Children & Youth, CYO Camp

Redwoods, Soul Food, and Stargazing – Summer Camp, On-Demand

by Catholic Charities – August 5, 2021

Deep in the California Redwoods, where Catholic Charities CYO Camp is nestled, a group of seven youngsters who share a cabin – a “household” (to reduce the potential of COVID transmission) – chatter softly around a campfire. From the outside, it looks like any other campfire gathering. But inside this circle, a deep community warmth radiates among the campers. After an incredibly difficult year that left not one pocket of the world unaffected by COVID-19, here there is an undeniable shift in perspective on what it means to share the same air under the stars at night.

Rick Garcia, Director of Catholic Charities CYO Camp, says, “while it’s great the kids are able to do traditional camp activities again, what’s been the most special to witness are the profound connections they have made, more so than I’ve ever experienced in my 22 years as camp director.”  CYO Camp enforces ample protocols to ensure as safe an experience as possible for all. Staff and campers get tested upon arrival and then again on their fourth day. All staff have been fully vaccinated since April 2021.

This summer, CYO Camp has led with an emphasis on community building after a year of isolation. “Where the rubber meets the road at our summer camp are what we call ‘soul food’ activities,” Garcia explains. “These facilitated activities get kids out of their comfort zones, motivating them to share more about themselves and get to know each other better.” Through these nourishing activities, Garcia notices bonds strengthening each week between cabin buddies, between campers and counselors, and among peer groups. “The feeling of emotional connectedness happening within the community is almost indescribable,” he says.

Cloaked by gentle morning dew on her sleeping bag, 11-year-old camper Rosita opens her eyes. The sense of community and security she feels from a night of sleeping in the open air next to her “household” makes her content this morning. “This is my very first time at summer camp so I was a little nervous about sleeping outside,” Rosita says. “But with everyone around me I felt really safe. It was a ton of fun.”

The children’s eagerness for fun and normalcy after a year of isolation reflects in the community’s value of Catholic Charities CYO Camp. The Camp, along with all other CYO programs, sold out within 48 hours of when the reopening announcement was made. During the pandemic, I believe children suffered the most loss,” Garcia remarks. To experience the anxiety of a world braving the storm of a pandemic can be particularly destabilizing for children and youth. The opportunity for social, physical, and mental stimulation, also helps kids to decompress after the communal stress of the previous year. It is a time of reconnecting with the earth, each other, and themselves while feeling safe and grounded. Here, they learn what it means to be part of a community. These are the transformations that make this year’s Catholic Charities CYO Camp a distinct and special experience.

Catholic Charities CYO Camp is hiring! Check out the positions offered and apply here.