Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 17, 2006
Camp Encounter brings out best
Natural environment helps campers to slow down
By BILL GLEN
"There is a great atmosphere. It's so relaxing," Driscoll said. "When the campers come, it brings out the best in them."
The first week is Leadership Week, running July 2-7, when some 40 to 70 counsellors are trained in a wide range of issues in a Christian setting. They learn, for example, how to manage a group and how to deal with homesickness. There are two categories: counsellors-in-training for 14 to 15-year-olds and senior counsellors for 16 to 18.
A full week is devoted to the counsellors for one reason, says Doug Kramer, director of Camp Encounter.
"They are the ones who bring it to the kids. They are Christ for those kids the week they come out here."
The highlight of Leadership Week is a 48-hour survival game modelled after the television reality show. The game takes place on a 30-acre forested island next to the camp.
The group is organized into six tribes who are given a pot, a box of rice and all the water they will need. The tribes compete for food and luxury items - like matches - through relay races, fire-starting challenges and endurance games.
"We try to follow the show, but nobody gets voted out," Kramer said. "And of course, we make sure nobody is without necessities."
The camp covers about 100 acres, including the island. There is a large nesting site for geese not far offshore. Campers enjoy beach volleyball, rock wall climbing, archery and canoeing.
They learn to appreciate nature, their friends and themselves.
- Photo supplied
Camp Encounter provides a different perspective on God
"With this environment, the kids slow down. After 24 hours, they let go of the city rhythm. Sometimes we don't have to do too much. We just let the sunset speak," Kramer said.
There is one rule of conduct everyone must abide by.
"We don't put up with put-downs," he said. "If a kid puts somebody down, we stop and look at him. He has to give an apology and two sincere compliments to the person.
"In some cases, the hallways in schools are full of kids putting other kids down. They say they were just kidding, but if you have to throw a 'just kidding' on the end of it, there's something wrong."
The remaining summer weeks (Sunday to Friday) are open for the young campers. There are adventure programs, arts and crafts and basic catechetics.
One night each week is spent on the island. The kids cook bannock on a fire and sleep in a large teepee.
"We wrap up each week by giving thanks," Kramer said. "On Friday, we end with the Eucharist."
Kramer has lived at the camp with his wife Judy and their five children for seven years. A certified teacher, Judy homeschools the kids in the Catholic curriculum.
Kramer was a youth minister at a Calgary parish for two years before the family came to run Camp Encounter.
"I was born and raised Catholic and now I do it full-time and on the job," Kramer said with a smile.
"We capitalize on the learning moments out here that come up naturally," he said. "There is so much good work to be done here."
Whether attending summer camp or religious retreats during the school year, the number of people coming out is steadily increasing, he said.
- Photo supplied
Camp Encounter offers a wide array of outdoor activities as well as spiritual development.
"Typically the number of school groups remains the same. But the size of the groups is larger. St. Francis Xavier comes out four times a year. Edmonton and Elk Island Catholic schools have been a huge supporter of the camp."
The camp's philosophy is to create an encounter with Christ through community while drawing on every aspect of creation they can.
Many times people get the message just by being there.
"Some campers who aren't religious see God in all things out here," Driscoll said. "God is in nature so Camp Encounter provides a different perspective for them. I go to church but when I first came here, I saw God in a different light."
Several schools come out in the fall to kick the year off when the trees are lit with autumn colours. Kramer says it is a great way for the kids to get to know each other and build community.
May and June are popular with elementary schools that study aquatic and forest ecology. This year, schools are studying animal tracks and the different animals that live in the forest.
"We get kids excited about what a footprint means. Animals are running around and we don't even know it."
On a three-day retreat, the acclimatization process is almost typical.
"The first day, you can see the shift where the kids are moving slower; they are quieter and a little more reflective. The second night is usually the most powerful because they have settled in and begin to open up. They begin to take what we offer and then look at their own lives. They start to let the changes happen."
His eyes filled with tears describing how the baddest of the bad leave for home changed, perhaps having discussed family or peer abuse for the first time.
"It's so powerful. I give thanks because there is such a need for it. This is my calling, but I'm just a signpost trying to do the work. And I have a lot of help."
Kramer loves the history involving the Oblates at Lac la Nonne. One of his campfire favourites is telling the tale of two snowmobiles that cracked through the ice five feet from shore on New Year's Day 2000 at the same location Father Albert Lacombe and his dog team are recorded to have done so more than 100 years earlier.
"A spring comes up that feeds the lake between the camp and the island," he said, referring to a narrow rill that was once a strong creek. Camp Encounter has reclaimed the old creek bed into a beach volleyball court.
"People have described the camp as Never Neverland," Kramer said. "They come here and feel like they're kids forever. They don't want to leave."
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer counsellor or spending a week at Camp Encounter should call Doug Kramer at (780) 967-2548, or visit www.campencounter.com.
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.