Gull Lake camp offers kids an experience of Galilee

Campers Victoria Possberg, left, and Kailey Schoenberger became fast friends at Our Lady of Victory Camp this year.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Campers Victoria Possberg, left, and Kailey Schoenberger became fast friends at Our Lady of Victory Camp this year.

August 17, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Katie Foster calls Our Lady of Victory Camp her Galilee.

One of the archdiocese's two summer children's camps, OLVC set the trajectory for her life.

Her journey began when she first came to the camp as an 11-year-old, and then grew when she became a teenage counsellor.

Between forest forts and adoration, archery and Reconciliation, campfire marshmallows and daily Mass, Foster, now 25, encountered Christ.

"I don't have a specific conversion moment that changed my life, but the moments of conversion that stand out the most were being here in adoration," said Foster.

"(It was) those moments of deciding to place Christ at the centre of my life and making that decisive decision to live it - but also just realizing God's love for us."

Foster, now assistant program director at OLVC, has completed mission trips in Victoria and India and will work as a teacher/chaplain at a Calgary high school in the fall.

Everything in her life seems to trace back to the camp, she said, even her entire group of friends.

"What I've come to realize is that camp is my Galilee," she said, recalling how Pope Francis referred to Galilee as that moment when you first encountered Christ.

"If I hadn't come to camp when I was 11, I don't know who I would know and where I would be."

Campers pray during recreation time at Our Lady of Victory Camp on July 23.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Campers pray during recreation time at Our Lady of Victory Camp on July 23.

The balance of fun activities and foundations in catechesis over the course of one week at Our Lady of Victory Camp is an unlikely mix. But the campers, teenage counsellors and staff, who come to the camp, located almost two hours southwest of Edmonton on Gull Lake, would have it no other way.

"God, food and sports. That's basically all this camp is - and there's also singing," said 10-year-old Connor Dunham-Fox. In a voice hoarse from yelling at the campfire, Dunham-Fox described his first year at camp as "a blast," and said he thinks the experience brought him closer to God.

Counsellor Kayla Haxby, 18, has seen the enthusiasm in many of the young campers to grow in their faith.

"Even at (age) 10, I can see it in a lot of them during Mass," she said. "They're very attentive. When they do Reconciliation, they are very eager to go and to try. Even if they haven't had their First Communion or their first Reconciliation, they always go up for the blessing."

Camp isn't for everybody, said Haxby, who started as a camper at age nine.

"But it's definitely something to try," she said. "It's a great way to make new friends and to have a new experience."

Recreational activities include soccer, basketball, archery and swimming in Gull Lake. Indoor activities, especially for rainy days, include arts and crafts, drama, games and the option of quiet time in the chapel.

First-time campers Victoria Possberg and Kailey Schoenberger, both 10, became fast friends during a sing-along on the first day of their week at camp.

"It's an awesome camp," said Possberg. "The food is awesome and all the activities are super fun.

"The counsellors are awesome - and the team members," added Schoenberger.

Fifty-two children attended the week of July 20, which was for 10-year-old campers. As well, there were 22 counsellors and 11 adult team leaders. A week for eight and nine-year-old campers preceded the 10-year-olds' week and Youcamp, the camp for those ages nine to 14, followed.

Lisa MacQuarrie

Lisa MacQuarrie

The camp can accommodate slightly more than 100 kids, said Lisa MacQuarrie, co-ordinator for youth evangelization and director of both Our Lady of Victory and Camp Encounter on Lac La Nonne, northwest of Edmonton. The camps are owned and operated by the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

Camp is about fun, faith and friends for everyone involved, MacQuarrie said.

"It's fun for the campers to come out and meet people from all over Alberta and beyond who are their own age, who believe what they do," she said.

LEADERSHIP SKILLS

"Then, as they come as counsellors, they learn about leadership and develop it. The community part is very important for that middle group, because that's the point when they're really deciding to make the faith their parents taught them their own."

This year, 115 counsellors, in the 14 to 17 age group, came for OLVC's counsellors' week.

 Teen counsellors Kayla Haxby and Katy Offenberger both attended Our Lady of Victory Camp as campers before becoming counsellors.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Teen counsellors Kayla Haxby and Katy Offenberger both attended Our Lady of Victory Camp as campers before becoming counsellors.

Counsellor Katy Offenberger, 16, of St. Albert, said the counsellors and staff she met as a 13-year-old camper inspired her to develop her own personal relationship with Christ.

"When I came to camp and saw so many people who were on fire for Christ and wanted to share that with other people, it really helped me understand and see what I could become," she said.

"There are some really good role models here and they just taught us how to really grow in our faith."

GROUNDED IN FAITH

Camp is where she gets grounded, Offenberger said. While her friends at school are great, they are not into their faith as much as the friends she has made at camp.

This year, when her grandfather and uncle died within months of each other, Offenberger's friends from camp prayed for her and rallied around her.

"As soon as I came to camp, they were asking me how my family was doing and how my father was doing. They were super, super supportive to me through that and these are the people who I can see being long-term friends with," she said.

Offenberger said camp changed her life and she returns as a counsellor because she wants other kids to have that opportunity.

"It has made my life so much more amazing, so I want other kids to experience that too."