I’ve heard it said time and time again, “Kids these days!” The blanket exclamations are usually made by ill-informed, grouchy people who like to think things were so much better “back in the day.” They are quick to call teenagers lazy and entitled. I strongly beg to differ.
The majority of kids I know these days are fabulous. I see them volunteer in large numbers to serve the community, whether it be at the Waverly Community House Santa Breakfast, the St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen or the Friends of the Poor Thanksgiving Dinner. They shovel snow and rake leaves for their elderly neighbors. They bake cookies to welcome a new family to the neighborhood.
I see them working for their money instead of standing with a hand out. As soon as the law will allow, they are babysitting for neighbors, caddying on golf courses, sorting books at the library, scooping ice cream at Manning’s and tending to the customers at Roba’s Tree Farm. Recently, a group of “these kids” stood up to the district attorney and their school administration to defend a teacher wrongly accused of a crime. Despite peer pressure, fear of reprisal and of public speaking, they did what they felt was right.
And now this.
The Diocese of Scranton closed Camp St. Andrew (CSA) a few months ago, much to the dismay of campers, families and staff who have filled the camp with joy and laughter for 75 years. Our amazing young people will not let it go without a fight. Hundreds showed up at mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral last Sunday to show the bishop how much they support and give thanks for CSA.
The land on which CSA was built was sold to the Diocese by the Casey family in 1941 for $1 with the intention a camp for children be opened there. Throughout each summer, CSA has been home to a girls’ sleep away camp, boys’ sleep away camp, parent/child retreat camps and Project Hope.
Project Hope, a day camp that runs all summer long, was begun by Sr. Adrian Barrett and Msgr. Joseph Kelly to serve underprivileged children who might otherwise not have the chance to get out of the city and have a carefree summer experience. Space is limited and children are turned away from both Project Hope and Girls’ Resident Camp each year. The Diocese has said the closing was due to a lack of interest and declining enrollment. From personal experience with my own children and the foster children I serve as a social worker, I know CSA is in need of expansion, not closing.
Through good, old-fashioned fun and by building confidence and self-esteem, CSA has become a foundation on which lives are built. Campers are sharing stories — online, in letters to the Diocese and with each other — about how meaningful their experiences have been. One camper talked about how she learned leadership, courage, compassion, confidence and, most importantly, friendship, there. Her CSA experiences prepared her to go away to college and then be brave enough to move overseas for work. CSA alumni talk about reflecting on camp at some point nearly every day of their lives. Despite much time and great distances, CSA remains the favorite place on earth for many alumni.
Former campers and staff are deeply nostalgic about basic camp activities, such as dancing at the flagpole, swimming, kayaking, learning archery, singing campfire songs, gazing at stars, performing skits, surviving ghost stories and learning to work as a team. A CSA experience can be life-changing, giving children the opportunity to overcome fears, meet challenges head on, live together and solve problems.
Why is CSA so special? In this modern world where children grow up surrounded by technology, CSA is rustic and simple. There is very poor cellular coverage on the shores of Oxbow Lake, so that distraction is removed. CSA is not a place for the rich and famous to send their kids. There is no golf or tennis, no air conditioning or glass-paned windows. The cabins are lined with bunk beds and only screens separate them from the outdoors. Kids are lulled to sleep by the sound of crickets and come to love the wonder of a passing thunderstorm. The children do the same summer activities we did generations before and there is ample downtime during which they are free to do as they please — tell stories, read, sing, play cards and makeup games.
Another reason CSA is rare and special is its affordability. Being the camp is rustic and completely lacking in anything fancy, lower and middle income families can afford to send their children. Since news of its closing, my children and I have looked into trying to find another camp, but a $1,000-per-week luxury camp is way out of our budget. And the children of Project Hope have nowhere else to go. A crowded foster home, a front stoop or a back alley is where they will spend their summer.
“These kids” are willing to spend their time making their voices heard. They are planning fundraisers. They are offering to pitch in to help pay if camp fees have to be raised. They are writing letters, creating web pages and banding together to try to save camp for themselves and for future generations. I’ll take “these kids” any day.