ATCHISON, Kan. — Camp Savio may no longer be just for middle-schoolers any more.
The camp, held on the grounds of Maur Hill-Mount Academy, has certainly gotten popular among young Catholic teens.
In its fourth year, a record 136 teens attended one of two weeklong sessions, more than double the 60 who attended the one-week first camp.
But they are also attended to by an army of adult staff, volunteers and chaperones, practically on a one-to-one basis.
And a strange thing happened this year under the theme “Be Transformed.”
It wasn’t just the middle-schoolers who got the message. Many of those adults did too, some of them even going to Confession for the first time in years.
Mary Grisolano, a parent volunteer from St. John LaLande Parish in Blue Springs, said she had already gone through her adolescent-young adult “atheist” phase years ago, and had long since returned to the practice of her faith.
But at Camp Savio the week of June 15-21 with her daughter, Abigail, Grisolano found hope that yes, she could raise both her daughters in faith because there is a lot of help out there.
“As parents we have serious challenges,” Grisolano said. “We need to rise to it. Don’t be complacent. Act to save your children.”
She was particularly impressed with the straight-forward, down-to-earth and non-condescending talks offered all week long by Kevin Bailey, youth minister at St. Michael Parish in Leawood, Kan., and the songs written and performed by “MC” — up and coming Christian music star Mary Clare Stroh.
“Those two have really reached the kids,” Grisolano said. “And they’ve given me hope.”
Grisolano said she came to the camp “disillusioned” by the secular world that is steeped in sexual gratification. Now, she said, she’s got both the hope and the strength to counter that.
“It is so important to help kids negotiate the secular world,” she said.
Fifteen-year-old Alan Freese, from St. Gabriel Parish in Kansas City, knows all about that. He aged out this year after going three straight years to Camp Savio. But he came back as a volunteer.
He admits that the only reason he went back then was because St. Gabriel’s youth minister, Diane Pickert, who also dreamed up Camp Savio, had encouraged his friends to go.
But once he got there, he had to come back, Freese said.
“They hit the faith really hard,” Freese said. “They put it in ways that give it a whole new life.”
Freese said his three years as a camper were so meaningful to him that he came back as a volunteer to give the same opportunity to other young people.
“I wanted to come back. I saw that it helped me so much, and I know kids out there who need help. This is my opportunity to pay it back,” he said.
Pickert, who holds the annual distinction of being the oldest kid at the camp, did admit at the end of the second week that she was “exhausted.”
But at the same time, she can’t wait to do it again next June.
“It’s been a good two weeks,” she said. “What we find out is that it is not just work.”
Ditto, said Katie Troup, youth minister at XII Apostles Parish in Platte City and Holy Trinity Parish in Weston in addition to assistant at the diocesan Youth Office whose job it was to nail down all the Camp Savio details.
“I’ve got scrapes and cuts. I’m sunburned,” Troup said. “So what? It’s been great.”
Both Bailey and Stroh gave credit to the campers for making their experience come alive.
“They are awesome,” Bailey said. “You can’t ordinarily talk for 40 minutes to adults. These kids are lapping it up. I love middle-schoolers. They are my favorite.”
“They are just super fun,” Stroh said. “One of the most inspiring things for me is to hear them sing with me at the top of their lungs. That is why I do this.”