In June 1983, I spent my first week at Camp St. Andrew as a basketball camper and quickly fell in love with the experience. Besides teaching me a hook shot, camp gave this shy kid friends, confidence and a sense of belonging. That one week turned into 29 years of active involvement as a camper, counselor, basketball director, volunteer, resident camp director and camp director. I came to feel more at home there than anywhere on earth. I only missed four summers in all that time, retiring in 2014 as the program director. I bring a long term perspective to the table. I am one of the many faces of CSA, part of the mission of serving children so they might also benefit from camp magic.
The magic of camp is the presence of God through the ministry that is Camp St. Andrew and Project Hope. This ministry has been done by the people for the people, regardless of denomination. There is a sense of community with Camp St. Andrew & Project Hope that goes far beyond the gates. Camp, known as the “beautiful city,” has hosted legions of campers whose stay was temporary but whose lives were often permanently changed. We wax nostalgic about the seemingly simple activities; laughing, dancing at flagpole, working as a team, swimming, kayaking, learning archery, singing campfire songs, gazing at stars, yelling AMEN, performing skits and surviving ghost stories. Encompassing the nostalgia is the knowledge that camp has transformed lives. Camp gives children the chance to just be, to conquer challenges, to live in a group and to solve conflict.
I was confused by the press release, which made camp seem like a ghost town. Not true. Taking the average of numbers quoted by the Diocesan press release, there were 187 overnight campers per week during the early 70s. This summer, camp averaged 148 overnight campers per week. This is not a huge difference considering demographic changes in the Catholic church. Yes, the number of weeks offered is less than the 70s, but camp is ready to expand. The girls’ resident camp has filled many weeks in the past few years, often turning away campers. You had to register by March or April to get a bunk. Is that lack of interest? Also, well-respected basketball camps are still running even in the face of much greater competition that didn’t exist 40 years ago.
This summer, Project Hope averaged 245 campers for each of four weeks. The number of community children enrolled in Project Hope has declined, NOT from a lack of interest by potential campers, but from loss in funding from the City of Scranton and Lackawanna County. Having worked closely with Project Hope, I have seen enrollment and funding go through cycles which is to be expected when running a program that serves the undeserved and depends on outside funding to make day camp free or almost free while providing nourishing meals and two snacks each day and a healthy dose of play in the great outdoors.
While part of a meeting one summer, I heard the previous bishop say as long as camp was self-sufficient, it would stay open. Financially, camp has been self-sustaining, thanks to Monsignor’s ability to manage a budget. Monsignor maintained and improved facilities with an eye to the future. Would he have invested in the infrastructure if camp wasn’t solvent or if he didn’t believe in camp’s future? In one of the last sermons I heard him give, he asked campers how many had grandparents who attended. Hands went up. He went on to say he wanted camp to be open for the campers’ grandchildren.
It is no coincidence this announcement coincides with Monsignor’s retirement. Why wasn’t a transition plan put in place in advance of Monsignor’s retirement? I understand there is a shortage of priests but there has to be options. Hire someone with the experience and talent to expand programming and enrollment. Form a board of directors. Do something. What has been accomplished has been done with part-time seasonal staff, with little advertising besides word of mouth, some brochures and blurbs in bulletins. A small investment in time and resources could enable the work of CSA to continue to grow.
Camp property at Oxbow Lake is of great value commercially. As a place of ministry and outreach, it is a priceless resource for this region, which, once gone, will not be replaced. No comparable alternative is available. In 1941, the Casey family sold the property to the Diocese for $1 with the intention of opening a camp for children. Will the vision of the Casey family and the work of thousands of others go for naught? Those of us who have camp experience are grieving, not only for our loss but for the loss to future generations.
Bishop, you have the ability to keep the original vision alive. The interest and potential for expansion is there. There is time to reverse the decision and allow camp to open. If the Diocese is still no longer interested in running a children’s camp, even with all its inherent challenges, there is an alternative. Perhaps to honor the original intent, it would be charitable to pass the land onto a non-profit group that would be able to preserve the spirit of the land. This would truly be a gift from the church to its people.
I am grieving over the thought that the bustle of camp life might no longer be, but I am also hopeful the right decision will be made. Pope Francis said, “A population that does not take care of the elderly and of children and the young has no future, because it abuses both its memory and its promise.”
The co-founders of Project Hope were Sister Adrian Barrett and Monsignor Kelly. Sister Adrian passed away this week, days after the Bishop’s announcement, and we will lose Monsignor to retirement shortly. Both of these legends dedicated their careers to serving others instead of capitalism, living out Pope Francis’s words long before he spoke them. Are we to let a piece of their legacy die? They deserve better and so do the children. May God inspire people to be moved in the right way to bring back camp!
Bernadette (Bernie) Kozlowski
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