Camp expands kids' spiritual, social horizons

By Paul Natinsky

Veteran summer camp professional Mike Hickey is spearheading an expanded Chaldean community overnight camp in Brighton, and he couldn’t be more excited.

“The camp life is such an opportunity with kids, the campers, to make a difference—really with the staff as well,” said Hickey. “If you are paying attention, you learn more from the kids than they learn from you.”

Located in Brighton, conveniently close to Metro Detroit communities, Our Lady of the Fields, has expanded this year from an overnight and weekend retreat venue to a full-fledged overnight camp.

Featuring a lake and substantial acreage, Our Lady of the Fields will entertain about 45 boys this summer in two full-week sessions and four mini-camps. Next year, the camp will expand and open to both boys and girls, with a capacity of about 75, said Hickey. The camp will also add a high-ropes course to further thrill campers.

Hickey is a veteran summer camp professional and a teacher with a strong Catholic educational background. He taught theology and other courses and coached sports for 11 years at U of D Jesuit Academy and taught another 11 years at Brother Rice High School in Birmingham. His summer camp experience is just as extensive. Hickey spent 23 years as the Camp Director of Camp Sancta Maria in Gaylord.

Hickey has big plans for Our Lady of Fields, including fall and winter programs that utilize the camp’s heated and air-conditioned cabins.

Our Lady of the Fields mixes fun with religious discovery and fulfillment.

“Kids should come to Chaldean Youth Camp because not only do we offer games and activities for them to have fun with, but we also have a lot of faith-based activities, talks, and games that they can relate to as well,” said staffer Jasmine Putrus. “Not only that, but the energy of our volunteers is something that you cannot find at any other camp! They bring a certain love for Jesus and for the kids that makes CYC a camp that you do not want your kids to miss out on!”

“Mass is offered each day at camp, and there is also an option for an overnight camp, where they get to engage in adoration and a bonfire! Also, all the games are planned by young people who know and understand kids and how they have fun,” said staffer Val Nafso. She said campers experience growth in their relationship with Jesus, fellowship with current and new friends and teamwork and growth as part of their camp experience.

Overnight camps provide campers with unique experiences. “The overnight camps give kids the opportunity to be away from home in a safe, spiritual, and positive environment. Although the kids are away from their home, they are engaged in the Chaldean culture through prayers, music, and leaders,” said staffer Salena Cholak.

Camper Brooklyn Nafso “liked that we did fun activities, such as the fashion show and scavenger hunt.” She enjoyed the Mass as well. She was particularly impressed by a pirate activity because “it helped us cooperate with our team members.”

“The Olympic Games were great too because it taught us to try our best and never give up.” She recommends camp to others “because it’s a lot of fun and you meet new people. It’s fun to experience new things with people you just met.”

“I love that CYC is a place where kids and volunteers can express their love for Jesus without worrying about being judged,” said staffer AnnaMarie Sitto. “Kids get to see that it’s fun to be a Catholic, no matter how old you are. Another thing that makes CYC special, is the fact that it shares our beautiful and rich culture with children that may not know what it truly means to be a Chaldean. Kids get to embrace their faith as well as their culture. The faith of the kids is extremely humbling to see as a volunteer.”

Despite its growth, the camp will remain an intimate environment for both campers and counselors. Hickey said the camper-to-staff ratio will be about five to one, in some activities, three to one.

Owned by the St. Thomas Eparchy, Our Lady of the Fields is undergoing a transformation from a weekend and daylong retreat venue to a full-fledged overnight summer camp. And early indications are that they are getting it right. That, perhaps, is no accident. In addition to hiring veteran summer camp director and teacher Hickey, the camp’s organizers studied the successful Camp Tamarack Jewish overnight camp in Ortonville, established early in the 20th century, to gain some insights on how to create a rewarding a successful camp environment that integrates faith and fun in equal measures.