More than 100 children played games, lined up for balloon animals and snow cones, participated in the donut dangle —where they tried to eat donuts off a string — and took turns in an inflatable bounce house on July 13 in Cleveland’s Lincoln Park. Their laughter could be heard throughout the park, which is in the city’s Tremont neighborhood.
Overseeing the children — ages 5-13 — were about 50 staff members, counselors and junior counselors, all part of Augustine Rainbow Camp. The program is a ministry of St. Augustine Parish, located just across West 14th Street. The camp, which began in 1973, is open to all children, including those with disabilities.
Gerry Kasper, camp director, is in his 30th year with the program – the last 27 as director. Rainbow Camp operates for five weeks every summer, he said. Thanks to an arrangement with the city of Cleveland, campers can swim twice weekly in the park’s outdoor pool. They use the park and parish facilities for other activities. The camp day is 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
On July 13, several members of the Diocesan Council of the Knights of Columbus were on hand for the camp’s annual “Day with the Knights.”
Knights Marty Huberty of Holy Family Parish in Parma Heights and Paul Mathieson of St. Clarence Parish in North Olmsted co-chaired the event. Ken Perk of St. Barnabas Parish in Northfield is the group’s president.
“We’ve been doing this event with Rainbow Camp for four years,” Huberty said.
Previously, the Knights had a similar event at Parmadale in Parma. “We did that event for 77 years until Parmadale closed,” Huberty said.
One of the Knights quipped that in 77 years, the K of C never won a softball game – the youngsters were always victorious. “And I never dropped so many balls in my life,” he added, laughing. The Knights said they enjoy the interaction with the children as much as the children enjoy the activities.
Huberty said after Parmadale closed, the Knights wanted to continue some sort of similar program, so they began looking around. Father Joe McNulty, St. Augustine’s pastor, invited them to work with Rainbow Camp for the special day and a new tradition began.
“The kids look forward to it,” said Renee Zorger, site director. She and Kasper are responsible for day-to-day operations of the camp. Zorger, a St. Augustine parishioner, lives in Fairview Park with her family. She works as an intervention specialist at St. Edward High School in Lakewood, teaching children with cognitive disabilities.
“The bounce house, snow cones, donut dangle and other activities are things we can’t do, so we appreciate the Knights providing these things. We operate a day camp on a shoestring budget,” she said. The Knights sponsor a fundraiser to assist with camp expenses. Zorger said their contributions and donations from other benefactors help provide necessary operational funds for the popular camp.
“We ask campers to pay something, but we never turn away a child who is unable to pay,” she said.
Kasper said campers gather at 10 a.m. Monday through Friday for an assembly before beginning their daily activities. They are divided by age into 10 groups, each with a counselor. Junior counselors, who are 14 and 15 years old, learn job skills and are supervised by adult staff as they assist with groups of campers. Counselors, who also are supervised by adults, are 16 and older. Each age group of children is assigned a certain color T-shirt.The oldest group, wearing gold shirts, consists of 19 campers. Zorger said only two or three are new this year, with most of the campers having attended Rainbow Camp at least one year previously.
“We have a big return ratio,” she said, noting that about 75 percent of the campers have attended more than one year. There also is a long waiting list.
“By May, we had 180 signed up and our waiting list is about 50,” she said. “I wish we could take more but it’s just not plausible with our resources.” She said the program is spread by word of mouth and through the parish.
Zorger said there are special teachers who offer lessons in art, sports, healthy cooking and American Sign Language. Campers also take weekly field trips. “It’s a chance for the kids to unplug, to make new friends and to learn through play. It’s fun to watch them grow,” she said.
“Many of our counselors and staff once were campers,” she noted, mentioning one young woman she had as a 5-year-old camper who now is a counselor. “It was great to see her grow, give back and mature.”
Zorger said Rainbow Camp is in her blood. Sister Corita, program director for St. Augustine Parish, was her father’s second-grade teacher at St. Brendan School in North Olmsted many years ago. She bumped into him when he was a teenager and invited him to help out as a counselor at Rainbow Camp. It was there that he met her mother, who was hearing impaired. They married 36 years ago and have four children. When Zorger has her second child this fall, it will be their fourth grandchild. She said many family members work at the camp. Zorger has been associated with the camp for 15 years, starting as a junior counselor.
Kasper said there is a faith component to the camp with children praying before lunch. They also talk about God. And there’s a weekly newsletter to keep parents and guardians in the loop about camp news.
“It’s all about the kids and having fun,” said Huberty.
For more information on Rainbow Camp or to make a donation, call 216-781-5530 or visit staugustine-west14.org.
Information on the Knights of Columbus is available at kofc.org.