From Camper to Counselor

I served as a camp counselor at Camp Nazareth this past summer, and it was an experience like no other. Now, I am not a newbie to Camp Nazareth, as I had attended it the past 11 years as a camper, making countless memories. But this summer was a whole new experience.

The first new experience that I gathered during the week was the method of getting there. Ever since I was in middle school I was always envious of the older kids who could drive themselves to camp, which led to me telling myself that that would one day be me. Well, the day of camp I packed my sister (who is now a freshman in college) and myself into the 2006 Dodge Vibe I had over the summer, and away we went. The changes in my duties were evident as soon as I got there. When I was a camper I could afford to be aloof for most of the week, focusing only the task at hand. That isn’t the case for counselors, however, as not only did we have to focus on planning on the tasks, but we also were in change of keeping track of our campers, which for me meant a group of energetic 2nd-5th graders.

The change was evident from the start, as I had to wake up early to wake up the campers (which was very tough, I enjoy my sleep). I was also introduced to the task of planning events very quickly, as I spent most of the morning on the first day helping Melinda (the kids’ camp leader) plan the day. During the afternoon on the first day was when I truly felt like a counselor, however, as I got to sit back and enjoy the madness of the all-camp activity as an observer, which I didn’t mind at all.

The week overall was one that was filled with new experiences along with new twists on old ones. It was really cool to see an event that I helped plan not only go off without a hitch, but also to see people enjoy doing it. This doesn’t mean that I was an observer in everything, however, as I was still able to participate in the annual Frisbee game (which my team won) and I also helped lead the Counselors to a win in the camper vs. counselor volleyball game, something that I’m very proud of.

Probably one of the toughest transitions that I had to make was the actual transition from camper to counselor. Going straight from camper to counselor meant that a lot of my close friends were still campers, so sometimes it was tempting to go hang out with them, since I had been doing so for most of my time at camp. But luckily, I was busy enough to not have that be a focus.

I hadn’t had any real big contact with kids’ camp in close to 10 years, so everything that I did as a counselor was still relatively new to me. While some of the stuff that we did in teen camp was some variations of what kids’ camp did, it wasn’t the same, so I had some new experiences just like the campers.

Overall, being a counselor was a great experience, and one that I’m honored to do again this year. It not only taught me a lot about camp, but also a lot about myself.

Henry Palattella is a sophomore at Kent State University and a member of the Cathedral of St. Paul. 

This year’s Diocesan Summer Camp runs from June 11-17. You can learn more about camp and register for this year by visiting the new camp website, http://www.dionwpacamp.org.

Giving Thanks – St. James’ Community Soup Kitchen

img_1709-478x640If you drive through Titusville on a Tuesday morning just before lunch time, you may notice how busy the corner of Main Street and Franklin Avenue is compared to the rest of town. Cars line the edge of the roadway, and people walking singly or in groups of three or four make their way down the sidewalk towards the doors of the St. James Parish Hall. Outside the hall a white sign proclaims “St. James Community Soup Kitchen Today 12 – 1 pm. All are Welcome!”

All are indeed welcome to this particularly busy ministry of St. James, as I came to find out. I spoke with Eda Scales and Noni Stanford, two of the soup kitchen coordinators, last Tuesday as they were preparing to serve over 200 people for the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Even though I arrived at 11 am, well before the usual serving hour, most of the tables in the hall were already full of people chatting and having steaming cups of coffee, enjoying each other’s company and relaxing before the beginning of the meal. Volunteers zipped back and forth, topping up glasses and making last minute preparations, but everyone I passed had enough time to smile and say hello as they went about the business of Thanksgiving dinner.
The food program at St. James has been running continuously since 2001, serving hot meals once a week to anyone who drops in. The first few dinners had perhaps a dozen people in attendance, but numbers have increased steadily to the point that on any given Tuesday there are img_1706-640x478at least a hundred people in and out of St. James’ hall, sharing a meal and fellowship (and double that for the Thanksgiving celebration).  Volunteer participation is both ecumenical and community-oriented: at least four churches in the area send helpers to aid the St. James’ crew, and they are often joined by women from the St. James House – a shelter program run by the local YWCA that is housed in the old church rectory. On the few occasions when Canon Martha Ishman is unable to attend dinners, Pastor Terry Brown of the Methodist church in Enterprise gives the blessing before the meal.

The program was given a jumpstart in its early days with a grant from the Diocese, but between donations from parishioners and support from local groups and businesses like Northwest Hardwoods, the VFW, United Way, and a partnership with the Second Harvest Food Bank, the soup kitchen ministry is now self-sufficient and able to provide hot meals and groceries for people in and around the Titusville area. It is also one of the only regularly scheduled soup kitchens in the area that doesn’t charge a fee for the meal. Eda pointed out to me that not only does the program meet financial, social, and spiritual needs for attendees in general, it is particularly valuable to people with special circumstances: the working poor, people on fixed incomes or Social Security, and others who may not qualify for assistance programs, but still find themselves in need. There are no qualifiers to participate in the food ministry, and everything is on the honor system – if someone says they have a need, they may receive.

