive to be THIS each and every day and honestly this is the part that made my "feels" light up. It's good and it's God; it's loving people and making the world a better place and to me this is CYO Camp. Lord knows we aren’t perfect but we give it our best and hope that people leave camp feeling loved and whole.
Angi K Sullivan, CYO Camp Co-Director
For Rachel Macy Stafford’s full blog post click here.
I love learning. Finding out new information or someone teaching me about a subject that I know nothing about is endlessly exciting to me. At camp, there are so, so many opportunities to learn. One of the ways that I think I have learned the most is in the area of sustainability. A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that Stewards of the Earth is one of our core values. When I interviewed to work at camp, I admitted that this was the core value that I was the most nervous about being to able to live out, not because I don't think it's important, but because I don't have very much experience with it at all. Before this job, I didn't know what foods are and aren't compost able, I had never taken care of chickens, and I could not tell you which plants on camp were native and which were non-native. Now, I feel comfortable with all of those things, and I like to talk about them. However, since I'm still a sustainability/stewardship novice, I will be linking to several articles throughout this post written by people who know much more than I do about the subject.
I mention sustainability because it's important for what I actually want to talk about: something that I have started to call the de-pineification. Over the last couple months, the camp landscape has changed pretty dramatically. The red pines that surround our amphitheater and the edge of the road leading to our dining hall have all been cut down, leaving a bare, straw-covered meadow where several dozen trees once stood. And I'm going to tell you why that's a good thing (or at least try).
When I first found out that all of the trees were going to be cut down, I was pretty mortified. At a very basic level, my opinion was: cutting trees down = automatically bad choice. What I found out was that these trees were going to fall down anyway at some point. The red pines had fallen victim to something called the pine bark beetle, causing them to die. So not only were these trees sick, but if we left them be, we could not control when or where they would fall. Remember where I said the pines were? It's one of the parts of camp that is the most traversed throughout the year, meaning that a spontaneously fallen tree could be devastating. So it made more sense to get rid of them now, when there are no groups on camp, and keep camp safe for everyone.
Not only that, but the red pines were only visitors anyway. They are the only species of pines on camp that are non-native to Brown County, brought in during the 1960s to stop erosion and play into a fad at the time of planting Christmas tree farms. Of all of the pine trees on camp, the pine bark beetle has only attacked the red pines, which is kind of the best form of poetic justice for our native plants. You might think, "If they are non-native, why didn't you just cut them down earlier." The simplified answer to that is, "because they weren't hurting anything." Red pines are not invasive and did the job that they were intended for, which was to stop erosion. There was no need to cut down healthy trees just because they were non-native.
So, we've cut down all of these trees down; what do we do next? We are incredibly lucky to be involved with groups like the Nature Conservancy who not only help us identify and remove non-native species, but also support and nurture the natives ones. Through working with them, the meadow will eventually become a pollinator field made up of native plants. I'm kind of way too excited about the pollinator field because of one big thing: we get to be beekeepers. Camp is going to be home to a hive of bees, which will get their pollen from a combination of pollinator trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. We have been working with a number of people to help us decide what to plant, and it is just so fun to listen to what they have to say, and it's fun to see just how excited they are, too. We have an awesome opportunity to not only create an awesome teaching experience for our campers and participants, but we are fostering growth for some of our native species in a space that has been taken up by non-native plants for more than 50 years. If that's not stewardship, then I don't know what is.
Articles from people who are smarter than me:
Forest Health Problems Impacting Indiana Forest Resources
Honey Bee Information and Trivia
Indiana DNR Resource Guide of Yellowwood State Park (talks about red pine-to-hardwood conversion in a state forest close to camp)
Indiana Pollinator Guide
Posted by Lauren Owen, Program Staff 2016-2017
Many years ago I made a friend at CYO Camp. I was a camp counselor and she was a counselor in training. She quickly became more than a friend though. She was caregiver for my first child. We also experienced pregnancy together, my second, her first, both boys. The boys are still friends today. That was over 20 years ago. And while we met at camp and our bond was nurtured in our experiences there it was through our common experience as women, wives and mothers that made us friends and ultimately family.
My friends name? Annie Beeson Endris. Annie was mama to Nathan and Clare, wife to Ned, Benedict Inn Program Director and a Spiritual Director until she lost her battle with pancreatic cancer in May of 2015. She is missed dearly. Annie was deeply spiritual and devoted to women and their successes and challenges in life. She touched lives in a way that was meaningful. Annie had a light about her and her presence exuded love.
Our work and our friendship ultimately led to collaboration. Our goal was to provide a weekend that supports women on their faith journey and in their lives. As working moms who were often looking for ways to nurture themselves as spiritual women both Annie & I wanted to offer something that provided a space and time for women to take a step back, breathe and potentially reconnect with their faith or discover something new.
It is in her honor that CYO Camp continues to offer our Women’s Only Weekend (WOW). While Annie is not here is person we know her spirit lives on in the important work women do for themselves and in this weekend.
WOW is April 21-23 this spring. I hope you will consider joining us or inviting a woman in your life to be a part of the weekend.
Angi K Sullivan, CYO Camp Co-Director
WOW 2014, Annie is the one in the middle wearing the green shirt.
