Camp Christopher hosts camp program for refugee youth

by Wendy Turrell

Catholic Charities’ Camp Christopher has worked with the eight counties of the Cleveland Diocese for several years to enable refugee youth to experience a residential American camp experience. This year Tess Flannery, director of Catholic Charities of Summit County, said a grant from the American Camp Association, individual donations and support from the Friends of Camp Christopher have allowed the “Redefining Camp” program to expand to serve this group.

Redefining Camp gives refugees ages 7-17 the opportunity to attend an overnight camp for a week. They enjoy all the things that American kids traditionally get to experience including swimming, canoeing and kayaking, horseback riding, archery, low and high rope courses, fishing, miniature golf, hiking, and arts and crafts.

“Most importantly, campers will experience a sense of belonging in a community to which we hope they will return for many years,” Flannery said.

Redefining Camp children attend Camp Christopher with American children who are more familiar with a traditional camp experience. Camp Director Olivia Mackey said Camp Christopher hosts 200-220 children each week during the summer in the overnight program. Last year, she said seven refugee youth were able to enjoy the weeklong camping experience. With the additional funds, eleven youth were served this summer. This year’s attendees came from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.

Flannery explained Camp Christopher works with the Mary’s House: Refugee Single Mothers Program, a mission of the Sisters of Humility of Mary order, to connect with kids who would benefit from a camp experience. Mary’s House is a branch of Migration and Refugee Services and partners with other Catholic Charities programs to provide holistic services to mothers and their children, helping to enrich the lives of refugees and aide them in establishing roots in their new homes. In 2022, the MRS office served over 2,400 individuals, including 31 mothers and 87 children.

Flannery said, “The collaboration between the Migration and Refugee Services office of Catholic Charities and Camp Christopher marries two areas of service delivery that enhance the lives of the families who are receiving services.”

She added, “One of the most common requests that the mothers make are to have experiences for their children to have fun and practice their English, making Camp Christopher a great fit for the family.”

To ensure parents from other countries become familiar with American camping traditions, Mary’s House case worker Mollie Clark shares informational videos, answers questions and connects the mothers with other moms whose children have gone to Camp Christopher.

Flannery said, “Catholic Charities’ hope is that the youth who attend will be able to begin to associate the concept of camp with positive experiences. … Youth will receive opportunities to be introduced to new activities and develop skills that may eventually become lifetime leisure activities.”

Another goal is for kids to become more comfortable with the outdoors and grow in their use of the rich natural resources available in the area.

Ultimately, Flannery said, “Through the close interactions with other youth, language and communication skills may be enhanced, new friendships may develop, and their faith may be affirmed.” ∞

Shani paints counselor Andrew Laplante for the Mario Kart race. Photo courtesy of Mollie Clark.

Photo (main – above): Amuri and Omar light the campfire with Program Coordinator Colleen Flannery at the camp closing ceremony. Photo courtesy of Mollie Clark.