‘Around the World’ at Saint Gerard’s Kids CampBy Guest
By Isobel Heck
While the theme of the 23rd annual St. Gerard’s Kids’ Camp is “Around the World,” to a table of excited 4, 5 and 6-year-old “duckers,” Kids’ Camp is a whole new planet. The 725 campers, 64 head counselors, over 330 counselors, and 75 junior counselors certainly do turn the Galvin Middle School grounds into an impressive area.
The camp only lasts a week (July 9-13), but months of planning and effort go into making the week of activities, projects and fun possible. Kids’ Camp committee president Mairead Bagley, a recent Canton High School graduate, explained that preparation for the camp begins as early as October.
“By the time May, June and July hit,” said Bagley, “people are at the church from 10 to 10 making chants, painting, setting things up — that’s what Kids’ Camp is. People are so passionate.”
CHS senior Lauren Oldenburg, a committee head who worked with Bagley, commented, “Being a Kids’ Camp committee head is stressful and hard, but being here at camp, I don’t regret anything. Seeing it all come together makes it pay off. It’s an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, and it feels amazing.”
Started by Mike Mahan, St. Gerard’s head of youth ministry, and his wife, Judy, Kids’ Camp has been run entirely on donations and volunteer time for the past 23 years. This year alone, over $50,000 was raised for the camp.
The countless activities, theme-based art projects, and water play are among the campers’ favorite parts of the day.
“Kids’ Camp is really fun because it has a lot of energy,” said camper Katherine Malloy-Rooney, 7. “My favorite part is Splash Mountain.”
Splash Mountain, loved by campers and counselors alike, is a giant, handcrafted slip and slide down the biggest hill at the middle school. Twenty-year-old Nicole Redquest, who is an intern at St. Gerard’s this summer, described the camp as “raw fun.”
“It’s kids having fun in a box painted white,” she said. “It comes together with the creative energy of all these people.”
But what really makes this particular camp so special, according to the counselors and adult volunteers, is how generational it is. Kids’ camp is a place that people return to year after year — in some cases for a decade or more.
Hillary Sussek first came to camp as a “ducker” and became a counselor at age 11. Now 21 and a senior in college, she continues to come back to help out and has even decided to pursue a career working with children. “Kids’ Camp made me realize what I want to do with my life,” Sussek reflected.
Another longtime volunteer, Kate Lehan, has been involved since the camp’s inception more than two decades ago.
“I was involved as a teenager,” she said. “Now I have kids in the program and a son who’s a counselor. It’s an amazing evolution to see kids as 5 year olds and watch them become counselors. It does a lot for their confidence.
“When they’re little kids, they so desperately want to be like their counselor because they are their role models. It’s important to produce positive, energetic, respectful teenagers. Some of the oldest counselors here, I knew when they were duckers or I counseled them. It’s a family affair and the whole town gets behind it.”
For 18-year-old Audrey Cilento, who was a camper, a counselor and now a committee head, Kids’ Camp has been such a big part of her life that the idea of going to college next year makes her sad.
“I’m so sad that I’m not going to be here to plan all year,” said Cilento, who was the president of the CHS class of 2012. “I [have gone] to Kids’ Camp since I was a ducker!”
The energy from all ages at Kids’ Camp is hard to miss, and it is clearly loved by many. As duckers’ counselor Jon Mantovani said, “The whole Canton community gets behind it. They come here and become fully immersed in everything, and the kids love it.”
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