By George Gregory
Special to The CS&T

WYNNEWOOD – From the first week of July through the first week of August, the grounds of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood have been bustling with children taking part in Camp Overbrook 2011.

The annual program is organized by the archdiocesan Office for Youth and Young Adults, and brings children from the city and suburbs together every summer, with each group of campers staying for a one-week period to share fun, laughter and fellowship.

Camp Overbrook began in the summer of 1965 through the efforts of the Cardinal’s Commission on Human Relations. Philadelphia, like many big cities in the 1960s, was a hotbed of racial strife, unrest and riots. The Archdiocese sought to address the issues that undergirded the unrest – with children.

The Archdiocese closely collaborated with the City of Philadelphia to design a program where children from all parts of the city could come together to participate, and both felt that St. Charles Seminary would provide a safe and neutral environment.

Thus, Camp Overbrook was established with a mission to bring together children from different neighborhoods and ethnic backgrounds for a week of camping fun through which the children might come to appreciate their differences and discover their commonalities. During the summer, the camp hosts approximately 700 campers.

Likewise, teenage counselors come from various schools and neighborhoods for the opportunity to establish friendships that extend beyond camp. They are freshmen, sophomores and juniors who attend a counselor leadership training program prior to working with the children. The training focuses on such aspects as multicultural sensitivity, communication skills, conflict resolution, team building, and most importantly, imitating Christ as servant leader. This prepares the counselors not only to serve the children attending the camp, but also to deepen their own relationship with God.

“I love the mission statement of this program, and how it allows the kids’ spanersity to shine, as well as giving us a chance to serve them,” said Lutchia Pierre Louis, a member of spanine Mercy Parish in Philadelphia, who is spending her second summer as a Camp Overbrook counselor.

“I find that as we watch the campers grow in their relationships with one another, we (the counselors) grow with them.”

Camp Overbrook’s program staffers are young adults who plan, organize and facilitate activities, and also play a primary role in training the counselors. They lead by example and are role models of positive values.

“The campers are always so energetic and fun,” said counselor Kevin Dlugos, a member of St. John Chrysostom Parish in Wallingford who has worked at Camp Overbrook for the last three summers. Dlugos especially enjoys the water park, which is made up of a few hoses and sprinklers. “It really isn’t much, but we do a good job of selling it, and the kids have a great time!”

In addition to the water park, the camp offers numerous other activities including arts and crafts, music, book appreciation, the “O”lympics (competitive games), and the Standing “O” (a performance at the end of camp in which the children get to put on skits and plays).

“Each day of the week is culturally themed to reflect the different cultures in our area,” said Kathleen Pfeffer, who works in the Office for Youth and Young Adults as director of the Community Service Corps. “We have Latino day, Asian day, African day, Middle-Eastern day and Unity day.”

George Gregory is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.