A Franciscan experience has changed our family
By Matt Carolan
While I often resist letting my kids go off on their own, I know that there are times when they need to be with others without my supervision. I must let them have experiences with others that draw out their potential in ways I cannot always see or provide for.
Such has been the case in a very significant way at Camp Alvernia in Centerport, N.Y., first established in 1888 by the Franciscans and still going strong on Long Island.
I first learned about the camp when I was young, since my childhood friend – now Father Peter Pilsner – went there. The camp came to mind again recently when I faced some enormous personal adversity in the loss of employment and my wife’s illness. I wondered if I might seek some assistance from the good Franciscans not only to care for my kids, but to help them grow in ways I could never possibly accomplish at home, or afford.
As it turns out, Camp Alvernia provides financial assistance to approximately 25 percent of its campers. When I met with the camp director, Ben, who showed me around the grounds, he informed me that our four children had qualified for full assistance. It was a real boost to our family that had experienced some real setbacks recently, and I nearly broke out in tears. When I called my wife later, she cried at the news that our four children would be able to attend as day-hoppers for the whole summer.
The children were stunned, then concerned, then, when I drove them out to look at the grounds, rather optimistic. Once they arrived at the camp in June 2011, their lives began to change. They learned how to deal with others better, including Alvernia’s wonderfully impressive cast of youthful counselors and counselors in training. They also began to relate to each other differently – even playing new games together at home.
They learned boating; a great joy to me as a Long Islander, since we have so much natural beauty here on our waterways. They learned art, and played new sports, such as tennis. There was so much for them, and it became one of my favorite things each day to take them on a long journey from the more densely populated South Shore of Long Island where we lived, to this more bucolic North Shore camp.
I didn’t care about the drive time or gas costs or the fact that I went on to drive to an unsatisfying job at the time. It was a joy as a father to know how much they were developing there.
The joy of coming back later along the great historic North Shore, to see my children supported by an amazing team of counselors, with an amazing vision and program of success, greatly improved my daily outlook on life. It took a load off my mind last summer to know my children were well taken care of at a time when my wife needed to return to the hospital, and again this past summer when I would be hospitalized myself.
Our family’s relationship with Camp Alvernia has become deeper over time, as we strive to pay back something of the great gift we have received. I have worked with Ben and his lovely sister Ariel at Christmas to prepare food for the poor and homeless. My son Connor and I participated in their food kitchen service in nearby Huntington. I have even had the honor of being asked to speak to several hundred young counselors about my experience at the camp. (Clearly they have changed me too.)
And just this month, at the close of the season, my 12-year old son Connor was honored with “Camper of the Year” for living the Franciscan values of Camp Alvernia. He has since expressed a strong interest in becoming an Alvernia counselor in training himself.
I owe Camp Alvernia so much. I do what I can for them, and pray deeply for them every day, in a modest attempt to pay back charity that can never fully be repaid in this life. I trust that all the good people of the camp will be repaid in the life to come.
As a father I have learned that sometimes the best I can do for my kids is to give them a little room to grow.
Matt Carolan is a communications and education professional on Long Island. He and his wife, Stacy, have four children. His website is MattCarolan.com.