Whenever I get the chance to interview a prospective counselor, I enjoy getting the chance to tell them about camp. It’s a huge responsibility and an incredible opportunity to work at camp. I never miss the opportunity to let these interviewees know that a camp counselor is what I have always considered an Automatically Cool Person. There is nothing else in the interview that brings so many tilted heads and barely concealed confusion. But it’s absolutely true: a camp counselor is automatically cool in the eyes of their campers. Just think, a camp counselor is an adult, but they’re a fun adult. Adults don’t usually wear tie-dye five days a week, or sing the Weewee song with operatic intensity, or dance to Send Me on My Way while wearing a tutu, but camp counselors do.
I think often about my camp counselors and what I loved about them. They were funny, they were compassionate, they wore silly clothes like they were the most fashionable outfits in the world. They answered our questions, they learned about our lives, they immediately welcomed us and waved goodbye. I can’t remember an exact moment when I knew my counselor was cool, but I know that I left camp at the end of the week wanting nothing more than to be a camp counselor.
Not only can camp counselors be silly and funny and loud, but they care. They make their campers feel heard and understood. They model healthy friendships. They encourage self-care and good hygiene. Most importantly, their job is to encourage, rather than deny. In a world where there are so many expectations that kids are expected to meet, how great is it that camp counselors give them the chance to just be themselves? We often talk about how we could hold camp in a parking lot, and I know that it’s absolutely true. Take away the activities, the cabins, the creek, the games, and camp is still camp because of the people that are there. Being an Automatically Cool Person gives you the chance to be a role model, to show everyone that you can be accepted just by being yourself.
Assistant Camp Director
The camp experience begins with a registration. After registration comes packing, and then travel and of course arrival! Most who arrive at camp are at least a little bit nervous as camp can be a bit of a mystery and when it is someone’s first time there a lot of unknowns including the food, the grounds, and the people. The friendly, smiling faces of camp staff upon arrival helps folks begin to warm up and settle in for the experience which can include games, archery, high ropes, low ropes, hikes, crafts, classes, boating, campfires, Mass, and more. All which are participated in and accomplished without technology.
But… It almost doesn’t matter (almost) what activities or program you’ve come to camp to experience because honestly it is the connective pieces, of faith, fun, kindness, conversation, nature, laughter, and prayer, that make the experience. I recently heard a staff member say, “Technology cannot give you all of this” as he looked out into the trees.
As a 32 year “camp person” I’ve been privileged to be a part of so many of those connective pieces, and I know in our changing world where technology is at the forefront of our lives, that a camp experience is more important than ever.
The proof for me is in the experience…
I’ve experienced the smiles and the laughter. I’ve heard the songs being loudly and expressively sung. I have sat in the middle of the woods with a group of kids for no reason other than to listen in to the natural world and I have watched them be wowed. I have experienced moments of deep faith and grace. I have walked along side a camper on a horse who are working hard to overcome a fear. I have answered questions from overwhelmed and scared parents. I’ve hugged a homesick summer camper who I know can make it until check-out, even though she’s not sure. I have had the immense pleasure of watching 70 college age staff pull the thread through the moments of summer camp to make a week the best week of the summer for many, many hundreds of children. I have equally been awed by school year program staff who do it all in one day…food service, clean, facilitate activities, get kids to think and make them laugh, and smile through it all. None of this required my phone or the internet. It only required me to show up, be present, and hold the space for the experience to happen.
It is true that the activities and programs bring us together but once together the less tangible takes over and makes the real impact which links us to God, one another and meaning in this chaotic world.
Angi K Sullivan
Fall is my absolute favorite time of year. I love everything about it: the cooler weather, the sweaters, the leaves, the apple cider. And I especially love fall at camp. Camp becomes less and less green and more and more red, yellow, orange, maroon, brown, and gold. One of the reasons I love camp in the fall so much is that it reminds me of my first time coming to CYO Camp when I was a little girl.
Way back when I was in third grade, I was invited to go to fall camp at Camp Rancho Framasa with one of my best friends. I had never been to an overnight camp before, just day camp at the Girl Scout camp by my house with my Brownie troop. But I loved being outside, and I thought CYO Camp sounded so cool and different. So, my mom loaded up the car with our stuff, and we made the drive down Clay Lick Road for the first time, back when it was still a gravel road. Trees lined the road, just like they do now, and we past the horse pasture and the Canada Game field. We checked in and walked up to our cabin, and both of us immediately claimed a top bunk. I hugged my mom goodbye and once our whole group was together we got to go to dinner.
