Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
July 19, 2010
Encounter energy, friends, Mass at camp
Camp Encounter racks up 30 years of fun, fellowship for Catholic youth
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
LAC LA NONNE - A sure sign of summer is camping at Lac la Nonne.
Aside from a week off in September, Camp Encounter is always in operation. There are facility rentals for groups and organizations, from Boy Scouts to scrapbooking clubs. During the school year, the camp caters to schoolchildren from about 45 schools. Parents bring their kids, ages eight to 15, to the camp in July and August for six-day camps.
Camp Encounter's official 30th birthday was March 21 and was celebrated at St. Angela's Church in Edmonton. The pastor there is Father Mike Mireau, who has been actively involved with the camp for 18 years. The celebration was a time for reuniting with old friends and reflecting on memories from bygone camp days.
The camp has served an estimated 90,000 people over the past three decades, primarily Catholic school students. The summer camp hosts about 420 campers per year, with an estimated 75 per cent of them returning the following year.
The camp has historical significance. Oblate Fathers Albert Lacombe and Hippolyte Leduc were among the first missionaries to frequent the area. An old log cabin built in 1870 still stands today.
Dana Martin, 15, has been coming to the wilderness and adventure-based Catholic camp for nine years, and this is her first summer as a volunteer counsellor, following leadership training in early July. Typical of the counsellors, she has a love for God, love for the natural world and a sincere love for kids. She said the loving environment is one incentive for coming back year after year.
"The leadership and guidance definitely brought me back because the staff were never hesitant to help you with anything you needed. Just the involvement that everyone has, you can just be yourself, for sure, and treat everyone with respect, and it comes back to you - you get treated with respect too," said Martin.
The all-seasons programming is a proven model for success. The youth are involved in four activity components: crafts, adventure, recreation and spirits. During their stay, the youth go kayaking, play games, sing songs, go on treasure hunts and camp overnight in teepees on a 30-acre island. They swim in the lake, play capture the flag and celebrate Mass.
Travis (Bass) McKenna, 19, is the adventure programmer at Camp Encounter. He specializes in canoeing, archery, rock wall climbing, the challenge course and low ropes. He plans games, ensuring that the campers are always having a good time. He noted the difference between the school camping compared to the summer camp.
"Kids with their peers from school act differently than when they are with a bunch of their friends at camp. Especially with the junior high group, you get a lot of kids who are a lot more reserved, and nobody wants to step out. The summer camp has a lot more energy," said McKenna.
The wonderful people are what have kept him coming back for the past five years.
"Everyone is awesome here, and camp is a wicked place to feel good about yourself. It's really good for your self-esteem. I love kids, having a good time, playing games - it's the coolest job I've ever had," he said.
Cody Stephenson, 11, has been coming to the camp for three years and he looks forward to it every summer.
"The first year I found that the whole staff just started treating me like we were a family. Now everyone here this year is like a big Camp Encounter family. I really like the counsellors because they take very good care of us when the staff can't, when they're busy doing their jobs," said Stephenson.
Reese (Kookaburra) Kiefenbelt, 17, has been coming to Camp Encounter since age eight, and is now a volunteer counsellor. Helping out at the camp is so enjoyable that he is considering it as a full-time paid job.
"Whenever I came to the camp I'd see the other counsellors as role models. You think, 'Wow, I could be that when I get older.' So here I am now," he said.
"It's a friendly environment, no putdowns. You can act however you want and no one will tell you that you shouldn't be doing that, like a judging society would."
He enjoys the adventuring component of the camp, and learning respect for nature. He also likes the spiritual component because it reconnects him with his Catholic faith.
"There's something about this place. Growing up, I came from a stronger family where we're taught that guys don't cry. You've got to be rock solid," said Kiefenbelt. When boys cry at Camp Encounter - which they often do - there is no shame, no embarrassment.
Dale Kiselyk has worked at the camp since 2003, originally as assistant director, later camp director, and now works in facility management, which entails maintaining the buildings.
Kiselyk said the board of directors, hard-working staff and generous donors are the main forces behind Camp Encounter's longevity. However, the camp is not without its challenges, including finding a solution to replacing the money generated from casino revenue.
"That's probably going to be the biggest challenge that we will face in the next few years. That's about an $80,000 shortfall every year, so we now have to make that up somehow.
"We don't know where it's going to come from. We're hiring a business manager with some business savvy and some fundraising ability who will hopefully have the skills and talents to bring in that money," said Kiselyk.
Dave (Gravy) Graves, program director at Camp Encounter, said that whenever the camp has faced financial difficulties, generosity prevailed.
About 40 per cent of the camp's annual operating costs come through donations, mostly from Catholic supporters and the Knights of Columbus. In 2007, Alta-Fab Structures, a company owned by the Ray Taillefer family, donated a new mess hall. They have since donated two new staff trailers.
Camp Encounter is one of two Catholic camps in the Edmonton Archdiocese, the other being Our Lady of Victory Camp near Bentley.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
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.