2023 Camp Mercy in Sarasota

By Sue Thompson, Special to the Florida Catholic

From June 19 – 23, 2023, the Church of St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota rang with the laughter and song of more than 120 campers (kindergarten through fifth grade), youth counselors, adult volunteers and Parish staff who all tried to emulate Christ by serving not only one another, but also those in need in the community.

Camp Mercy, an alternate to a traditional Vacation Bible School, was founded by five St. Patrick parishioners in 2017. The camp concept is based on the premise that we are all “Called to Serve” and the Corporal Works of Mercy serve as the core of the program.

Each summer the children perform service projects that either feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, or bury the dead. As Christians, we are called to perform these works and as Camp Mercy continues to grow each year, it is obvious that the kids love to help others!

Kami Yaegers, who has taught Bible Study at Camp Mercy since its inception, said, “I am so thankful to be a part of Camp Mercy. It gives me so much joy to see these children learn about Jesus, scripture and how to be examples of God’s love for all of us.”

This summer the camp’s theme was “All Aboard with Jesus,” where the campers were taken back in time aboard a train and learned about four of Jesus’ miracles: the wedding feast at Cana, healing the 10 lepers, feeding the 5,000 and healing the paralyzed man.

The high school skit crew taught one miracle each morning and showed how Jesus used these opportunities to demonstrate his love for us and to give an example of how we can perform the works of mercy. Campers were taught that they too can give back to those in need and help each other to grow spiritually.

Ryan Yaegers, who started with Camp Mercy as a camper and helped as an adult volunteer this year, said that “This camp really helps to further the next generation of young Catholic believers.”

Through skits, Bible study, crafts (making necklaces for a local nursing home and rosary boxes), games (loaves and fishes basket relay, carrying your friends to Jesus), praise and worship (learning songs about Jesus’ miracles accompanied with sign language). Importantly, were the service projects (making 200 lunch bags for local homeless children, decorating and potting flowers for nursing home residents and cleaning the Siesta Key beachfront), when the youth were given the opportunity to share the gift of themselves in service to others.

The camp culminated in a concert for parents and a Knights of Columbus sponsored cookout where the children presented the results of their service projects. Each camper made placemats for the cookout and drew pictures and wrote about their favorite part of camp with many focusing on meeting new friends and feeling good about helping someone else.  The campers and their families also attended Sunday morning Mass together to praise the Lord, perform a few of the camp songs for the faithful and to start dreaming about camp next summer!

Sue Thompson is the Director of Religious Education at the Church of St. Patrick in Sarasota and can be reached at sue@churchofstpatrick.org.

Valentine’s Day: Students offer comfort to seniors

Being “A Disciple of Christ” means thinking of others, just as Christ did during His ministry on earth.

A group of 17 students from the St. Joseph Catholic School Builders Club did just that. Instead of going home at the end of a half-day of school, they opted to spread Valentine’s Day cheer to the residents of the nearby Summerfield assisted living facility in Bradenton.

Students played a variety of games with the residents; the most popular of which was a variation on bingo. As a special treat the students brought gift bags with prizes (nail polish, lotion, deodorant, words games, and other items) for the participants. For residents who did not wish to take part in the games, students took time to speak to them as both young and old alike shared stories about their lives.

Resident Betty learned to play Yahtzee (a dice game), while enjoying spending time with the students. “It is so sweet for them to visit. They are so kind and very energetic.”

Another resident, Joyce, said she was impressed that the students volunteered their time to visit when they could be home or outside playing. “When I was young, we could only be seen and not heard. It is amazing that these young ones care enough to want to be here. It means so much to me and to everyone.”

As a special treat, residents were given Valentine’s Day cards, each with a handwritten note expressing kindness and warmth.

The Builders Club is a service leadership program of the Kiwanis Club, and encourages students to work on service projects in their community. Anthony Longo, Club President, said his fellow students wanted to do something special for others as “Disciples of Christ,” so reaching out to spend time with the residents of an assisted living facility seemed like the perfect option. “We organized this because we wanted to do more, and Valentine’s Day was the perfect time. We work on projects for the school, but this was something special.”

Teacher Mara Curran said she was impressed when the students opted to skip going home early so they could spread the “light of Christ to the residents of Summerfield.” Many of the students had visited the facility at Christmas when they were in kindergarten, so they inquired about doing so again at a time when many have no one with whom to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

As part of the ongoing 35th Anniversary of the Diocese of Venice, Bishop Frank J. Dewane challenged the young people of the Diocese, in particular the students at Diocesan Catholic schools, to become “A Disciple of Christ” in how they lived and acted.

For their volunteering at the assisted living facility, each student was recognized and presented with a #DisciplesDOV t-shirt, courtesy of the Diocese of Venice Offices of Education and Communications.

Student Valerie Rettig said it was fun to visit the elderly in the assisted living facility stressing how important it is to reach out to others. “As ‘A Disciple of Christ’ we are each called to follow God and Jesus; working hard to be a good person and kind to everyone, not for fame or recognition, because we are all Children of God.”

Serafina Calonneso said “A Disciple of Christ” is someone who is kind and loving to everyone. “We are called to help to make the world a better place. Being “A Disciple of Christ” will help make that happen.”