The program also encompasses the God’s Abundance Cupboard food pantry, which began on an emergency basis whenever the church was open, and has since grown so that there are now twice-monthly scheduled pickup days where families can come and get a bag of groceries including fruit, cereal, soup, vegetables, and (thanks to a grant from Giant Eagle) two packages of frozen meat. The food pantry now gives out approximately 70 bags of groceries each pickup day.
The financial benefit of the meals and grocery donations is readily evident when you see the number of people who participate in the program. As I walked around the tables and chatted with people the social and spiritual benefits made themselves known. For many of the attendees, the soup kitchen is about much more than a hot meal – it’s an important social space, and a church outside of church. From Noni: img_1689-599x640“If you miss a week or something, they ask ‘where were you last week?’ They feel like this is their church, even if they don’t all come on Sundays.” It’s obvious that the people visiting last Tuesday felt at home. Chatter passed back and forth between people and tables with a familiarity that only comes from regular interaction. I sat down near the kitchen to chat with one young woman and her 14-month old daughter, and she mentioned that she was there because her parents came regularly. Her father was seated further down the table, and he introduced me to his wife, one of his cousins, and another relative (who was one of the volunteers, and not able to sit with them as he was working). He said how much they appreciate the church, and his wife jumped in to tell me a story about how one of the previous priests, after seeing that she had been crying at one of the meals, was able to get them help that saved them from being evicted from their home. Both volunteers and people sitting at tables stopped me as I walked around and asked if I needed a seat or a plate, and there wasn’t a single table where someone didn’t have a story or a joke to share (or a groan about the upcoming snow in the weather forecast). As Eda had said while we talked, “you see the face of God in everyone around the tables.” If the smiles on the faces of the volunteers are any indication, they receive as much joy in giving as the attendees do in receiving.

Noni walked by with a large tray filled with slices of pumpkin pie, signaling an end to the first wave of dining, and I waved goodbye and worked my way back through the tables towards the exit. Knots of people who had finished eating or were waiting for spaces to open up at the tables stood in the entry hall and outside on the sidewalk, and several folks wished me a happy holiday as I zipped up my jacket and headed down the street.

I walked out the doors of the hall that day far more uplifted in spirit than I had been prior to arriving. The weather may be getting colder and the days shorter, but God’s presence in this ministry will continue warming hearts throughout western PA’s people for hopefully many years to come.

Megin Sewak, Communications Specialist for the Diocese of Northwestern PA

‘Planting’ Hope for the Future at Buhl Day

Buhl Day (the annual Labor Day celebration held in Hermitage, PA) was a success for the diocese’s newest church plant in more ways than one.  The church’s food stand, besides being a great fundraising opportunity, brought together people from eight different congregations all over the diocese to work and reach out to the community and each other. Good food, good fun, and building relationships while helping to further the Kingdom of God – the definition of One Church at work. It was definitely a Great Day in the Kingdom!

Read on for some personal reflections on the day:

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“In the beginning of Buhl Day there is a parade that local residents are excited to attend; giving us time to prepare before the rush.  I had helped prepare for this in the two days prior, but I was getting pumped on what was to come. Eventually, after getting everything ready and seeing more people arrive to help, we got customers. The crowd did not seem as big as usual, but we had a steady amount of people buying things. It was time to roll and perform my duties, alongside others who were working diligently.

There was a fantastic amount of people there helping, so I found I could sit and actually take a break – something that I and  others that had worked at this booth on Buhl Day in the past had not experienced too often. Finally after smelling the sandwiches being prepared all morning, I enjoyed one myself.

photo-sep-05-10-47-30-amAt one point I was standing outside the booth to help direct people, and I looked at all the people inside the booth.  Seven churches and the new Episcopal church plant all gathered together for this one goal.  Everyone was at a station talking amongst themselves.  There were so many there, you could find someone to talk to.  It was good to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in a while, and meet new ones throughout the NWPA diocese, including Canon Martha and Bishop Sean.  The feeling of “one church” was clearly evident.

As the day was winding down, we counted down things that were close to being sold out.  After the last kielbasa was sold, we shouted a loud “Amen” that caughtphoto-sep-05-10-14-43-am the attention of those nearby. Seeing the Bishop work in the different sections was such a pleasure, especially when he was a cashier talking to the customers.  We talked, laughed and maybe even sang and danced with others there feeling the energy flowing throughout the place.  To the bittersweet end where we tore down everything, I couldn’t have imagined things going too much better. I left feeling proud of all the accomplishments this day had made, and was glad that I was involved and witnessed something that wondrous.

In the amazement of how everything went, I think, as a new Episcopal church we are ready to tackle anything that comes our way. The support and thankfulness we felt with all the other people of the churches in the diocese is overwhelming. Together, I believe, that since we got through this, then we can get through many things our church will face. I, as well as others, are very hopeful for the future. ”  Laura Betz, Hermitage Church Plant


Pastor Jason Shank, Hermitage Church Plant