Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
March 26, 2001
Camp builds young leaders
Camp Encounter also draws varied groups to its year-round facility
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
LAC LA NONNE — Camp Encounter director Doug Kramer sees the camp as "one of the best kept secrets" in the Edmonton Archdiocese.
That's probably a well-meaning exaggeration intended to get our attention because the camp has become relatively well known.
It has become increasingly popular since it changed from a two-month summer camp to a year-round camp some seven years ago. About 900 children between eight and 18, as well as adults, have been visiting the camp each year for the past few years. Some 350 young kids visit the camp every year in July and August alone.
That's a considerable number but Kramer would like hundreds more to make use of the facility.
He would like everybody in the archdiocese to know there is a facility available for them to play and to learn, year-round. His goal is to attract at least 1,000 visitors a year beginning this year.
"I want to make sure that everyone knows about it," he said. "We want to become a resource for the archdiocese, for parish councils. Any kind of organization that's involved with the Catholic Church we want to be here for them with their ministry."
Right now the camp is empty but soon it will become a busy place, filled with the noise and laughter of dozens of young campers trying to enjoy life under the sun.
A retreat for young Catholics from Legal is scheduled for the third week of April. A group of about 40 elementary students from near Lloydminster will use the camp facilities the following weekend.
"We've also got groups through May and June that have been with us for four or five years in a row now," noted Kramer.
From July 1-6, Kramer and camp staff will facilitate what they call leadership week for young people between 14 to 18 years of age. Participants will later serve as camp counsellors.
"We basically try to build leaders. We engage them in lots of reflections, exercises on communication, discipline and challenges," Kramer explained.
"We really try to push their limits so they spend lots of time outside doing different survival activities. We really try to equip them because they come out for the summer to counsel, to be with the groups."
Located about 100 km northwest of Edmonton at Lac La Nonne, the 97-acre camp features lake frontage, a sandy beach and a small island.
Facilities at the camp include two dormitories with a capacity of 40 each; modern washroom facilities; a dining hall for 50; a kitchen; a cabin; a recreation hall; a craft centre and a counselling centre that doubles as a residence for camp staff.
Kramer, his wife and three kids live at the camp year-round. Also residing on site is assistant director Loni Moger and his wife Alice. Currently the camp board of directors is raising funds to expand the facilities to accommodate 100 campers.
In operation since 1980, "Camp Encounter is a place where kids can come and experience God in creation, in the natural world," explains Kramer, director for the past two years. "It's focused around giving kids that experience of Christ and also of the outdoor world."
That aim is clearly laid out in the camp's mission statement: "To encourage Christian community life, deepen Christian commitment and sensitize through the natural environment an attitude of reverence and understanding of all life."
To live up to that mission statement, the camp has developed several activity-based programs, including nature observation, native skills and crafts, ecological studies, adventure experiences and team building. The camp is currently providing these programs to schools, churches, summer camps and various other user groups.
"We really try to get kids immersed in Christian community and in nature," Kramer said.
"This can be anything from rock climbing, canoeing, watching animals, sleeping under the stars to sitting quietly in the forest for an hour just listening - all the things we generally don't take time to do in urban life."
Campers choose the activities they want to do and are guided by trained camp staff and counsellors. At the peak of the summer, Camp Encounter has 12 people on staff, mostly university and high school students as well as local people. The staff is cut to four over the winter. The spiritual program at the camp consists of skits dramatizing Bible stories, fun activities, games as well as discussion of Christian themes like building community, love and family.
Counsellors also try to make kids see how God is a big part of their lives. On Saturday evenings, campers attend Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, which is located on camp property. Recreation at the camp is geared towards cooperative, rather than competitive, participation in sports and games. The water program, one of the most popular, is aimed at developing skills in swimming and other water sports.
There are also theme suppers and evening activities such as campfires, theatrical skits and sometimes dances. Groups have a choice of bringing their own food and doing their own cooking or having the food provided and cooked by camp staff. Brian Letawski, a teacher at St. Leo Catholic School, has been taking his Grade 6 class to Camp Encounter every June for the last four years. He likes the quality of instruction, the type of activities offered as well as the food. "They feed us really well," he said. "It's also a good opportunity for the kids to bond and to relax."
Michael Mireau, a fourth-year seminarian who served as spiritual director at the camp for four years until 1999, said Camp Encounter has changed a lot of lives.
"It has brought people closer to God in a wonderful way," he said. "It certainly changed my life. Out there, it's like being surrounded by love." Mireau now serves on the camp's 15-member board of directors as well as continuing to volunteer. He said he contributed to the camp's spiritual program by helping to create a "loving and accepting atmosphere in which the kids out there can develop in their relationship with God in a loving way."
The downtime for the camp is from the end of October to the middle of April. "We want to try to get that filled," Kramer said. "We would like people to know that we are available year-round. We are not a summer camp anymore."
The camp board of directors is looking at providing adult retreats, young adult retreats, and Confirmation retreats in the near future. "That's something we are going to be pushing here in the winter time, whether it's weekends or three days during the week," Kramer said.
"We are one of the lowest-priced camps in the area. For a weekend, to do your own thing, it's $10 per night per person."
For more information on Camp Encounter phone Doug or Loni at (780) 967-2548.
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