I don’t know if everyone remembers their first meal at CYO Camp, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you did. It’s a sensory explosion. Bright colors from the hundreds of people, smells of food coming from the kitchen, and the overwhelming, deafening sound of laughter, talking, singing, and challenging. Back before the “Challenge” sign was used, you had to be ready for challenges the moment you stepped into he OPC. And me, being eight years old and knowing nothing, had to catch on really quick. But the songs were funny and we were never allowed to stand on the benches in the cafeteria, so it felt special and extra adventurous. And plus, the counselors were doing it! These were adults, but they were cool adults, and you could tell they were cool adults because they wore tie dye shirts and had dozens of friendship bracelets on their wrists and sang louder and danced harder than everyone else at their table.
So after dinner, we played the evening game. We got to run through the woods! We charged through the fallen leaves and followed the beams of our flashlights and if no one had sounded the horn we probably would have just kept playing for hours. And that game, that was the start of an absolute whirlwind of fun. Campfires and horses, lanyards and pumpkin carving, hopping and fort building, telling stories and yelling the Great Amen, braiding hair and earning our bead. I had never before been in a place that felt like it was designed specifically for me to have fun.
My best friend’s mom picked us up from camp at the end of the session, and she never had to prompt us with any questions. We talked, we burst out laughing from inside jokes, we showed off our lanyards and our shirts and the new songs we had learned. We had an hour and a half-long car ride to figure out how to tell her why we had such an amazing time, but we just couldn’t quite put our fingers on it. After that, I had to go back to school where we didn’t sing songs on the cafeteria benches, and back to class where we sat a lot and needed to be quiet a lot. It felt like camp was my special secret, like I had gotten to visit this dream land where everything was always fun and everyone got to be silly and laugh until their sides hurt.
And now, years and years later, I still feel that way about camp. I love getting to be just one person in the generations of amazing staff that make camp a magical place. I love watching our campers jump in the leaves and wear their adorable rain boots and laugh and sing as much as their lungs will allow. There is nothing quite like fall in Brown County, and there’s no place that exemplifies fall in Brown County quite like CYO Camp.
Assistant Camp Director
CYO Camp Rancho Framasa
I have long been a word lover. Reading and writing are favorite pastimes. Part of this love includes being on the lookout for words of wisdom to support or challenge my views. It is in connection with words that I find meaning. It is in that connection that I also seek a sense of validation for the camp work I am involved in AND to find the places my camp work can grow. The words that people share about their experiences are powerful messages of when we get it right and when we miss the mark. So, it is no coincidence that I excitedly open each and every feedback form that makes its way to my camp inbox. I want to know what people are saying about camp, yes, even the criticism. I want to know it all. This fall we have been honored to hold space and outdoor programs for some pretty amazing folks. It has been mostly good news from them but also some ideas for us to grow into. Here is a sampling of their words about their camp experience.
“We all had a great time! Your grounds are very meticulously kept. The nature all around is incredibly beautiful. We LOVED the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue, as well as our Blessed Mother statues and stations of the cross. We were thrilled to have no cell phone coverage. We were able to really refocus on what is really important to us: our Faith and our family. Love and Support. Eliminating technology and making real memories is a blessing to us. We are so thankful for the weekend. We were also really impressed with the food selection--it was very healthy and nutritious. We really hope to return and make it a tradition!”
“One of our best year's yet. The kids got so much from the experience!”
“If I could change one thing about CYO Camp it would be: I know this is probably unavoidable, but I would say consistency. I find the retreat offered depends so much on the team of leaders. Some years they've been great, some years it's half and half. The activities are also led differently based on what leader/counselor you have. I know everyone has their own gifts/passions, so they aren't going to all do things the same, and there's beauty in that. Sometimes though I wish it could be more consistent across this board. This time around, two of the leaders actually switched groups so they could lead the activity they were more comfortable with. I appreciated that, because I felt like they were trying to use their gifts in the area that was best for them, and therefore was best for the kids.”
“This was my first time at this particular camp, and I was impressed with how engaged you kept all of our kids from beginning to end.”
I have such gratitude for those who take the time to fill out feedback forms. Words shared in this format become a part of the conversation about how best to live out our core values and to serve in a way that is pleasing to others and to God.
A few additional words to close with…
“The highest reward that God gives us for good work is the ability to do better work.” Elbert Hubbard
Angi K Sullivan
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.
Camp is such an unique experience! Our staff take turns sharing their perspectives of the experience that is CYO Camp Rancho Framasa!
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