By Deb Everts
Lack of snow and lots of mud didn’t stop the fun at “WinterCamp 2018” where children had the opportunity to experience a three-day, overnight camping excursion at Camp Turner.
Held in the Quaker area of Allegany State Park, this year’s camping event ran Dec. 28–30.
Camp Director John Mann said although the lack of snow prevented the kids from sledding and snowshoeing, they run a summer camp as well, so they have plenty of games and activities to do when it isn’t snowing.
He said the staff is well-trained and committed to helping campers have a great time.
Mann said there are nature hikes where the kids track deer and they learn outdoor living skills including outdoor survival skills, fire building and how to make a campsite. Games-in-the-Woods is a “hide and seek” type game played in the woods.
“We also have a lot of sports activities going on,” he said. “When the kids go outside, they play dodgeball, pickleball, ‘9-Square-in-the-Air,’ volleyball, basketball and court hockey.”
Program Director Jake Overfield said they adapt according to the weather. He said one year, they started on a Friday with mild temperatures and mud — just like this past weekend — and they woke up Saturday to about four feet of snow on the ground.
Mann said the camp is not only fun, but they try to make it educational as well. He said WinterCamp is a little bit more laid back compared to the summer program, but it’s still well-structured and supervised.
It’s only three days and they try to gear it more toward the younger campers to give them a little taste of summer camp.
“We want to help kids discover the presence of God in each other, in the staff and in nature,” he said.
According to Overfield, the camp capacity is 80 kids and, this year, 69 came for WinterCamp. He said the kids, ranging from ages 7 to 14, come from all over Western New York including Dunkirk, Olean, Bradford, Springville, Tonawanda, Orchard Park, Lancaster and other Buffalo areas as well as nearby Ellicottville, Great Valley and Salamanca.
Originally from North Tonawanda, Mann and his wife, Sheryl Soborowski who is also a staff member, live in Great Valley. Mann has been Camp Director for 16 years, since 2003, after several summers as a camp counselor between 1983 and 1992.
Mann said the camp has excellent staff retention — around 75-percent from year-to-year. He said it’s 100-percent at each WinterCamp, so they take no new staff for the winter session.
“It’s only people who have been here with me for one or more summers,” he said. “They’ve been through all of our staff training including first aid courses with CPR, behavioral management, safe environment training and risk management, so everybody here knows what they are doing.”
Overfield, who resides in Orchard Park, said this past summer and this winter camp is his seventh year.
“I was a camper here for five years, then I got involved because I loved the place, the atmosphere and the nature aspect,” he said.
This summer marked 19 years at Camp Turner for Kathy Weiss, dining room manager, who said she started working at the camp in 1978 as a counselor and also did the nature woods program.
Mann said it’s a real pleasure to have Weiss onboard. He said she’s a certified archery instructor and she knows quite a bit about nature.
“She either runs our nature program or trains other staff to do it. Through her, they know all about plant and tree identification, as well as animal tracking,” he said.
Camp Counselor Catie Dwyer comes from Washingtonville, which is about an hour north of New York City. She said her uncles and mother who grew up in Buffalo influenced her to come to Camp Turner.
Her uncles worked there and her mother attended Camp Maryglen in East Eden, which was a girl’s resident camp similar to Camp Turner. She said this was before the two combined and Camp Turner became a resident camp for both boys and girls.
Dwyer said she started at Camp Turner as a camper when she was six years old and, now, she’s 17. She’s been a counselor for two summers and this is her second winter as a counselor.
“As a camper, I loved all the games and it was so much fun,” she said. “I just love it here and I can’t imagine not coming here. I love the kids. I like the environment and how friendly everyone is. I always want to come back.”
Beginning with Camp Turner’s SummerCamp, the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has operated the not-for-profit camp since 1923. WinterCamp started about 2004 and is open to all children regardless of religious affiliation, race or gender.
Registration for SummerCamp will be open Jan. 21. More details and information can be found online at campturner.com, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 354-4555.