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Campers at Camp Encounter set out for an overnight stay on an island in Lac La Nonne.

WCR PHOTO | LASHA MORNINGSTAR

Campers at Camp Encounter set out for an overnight stay on an island in Lac La Nonne.

August 15, 2016
LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Excited campers tore along Camp Encounter trails until they reached their counsellors.

"We saw a donkey," they exclaimed.

That puzzled the counsellors because they knew here in the bush on the island in Lac la Nonne, there are no donkeys.

The smiling counsellors asked several questions until their young charges realized that what they saw was the island's resident moose, not a donkey.

Wildlife abounds on the island and surrounding shoreline - the cow moose and her calf, a beaver family complete with kits in their lodge, squirrels, bunnies, geese.

While they may call this bush their home, the wildlife are shy of humans and keep their distance.

The animals' presence is part of Camp Encounter's faith experience - encountering God in creation - skillfully woven into the week-long outdoor program.

Lisa MacQuarrie, co-ordinator for youth evangelization for the Edmonton Archdiocese, says, "Children need this opportunity get away from society's distractions and electronics and allow them to be kids and relate with each other face to face."

REINFORCING FAITH

The archdiocese subsidizes the camp, MacQuarrie said, to give children a safe and enjoyable environment that allows them to build community, independence and reinforce their faith in God.

Today is Wednesday during the third week of the season at Camp Encounter - camp out night, a night when the youngsters and their 20 counsellors sleep in teepees on the island. The 61 campers are aged eight to 13.

Their gear and sleeping bags packed, all are taken to the island by canoe. Next on the agenda for each group is to gather firewood for their campfires.

The menu for the night is chili. Each campsite is responsible for cooking one ingredient - ground meat, vegetables or rice. When it is time to eat, all come together, and the campers' plates are filled according to their appetites. Preparing the meal teaches co-operation, responsibility, community and expressing gratitude to God for the food.

The youngsters are divided into groups at the beginning of the week and given nifty names - eagles, elk, squirrels, dragonflies, buffalo, bears, cougars and turtles.

JOYFUL MOOD

The atmosphere is packed with energy; the mood is joyful and co-operative. A camper then says he wants the island to be named after Father Michael Mireau; staff say they are waiting for his family's approval.

Learning to build a campfire is one skill that teenage counsellors learn at Camp Encounter.

WCR PHOTO | LASHA MORNINGSTAR

Learning to build a campfire is one skill that teenage counsellors learn at Camp Encounter.

(Father Michael [Catfish] Mireau was chaplain of Edmonton Catholic Schools and a long-time supporter of Camp Encounter. He won the hearts of young people. Mireau died Sept. 22, 2014.)

The overnight venture is just one part of the week-long, jam-packed schedule.

The adventure program develops skills in activities such as boating, swimming, wall climbing, crafts, archery. Craft shacks are at the ready, with supplies to make gifts for special friends.

Faith is nurtured through prayers, Bible stories and weekly Mass.

Quiet time is slotted in during the afternoon which allows each camper to sit apart from others and be reflective.

BE PRESENT TO NATURE

This is ideal for a sit-spot activity. Each camper picks a spot and then sits by him or herself and watches what is happening in nature. Maybe a moth lands on their arm. Perhaps an ant scurries over tree leaves. The camper then takes their observations back and shares them with fellow campers.

"It allows the camper to be reflective, observe creation," said MacQuarrie. "It lets them slow down, relax, be present, . . . see what God has given us."

All the youngsters appeared focused on the event, co-operative with each other, and full of anticipation at sleeping over on the island.

YOUNG VOICES

Two young people shared thoughts about their camping experience.

Davis Bendoritis, 9, said camping "is super fun." His favourite time? "Sitting around the campfire."

What if someone is homesick?

"No worries," said this confident camper. "The counsellors become helpers and talk you through it."

It is the first time at the camp for Gigi Testa, 9. She delighted in climbing the wall. "Even if I didn't make it to the top, I can always try it again."

One activity challenged her. It was walking blindfolded. But she discovered, "It is easier with a friend. I feel good when there are tons of people in the room."

Campers are not the only ones who relish this encounter with the outdoors. Andre Ulliac, 16, has been coming to camp for eight years. This year he is a counsellor.

"The people are awesome," he said. "You gain a lot of life experience; you learn first aid. That gives you confidence, and you can take that outside of the camp."

Ulliac said Camp Encounter has helped him become "more outgoing, willing to be with other people."