Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland is a diverse network of ministries that delivers more than 150 services at 60 locations to more than 400,000 people each year throughout Northeast Ohio.
Two of those ministries – Camp Christopher in Bath and Summit Adult Day Services in Akron – were showcased during a Feb. 5 visit from Bishop Edward Malesic. His visit came just days before the in-pew launch Catholic Charities 2024 Appeal. Guiding the bishop was Patrick Gareau, Catholic Charities’ president and CEO. Fredy Robles, chief program officer, and Tess Flannery, Catholic Charities’ Summit County director, also accompanied the bishop.
(See photo gallery above.)
At Camp Christopher, which is marking its 100th anniversary this year, Olivia Mackey, director of camp operations, explained the programs to the bishop. He also saw a short video featuring highlights of some camp programs and learned about long-range plans for the camp.
“Former campers are our best source of counselors,” Mackey told the bishop. She said young people can attend Camp Christopher as summer campers until age 16 or 17, when they can start phasing in as camp staff. They are trained in first aid, lifeguarding, water safety, and other programs.
“We develop and deepen the faith of our campers through real-life situations,” said Flannery. “Our business is built on return campers. They come back because they want the experience we give them.”
Flannery said many campers come from families that don’t regularly attend Mass. However, at Camp Christopher, Mass is offered regularly and priests from campers’ parishes are invited to celebrate liturgies. She said campers help plan Masses. “We develop a culture of Catholicism,” Flannery added.
The 165-acre camp offers summer residential and day camps programs, camping for children with developmental disabilities, Discovery Camp for those 18 and older with developmental disabilities, family camp, camping for adults 50 and older, environmental education programs, respite programs for campers 13 and older, private bookings including school retreat programs and other special events.
There is a manmade lake for swimming and boating, opportunities for fishing, horseback riding, a rock climbing wall, zip lines and more.
Many of the cabins are 50 or more years old, yet they are well used and loved, Flannery said, “We are trying to find ways to modernize the camp, yet stay rustic. Our camp is heavily used. It’s worn because it’s used and loved.”
Robles said Catholic Charities, which oversees camp operations, invested in infrastructure updates in recent years, including during the COVID-19 pandemic while the camp was closed.
Flannery said the camp draws about 2,000 to 3,000 summer campers from diverse backgrounds. Some are inner-city youth who may have never experienced camping. Mackey said the Friends of Camp Christopher raise funds to provide camperships for those unable to pay the full cost. Family centers throughout the diocese, Migration and Refugee Services and the Catholic Worker House in Akron are some of the agencies that send young people to Camp Christopher.
“You can buy or build a façade, but you have to build a culture and we have that here at Camp Christopher,” Robles said.
“We have a service-oriented trajectory,” Flannery said, “Kids come in and are services here at camp, then they move into leadership and begin service.” She said many people in leadership positions such as lawyers, judges, law enforcement, politics, education and more spent time at Camp Christopher in their formative years.
One long-range goal of the camp is to build a new, larger chapel. The current chapel is a small room in the recreation hall.
During a quick walk-about, the bishop saw construction/renovations at the dining hall and he stopped inside one of the newer cabins that often houses campers with developmental disabilities.
“Camp Christopher is a treasure for us,” Bishop Malesic said.
He also traveled about 20 minutes south to see the Summit Adult Day Services operation, which is based in Catholic Charities’ Summit County headquarters on Biruta Street, the site of the former St. Peter Parish.
Jim Mazzaganti, longtime director of the adult day program, explained the operation to the bishop. He said the pandemic shutdown had a lasting effect on the program, which is rebuilding. The program took over the first floor of the building for various programming and meals. Participants can attend weekday sessions from about 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“We are not a nursing home,” Mazzaganti said, so there is no overnight care available. Health screenings, crafts, music and other programs keep participants engaged throughout their time at the program.
“We serve all walks of life,” Mazzaganti said, explaining there is a state requirement of one staff person for every six program attendees.
The bishop also stopped upstairs on the second floor to greet Catholic Charities’ staff members, including Camp Christopher operations personnel and Help Me Grow staff members.
Help Me Grow is a free, evidence-based home visiting program available throughout the state. It provides education on infant growth, development and parenting skills and more. Click here for more information on Help Me Grow.
Learn more about the Catholic Charities 2024 Appeal here.