By Jen DeCoster
Special to the Catholic Key
Camp Savio celebrated its five-year anniversary this summer. Camp Savio for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph started back in the summer of 2011. A tornado struck the campgrounds where Youth Ministers Diane Pickert and Tim Volk took their middle school students every summer leaving them searching for a new site. The staff at Maur Hill Mount Academy encouraged them to hold their camp on their grounds in Atchison, Kansas. The first camp was called Edge Camp and the first year was full of trials but many blessings emerged.
In the years following that first week, the camp directors made improvements and stepped up activities for the campers and were able to add additional staff. “So much has changed about Camp Savio since it first began. We have grown exponentially in numbers- with 82 campers and chaperones and 7 staff members that first year. This year we had 214 campers and chaperones and 45 staff members. We have also grown exponentially around campus. We now have so many things around campus we didn’t have that first year – a low ropes course, a 100 foot slip N slide, bubble soccer, giant games, and things most people wouldn’t notice like a sound system and professional lighting,” says Katie Troup, Diocesan Youth Office Assistant and Camp Director.
Sara Doolittle from St. Peter Church in Stanberry, Missouri has attended Camp Savio with her family since the beginning when she was in second grade. As a first year middle school camper, she says, “It is really fun, I’ve been looking forward to it for a lot of years by getting to watch the older kids experience camp. My favorite part of camp is the group Adoration night and bubble soccer.”
This year’s theme was “Inspire[d]” and Divine Mercy. Penni Warner, Youth Minister at Holy Rosary in Clinton, Missouri said, “Camp Savio taught us about God’s mercy and forgiveness, through the big sessions, small groups, Mass, Adoration, and fun it inspired us to want to go evangelize and share that message of mercy to others.”
Camp nurse and St. Therese parishioner, Kim Kennaley, applied what she learned each night to her work every day. “In my role as a nurse, I’m showing them mercy and compassion when they get hurt. I am being a role model by showing them they can help others show mercy,” she said. “The theme ‘Inspire[d]’ is about showing them they can reach out to others, to show them compassion and mercy and to inspire them to be disciples of Christ.”
Campers and staff members call Camp Savio their second home. Olivia Messina, a fourth year staff member from St. Gabriel Parish said, “Camp Savio means family to me because being here builds friendships that last a lifetime.”
Angelica O’Brien from the Archdioceses of Detroit and a first year staff member said, “I think that there is something special about this camp, there is so much love and everyone genuinely wants to help and there is a spirit of genuine Catholicism expressed and lived out. It is definitely a community.”
This is Samantha Whitt’s second year of camp. She is from Holy Trinity in Weston, Missouri. “I came back because it’s fun and it’s a fun way to learn about God. We learn about God through the activities that we do,” she said.
Isaiah Roberts, from St. Gabriel Catholic Church said, “My favorite part is the relationship you get to build with God through fun activities.”
For other middle school campers, their favorite activities ranged from Schlitterbahn to bubble soccer to Hungry Hungry Hippos to the group Adoration night on Friday.
In 2014, the Camp Directors learned that camp was not just for the campers. Last year there were many conversions among the staff and chaperones, some coming back to their faith after 20 years.
Don Bowlin from St. Patrick Church was a first time chaperone this year. “What a gift I get to engage with my kids and their friends that they interact with every day. It’s nice. I also got to see how they saw me,” Bowlin said. “There is a tighter bond between the campers and the parents.” Bowlin also added, “I’ve grown in my faith, and I am going to go back and help with youth group. I am going to be an active member and I didn’t expect that.”
There are also opportunities for teens no longer in middle school to get involved. Savio Servants are the High School students who run all the behind the scenes work, such as set up and take down of each activity, running technology, making meals, doing dishes, taking videos and pictures and running the camp store. Victoria Johnson, from St. Therese was a Savio Servant this year and a camper for two years prior. “I like it better being on staff because we get to run the camp and have fun and see what goes into making camp possible,” she said. “Three weeks seems like a long time, but it’s not. It is a lot of fun, you get closer in your faith and find friends who have the same goals in their faith. I am definitely coming back next year!”
The Savio Shepherds are the college students who work directly with the campers and chaperones by leading the daily activities, small groups and providing relational ministry to the campers. As a Savio Shepherd, Messina said, “being on staff is something that has helped me in my faith life to learn new things to teach the campers and by helping them deepen their faith and build leadership skills.”
Another difference this year was that Camp Savio was blessed to have a priest on campus for the entire week. Father Ryan Koster was one of the priests for the week. “My favorite part of the week (apart from bowling over people in bubble soccer) was the final night of Adoration,” he said. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I came back into the auditorium after hearing confessions for an hour; a profound and sacred silence that was at the same time deafening with the prayers of those kids. If it was up to me, I would have turned around and given them the rest of the night there but the culminating Benediction was also a very powerful moment.”
Father Koster saw the change in the campers as their experiences in camp built a stronger foundation in their faith. “This experience bleeds into their everyday lives and shapes them as better Catholics, as better stewards of their faith,” he said. “They can then carry on in High School with other retreats, including helping out with Camp Savio as Savio Servants.”
Savio is a Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph camp, though it is currently held in Atchison, Kansas. The future plan is to move it to the Missouri side. “Camp Savio is an important program for our Diocese because of the change it allows for the youth in their lives or the strengthening of the faith that their families have instilled in them. This program strengthens the family, parish and their faith,” says Michael Nations, Director of the Office of Youth Ministry and Camp Director.