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Summer Camps

Faith-based camps offer fun with a little something extra

LESLIE FARRELL Special Sections Correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: June 21, 2013 at 11:45 AM

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At summer camp, parents want their children to experience excitement, exercise, enthusiasm — and sometimes, enlightenment. That's where faith-based camps can help.

Valerie Litschgi's three children attended Vacation Bible School (VBS) for nearly a decade at Hyde Park United Methodist at 500 W. Platt St. in Tampa. Her children attend private Catholic schools, but on Sundays they go as a family to the Methodist service so it felt natural for the children to attend VBS there as well.

“They make it fun but they also teach a good message about God and helping others,” Litschgi says. “I remember going to Bible camp when I was a child and it was a memorable experience. I felt like you walk away with something. It's a good experience for kids; it keeps them centered.”

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church offers three three-week camps for those ages 3 to 5 for $90 per session. This camp also features weekly themes, but in this case, the first is Bible camp, the second is Science camp and the third, Art camp.

Director Florie Reber describes the camp, at 501 S. Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, as very nurturing. “The intimacy of a faith-based school gives you an intimacy you don't always get at a bigger school,” she said, explaining that the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church camp is “family-oriented.”

Like with many of the faith-based camps based at Christian churches, campers don't need to be of a particular Christian denomination or even profess belief in Christianity at all. “The message for our Bible camp is more about God, and God loves you, God loves the animals and the plants, etc. It's very general, rather than Lutheran specific,” Reber said. For more information, call (813) 877-3105.

In Trinity, Hope United Methodist Church offers summer camps for children ages 3 through 14, with sessions from June 24 to Aug. 9. Each week features a different theme, such as Olympic Week, Brain Teasers and Game Shows and Rec-N-Crew. Staff members are college and high school students.

For the weekly 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. schedule, the price is $65 per child. Before and after care is available for $5 extra per day. Registration forms and more information are available by calling (727) 372-4689 and online at www.hope-umc.com.

At the 450 acre Mary Help of Christians Camp at 6400 E. Chelsea St. in Tampa, it's all about fun – with a religious component. “We have all the same activities other (secular) programs would have, but what makes it different is that we're trying to make religious education accessible,” says Sean Farrell, summer camp director.

While sending a child to private Catholic or Christian school is a “hefty financial investment,” a summer camp can cost just hundreds, making it an inexpensive way to give children some spiritual exposure, Farrell says.

“Kids respond well to mixing fun and faith together. Throughout the day, we have normal experiences you'd have during secular a program but we combine those with lessons on morality,” Farrell says, naming activities like horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking and swimming.

The Catholic camp, for children ages 9 to 15, begins each day with mass and features a newly finished swimming pool, plus softball and baseball fields, a full gym and full size soccer and football field. Camp lasts from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and before and after care, as well as financial aid, are available. Registration forms are available online at www.mhctampa.org and by calling (813) 626-6191.

Some families choose summer camps that are out of state, allowing children to get to know children from their religion from all over the country and even the world. Green Acre Bahá'í School, www.greenacre.org, in Maine, offers programs for families and children, attracting Bahá'ís and those of other faiths worldwide.

Camp Ramah Darom, located in the north Georgia mountains, is popular with children from 11 states, including Florida. According to the website at www.campramahdarom.org, “By providing staff and campers with a unique, inclusive atmosphere of friendship and fun in a Jewish environment, we offer an unparalleled, extraordinary summer experience.” Sessions are June 11 to July 8 and July 10 to Aug. 5.

Locally, Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) have much to offer. The JCC at 2710 S. Ysabella Ave. in Tampa has eight weeks of camps starting June 17. The preschool is accredited by the National Association Commission and the same philosophy of “learn through play” remains true during the summer programs, says Assistant Director Sandy O'Brien. The themed camps include art and music every week.

A lakeside Tampa JCC at 13009 Community Campus Drive offers camps with activities like canoeing, tennis and archery. More information is available by calling (813) 964-9000 and at www.jewishtampa.com.

Two of the oldest camps in Florida are 60-year-old Seventh Day Adventist Camp Kulaqua in Alachua County and the 66-year-old Catholic Good Counsel Camp.

At Camp Kulaqua, for those 7 through 17, mornings begin with devotions. “The day to day activities are in a wholesome Christian environment,” says Ray Queen, summer camp director. Some of the activities during the camps that run June 2-23 include horseback riding, pottery, archery, leather craft, unicycling, gymnastics and kayaking. They also have a challenge tower with zip line, rock wall, water park and zoo.

Campers of all religions and even no religion are welcome. “We offer the child the opportunity to meet Him (God) for the first time, or … the opportunity to grow in that experience,” Queen says. More information about the camps is online at www.campkulaqua.com and via phone at (386) 454-1351.

At Good Counsel Camp in Floral City, each day begins and ends with mass in the unique 12-sided open-aired chapel “to remind us that God's beauty is around us,” says Father Johnson. Prayers and scripture reading are also part of the four different sessions for children ages seven to 15. Registration forms are available online at www.goodcounselcamp.catholicweb.com and by calling (352) 726-1910.

At Cedarkirk Camp for first through 12th graders, the goal is to help youngsters experience “what a Christian community feels like,” says Director John Reiter. “Parents remark when their kids come back that they are more respectful and that they make friends they stay in touch with.”

Cedarkirk offers about 50 summer camps. More information is available by calling (813) 685-4224 and visiting www.cedarkirk.org. “They come for the activities but as they grow up here and return they appreciate sense of community,” observes Reiter.

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