In 1978 I was 10 years old and a 5th grader at St. Christopher Catholic School on the west side of Indianapolis. I had just become best friends with the new girl (Gesche Huneke) and was navigating “new math” and the spring kickball schedule. Life was pretty good as 5th grade goes, but it was about to change. In the spring of that year I would hear a presentation that would ultimately guide the rest of my life. The presentation was a slide show filled with smiles of campers from CYO Camp Rancho Framasa and CYO Camp Christina. The pictures also included images of the pool at Rancho, the horses and various other activities. Two college age students were our presenters in the basement of St. Chris. A slide projector was set up when we arrived and the presenters were all smiles and full of energy. I wish I could say I remember the presentation in detail and that I knew that this was the place I’d be most influenced and grow into the human being I am today but, hey I was only 10 and honestly I don’t remember much at all about that presentation. I remember the smiles and I remember that a classmate, Gus Miller, was in one of the slide photos. Gus had red hair and a huge smile. My friends and I probably teased him about being in this photo. We knew nothing about this camp so we undoubtedly labeled it as lame. My new best friend and I went anyway. I’m not sure why we decided to go to camp but once we attended camp we fell head over heels in love. We went back year after year, often twice in one summer. Once we were too old we became Counselors in Training. We brought others with us and appointed ourselves cheer leaders for all things CYO Camp. I loved my counselors (especially Trish Franckhauser McClanahan), the activities (mostly campfire and the horses), being outside, the songs (Circle Game & Stewball), and the friends I made. Of course, I wanted to work at camp as soon as I was old enough and at the young age of 17, my dream of being a CYO Camp counselor came true.
Thirty plus years have passed since that school visit and many things have changed and many have stayed the same at CYO Camp. We still visit schools to spread the word of our programs. I actually lead school visits for years. It always made me smile to think of the little Gesche’s and Gus’ out in the audience. I’m more office oriented these days and it does seems more apt to send the younger staff to share our enthusiasm for camp and to spread the word of faith, fun, friendships, silliness, etc. that is CYO Camp.
We happen to be in the middle of school visit “season” currently. Long gone are the days of the slide show, but our staff members still visit schools and are still full of smiles and energy. They often start with a song and ask for volunteers to dress up. They conclude with time for students to ask questions. Its high energy and fun just like camp!
When staff members return from a school visit there are always stories. The best part of these stories for me is the question session at the end. “Is there a unicorn? Can I bring my dog? Will there be lunch?” are a few of my favorites. I love this. I also love thinking about the ones who will attend camp this summer and how their lives might be changed just as mine was changed because camp is a place where positive change truly happens. Over 1800 kids this summer will either begin or continue their relationship with camp. They will run, play, laugh, pray, sing, dance, and know the goodness of our Creator through the hands of our staff members. They will also experience positive peer and adult relationships without the distractions of technology. They will experience true wholesome fun. They will get to be kids in a world that demands more and more of them each day.
I know all of this to be true; from 10 year old camper to 16 year old Counselor in Training to Counselor to Co-Director to the “mama” of the “camp family” I’ve seen the story of camp play out again and again. I have seen campers become counselors; counselors become our camp leaders and then ultimately leave camp for careers as teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. In addition, they become parents. Parents who believe in camp often sending their own children to camp. In all of the roles that our past campers and counselors fulfill we know they are out in the world spreading a bit of camp love wherever they go thus making our world a lovelier place to be.
When I was that 10 year old girl at St. Christopher’s School I had no idea what camp could do for me or what I had to give to camp. I now know its significance. I've actually known it for a good long while now. Not just for me but for so many others. Camp has made a difference. I’d like to go back in time and meet 10 year old me so I could tell her to hold on for an amazing ride! I’d tell her to savor it, savor it all, even the hard stuff because you will grow and you will be a part of impacting others to grow and your life will be all the better for it.
Angi Sullivan, CYO Camp Co-Director
My girl and I had our first of what I hope is many weekends away together.
Rock climbing, creek stomping, tree painting, tie-dying, canoeing, singing, good food eating, good friend chatting, new friends, campfire skits, and bunk bed sleeping (or two on a twin mattress, so we're extra close).
A lot of rain, fear of heights, me realizing I didn't actually know how to canoe after we were already on the lake.
It was full of fun and adventure.
There is something beautiful about witnessing each others highs and lows away from home and realizing we can't do much more than be witness to them while offering each other encouragement.
She climbed, I rowed, we played and played- damp, chilled, eventually not aware of either.
We'll go back next year and hopefully the year after that!
I can't help but wonder what each year we retreat together will bring. I noticed how different the experience looked for mothers with older children. They got to sleep in their own bunk, for instance.
How many years will she want to go with me? How many more years will she push my cheeks together, like she did, and tell me the best part was just being with her mama?
I try to remember, our time together is as good now as it was when she was too little to go on retreat; it's just different.
I suspect each year will be different too, and it won't matter whether we are snuggled on a twin or I am left way behind on the trail, I know I'll be grateful to be there with her.
It will be my best part.
Locals- Camp Rancho Framasa in Brown County has wonderful mother/daughter, father/son, family, and summer camps. As someone who is not a Catholic or Christian, I felt very welcome and at ease there.
Kelly Sage, Mother Daughter Participant 2016