Girls’ Summer Camp in Georgia and Florida, June 23-31 and August 1-7, 2016.
This summer I was able to attend both the summer camp in Georgia and the camp in Ocala, Florida. This was my second Georgia camp, and I was really looking forward to it. Most of the 23 girls were from Florida, and so exploring anything over ten feet tall is always an awesome experience. I happen to particularly like hiking and mountains, and just the sweet Georgia air (you can smell the difference as soon as you start driving closer to the camp!).
We carpooled up to the camp and arrived at the beautiful site, which is more like a mini motel than a campground, but we justified the comfortable lodgings with some pretty tough hikes. It’s a beautiful place, and especially in the early morning when the fog clouds settle on the top of the hill, we couldn’t help but thank God for giving us the gift of beauty in nature. Actually, we were doing that all week. Our very first hike was Blood Mountain, which most people say is pretty tough. It’s one of my favorite hikes, though, for the challenge and the beautiful scenery and view. We even had an interesting encounter with a rattlesnake on the Appalachian Trail stretch. Towards the evening it began to rain which made all the colors even more vivid and rich. It was really breathtaking!
The next day’s hike was Tallulah Falls, another favorite. It’s a 1000 foot deep gorge with an awesome sliding rock called “Bridal Veil Falls”. I love this one because it’s also a great opportunity for everyone to help each other get across boulders which are separated by the strong river current, or up the steep rock face at the end of the trail. It was pretty impressive to see the sisters, with their habits and the heat, only encourage the girls and never once complain about their own discomfort.
Every day for the whole week we went somewhere different, from waterfalls to high lookout points to a recreation center. Each place we found happiness in whatever we were doing: playing, hiking, praying, singing, eating, swimming. It was a week of single focused attention, a welcome escape for all of us from our normal busy schedules. It was so peaceful in the mountains, and being able to focus exclusively and put our whole being into the different activities we did was really refreshing.
Every day we went to Mass, spent time in adoration, and listened to talks. The chapel was on the very top of a hill, so whenever you started the walk up it was like walking away from everything else to focus on higher things (literally). Adoration especially was really beneficial for me, as well as the homilies during Mass and the talks the sisters gave afterwards during prayer. Every day new ideas and challenges were thrown at us and then we would go hiking and mull it all over in our minds.
It was also a week of absolutely no escape from the truth of things. In the chapel during prayer and in the clarity of nature, we all found a lot of time for meditation. Change and the need to start making some real decisions were big themes throughout the week. There were a lot of spiritual slaps in the face and punches in the gut, but it was all for the good. We talked in both camps a lot about the candidates and Sr. Clare who died in the earthquake in Ecuador. Every day we learned about a different girl and talked about her example, virtue, strength, and legacy. It was pretty impressive.
Our theme in the Georgia camp was “I prefer Paradise”, which was the life motto of Valeria (one of the girls), and the theme for the Florida camp was “I’m in a hurry to be a Saint”, which is a quote of St. Dominic Savio, who died at fifteen. The Florida camp didn’t have the mountains, but we still managed to be totally exhausted by the end of the week. There were about 50 girls between the ages of 7 and 14, and these kids had no end to their energy. This time I was a counselor and lifeguard instead of a camper, and my group consisted of five thirteen year olds. This provided a wonderful opportunity to try to lead the girls as best I could. It’s no easy task either, because I had to catch myself when I was about to make a complaint about the heat, my tiredness, the roaches in the tent, or anything that’s not totally ideal. The object is to get the girls in the camp to overcome these things, so I really had to try and set the tone. It wasn’t easy, but it was a fun challenge.
The games, adoration, swimming in lakes, daily Mass, canoeing, kayaking and everything else were all awesome. It was really great to watch many of the girls really listen during talks and really pray during adoration. A few girls even came up to me and asked for help and advice. It’s really amazing what an eleven, twelve, thirteen year old girl can say, and teach you. That’s why I love being a counselor, because it’s part trying to be an example so that the girls learn from you, and part learning a ton from the girls. It’s beautiful that so many kids, from many different family backgrounds, can come together in these camps to make friends and grow spiritually. No matter their situation at home, they can find happiness and the love in Christ, guidance from the sisters and priests, and joy from camaraderie with their friends.
Between fun and games and the silence of prayer, we all felt the need to wake up and start doing things the way we should. Both camps were an awesome experience, and now all that remains is the task of trying to live all I’ve learned!
-By Clare Hernandez