Camp counselors, volunteers awaken their souls with CYO camp experience
Port Sanilac — Jake Kanitz was taking classes at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, not sure of where God was calling him.
Then a classmate walked up to him, giving him a different kind of calling.
“I was studying catechesis at the seminary when someone came up to me and said; ‘Hey dude, I can see the Holy Spirit running through you. Do you want to help out at camp?’”
And that’s how Kanitz, a high school minister at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Ann Arbor and St. Gabriel Parish in Dundee and Ida, became a Catholic Youth Organization camp volunteer.
While it’s no secret what CYO camps can offer for youngsters in southeast Michigan — valuable life experience, a chance to make new friends and an opportunity to explore one’s faith — the same benefits exist for the camps’ staff and volunteers.
“I had no idea about CYO camps,” Kanitz said. “I came up to the camp in Port Sanilac, and there was this beautiful view of Lake Huron. I grew up on a farm, so I knew about nature and stuff like that. But I had no idea what I was going to do, so I just started trusting in God about this experience.”
CYO camps offer paid staff and volunteer positions every summer, a chance for young Catholics to interact with campers and discern how God might be calling them.
“We have staff positions for young adults, ages 18 to 35, needing both male and female staff and volunteers,” said Jenny Fehn, media specialist for CYO camps. “We need activity specialists, who run the high rope course, the climbing wall, lifeguards; we provide the training for all the positions.”
Fehn said the paid staff positions come with free lodging and food for the summer, with positions starting June 19 and running through Aug. 6. Volunteers who can’t make the summer-long commitment can donate their time on a week-by-week basis.
“We look for people who have a passion for working with children, an experience where they can share their faith,” Fehn said. “We want camp to be a place where staff and volunteers can discipline children, but also learn and grow in their faith. Our management staff is very supporting in growth, working alongside staff to see them spiritually grow.”
Transitional Deacon Matthew Hood, interning at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Grosse Pointe Woods, worked at the camps during the summers while he was studying at the seminary — first as a counselor and later on the administrative side.
“For me, studying to be a priest, this was the first real chance to learn what it means to be a spiritual father,” said Deacon Hood, who learned about the camp volunteering opportunities through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Deacon Hood isn’t the only future priest to have spent time at the camps on the shores of Michigan’s Thumb; Auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Fisher also shared with The Michigan Catholic in January his own vocation story that involved time spent at the summer camps.
Deacon Hood said Camp Ozanam in Carsonville gave him a chance to work with children who normally wouldn’t be able to go to camp. The camp is available to children of all faiths, and for many, it’s their first chance to talk about Jesus.
“That spiritual father role is such an important part of being in the priesthood,” Deacon Hood said. “For some kids, you’re telling them about Jesus for the first time — kids who have no knowledge of the Christian faith. It was an amazing experience.”
Kanitz said working with 10- to 12-year-olds was a test of patience at first, but he found reading the Liturgy of the Hours and nighttime prayers helpful in helping them break through.
“Every day, there was a different saint, and we asked what they could do to be more like St. Moses the Black, (for example),” Kanitz said. “We learned a lot about the saints personally, and the boys were coming up with more questions.”
Whether it’s volunteering or a paid position, Kanitz and Deacon Hood said their time working with CYO campers was an “experiencing of a lifetime,” not only for the opportunity to share their faith with the youth, but spiritually reawakening their own souls.
“If you have a tough time waking up in the morning, you have to try waking up in a cabin full of 8-year-olds,” Deacon Hood said. “But when you wake up to the sun rising on Lake Huron, when you see God’s creation all around you, you know you’re in a special place.
“It’s helped me become holier, a better witness to the Gospel.”