EDMONTON (CCN) — Brandi Linkewich says spending a good chunk of her summers at Camp Encounter over the years changed her life. She appreciates the camp’s “loving environment” and the fact she can feel God’s love in there.
“You feel totally accepted here,” the 17-year-old Edmonton youth said. “Coming here is probably one of my favourite things to do in the summer.”
Three years ago she became a camp counsellor to help younger campers make the best out of a weeklong vacation.
Owned by the Archdiocese of Edmonton and set on the eastern shores of Lac la Nonne, Camp Encounter is a camp for all seasons.
The camp’s 70-acre mainland property offers accommodation, dining and programming facilities, historical trail systems and multiple adventurous activity areas.
It also boasts a 30-acre island which houses an extensive trail system and 10 teepee sites for overnight use.
Since 1980, Camp Encounter has offered outdoor, environmental and adventure experiences in a Catholic-Christian setting for children, youth and adults alike.
Linkewich was one of about 45 young people aged 14-17 who received training at the camp July 7-10. When she is 18 she will no longer be able to serve as a counsellor but she says she will become an adult volunteer.
“Camp helps you to discern God in so many different ways: in every kid, in every tree, in everything,” she said.
This is the second summer Cain Collins, a 17-year-old from Vermillion, has served as counsellor, a job he was inspired to take on by watching his own counsellors as a young camper.
He began camping at age 11, but the first time he didn’t like it a lot, perhaps “because I wasn’t very confident in myself.” He took a two-year break and returned.
“I found the experience totally awesome,” he recalled. “This place allows me to be myself.” He also said the camp solidified his faith.
Also taking part in the training sessions was Haley Kieftenbeld, also 17, who plans to become a member of the camp staff one day, like her cousin and her brother.
“This is the best place in the world,” she said of the camp. “I counsel because I like to see the kids grow into the best individuals they can be.”
Lisa Allen, the program director, said the camp’s mission statement is to encounter Christ through creation and community “and so we try to live by that mission statement in everything we do here at camp.
“The hope is that at the end of the week (each group of campers) have built on their relationship with Christ and we do that through being out in nature but also building and fostering a sense of Christian community.”
Allen, 28, started coming to the camp as a camper in 1996. She has been involved in some capacity ever since. She was even a member of the board of directors for a few years and became program director three years ago.
Camp Encounter has shaped who she is today. “Just the sense of community kept me coming back, and it shaped my faith as well,” she pointed out. “The friends I met when I was a counsellor are still some of my best friends today.”
Lisa MacQuarrie, co-ordinator of youth evangelization for the Edmonton archdiocese and director of Camp Encounter and Our Lady of Victory Camp on Gull Lake, said Camp Encounter actually starts in the spring, May and June, when high and middle schools bring students out for two-to-three-day retreats.
Most, but not all, of those taking part in the counsellors’ training week have been campers before, she said. At least five came for first time.
During training they have an opportunity to get to know each other and to go through all the activities that will occur when they start counselling.
“(Staff) also works with them on the required training that they need to have, such as safety procedures, what the expectations are, what their role is, how to provide for the needs of the campers,” MacQuarrie explained. “And we do safe environment training with them as well.”
In practical terms, counsellors are small group leaders. They guide their small group of campers throughout the activities each day and they stay in the cabin with the campers.
Campers of different ages were to start coming to Camp Encounter July 12. They come on a Sunday and leave on a Friday.
The first batch was made up of young people aged 10-13, followed by four more weeks of camping, each with its own age limits.
Up to 60 campers can be accommodated each week. Two counsellors are assigned for every eight campers.
Most counsellors are present for two weeks. The 11 adult members of the staff, however, stay for the whole summer. They are also assigned to the small groups of campers “to oversee the work of the junior counsellors.”
“The counsellors will move around with the groups and participate in the activities but is these adult leaders who will organize and run the activities,” explained MacQuarrie.
Allen, the program director, said the camp program fits a variety of interests and abilities. It includes rock climbing, archery, canoeing, arts and crafts, games, a drama program, swimming, and a spiritual program with Bible stories and where campers explore their faith.
On Wednesday night, campers go to the island across from the camp and each group cooks supper on a fire and sleeps in a teepee.
Campers, counsellors and staff also take part in morning worship and night reflections. On Fridays, there is a concluding mass.
Kids are more relaxed and happy when they get home after a week at Camp Encounter, Allen said. “I think they are looking forward to coming back because they form such strong friendships here.”