Written by Rod J. Herrera
What is more satisfying than protecting children entrusted into our care? Why, spending time with them for a week at camp! Years ago, as a pediatric oncology social worker at Cooper Hospital, I was fortunate enough to be one of eight people who founded Camp No Worries. This is a summer, week-long overnight camp for children with cancer and their siblings. We also include children who have lost a sibling to cancer.
Always held during the last week of June, Camp No Worries marked its 23rd year this summer. Ninety campers came to camp for a week of fun, songs, sports, arts and crafts, s’mores, canoes, laughter and most importantly — no worries.
This year’s theme was “Broadway” and each day we celebrated a particular Broadway show. Thursday was “Hamilton” and I sported a revolutionary-style gray wig, complete with a pony tail. Because of my own gray hair, some counselors thought I was just styling my hair!
Ever on a spiritual journey, this camp week was no exception for me. Counselors and staff arrive on the Saturday before camp for an all-day training. This year, that Saturday was June 24, the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. The connection was an easy one to make. John comes before Jesus to prepare the Way. These cousins knew each other from even when they were in their respective mothers’ wombs. Baptizing with water, John tells of the spiritual baptism that Jesus will bring.
On this day, counselors and staff were trained to be effective role models to our campers. To prepare, in a way, a fun and safe experience for all the children. We were infused with Camp No Worries spirit. We learned about psychosocial issues, specific medical conditions, the roles of the various camp leaders and a few camp songs.
I asked Saint John the Baptist to bless our week.
On Sunday when the campers arrived, my parish — Sacred Heart in Camden — was celebrating the feast of the Sacred Heart by having just one Mass, combining the 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. communities. A joyful, large parish picnic followed the Mass. My prayer that morning was for the grace to love more fully in the example of the Sacred Heart of our Lord. I prayed for the grace to love the counselors who have given up a week to volunteer to be at camp, to love the leadership team so that they could function effectively as leaders, to love our campers who all come from varied backgrounds and challenges.
Each morning in prayer, I was particularly aware of the splendor of God’s creation. The trees, the river, the grounds of Camp Inawendiwin in Tabernacle are touched by God’s creativity and blessed with beauty. At night, I stared into the dark sky and observed an abundance of brilliant stars and marveled at the expansive majesty of God’s universe.
It is easy to see God in beauty and to appreciate him when all is going well. More difficult to experience God it is when things are not going our way. During the week, I prayed for the grace to meet God especially in the children facing medical and/or behavioral challenges. I prayed for the grace to know God even in the darkness of my own life.
June 28 the church marked the feast of Saint Irenaeus. He was a second century bishop whose clear and precise writings led to the end of the influence of the Gnostics who were confusing Christians of the early church. My prayer for the day was for the grace to be clear and precise in my words and in my actions. As the director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection for the diocese, I find myself praying often for this grace especially when writing a difficult and sensitive letter or email.
Thursday of camp week was the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. One saint is the rock upon which our Lord has founded the church and the other saint the first and greatest missionary. Camp No Worries is completely secular but that doesn’t mean any of us on staff can’t act as missionaries of the Lord, as role models of his love and his joy. I pray that everything I do may give greater glory to God. Of course, I fail constantly because I am a sinner. But I continue to try.
Finally, the last day of camp was Saturday, July 1, the feast of Saint Junipero Serra. A Franciscan saint from Spain, he ministered in my home state of California. His motto was “always forward, never back” and he founded many beautiful missions in the state. Today as we sent our campers home, I prayed that they would continue to grow especially in good health but also in the knowledge of God’s profound love for each of them.
Camp No Worries is the best week of my year. I am so blessed to have been an integral part of its beginning and am grateful to be able to attend year after year. For the past several years, I do teambuilding with the campers. I challenge them with tasks that they must accomplish working together in groups. Then we process the activity, what worked, what didn’t. I always try to bring positive energy to the camp.
This year, no doubt, the presence of the Holy Spirit was with us.
Rod J. Herrera, LCSW, is director, Office of Child and Youth Protection, Diocese of Camden.