Dozens of college students from around the country are spending their summer working in East Texas. It's not an ordinary summer job -- they're trying to lead kids closer to God.
This Summer, nearly 2,400 kids from around the region will experience a week of fun at The Pines Catholic Camp near Big Sandy. It also serves as an opportunity to grow in faith.
Running one of the biggest Catholic camps in the country requires a staff of more than one hundred.
John Egan, the camp director, first came to The Pines in 2007. He recruits young from all corners of the country to serve as counselors, camp volunteers, missionary staff, and other roles.
"We're forming disciples. Young men and women are coming out here and growing in their love of the Lord. We share the faith in the same savior and we love him so much."
Campers from second through 11th grades stay in cabins on the wooded property, located about seven miles east of Big Sandy, off Highway 80.
Two and one-week sessions, as well as special sessions are offered each Summer, however, camps and retreats are held year-round.
This Summer's camp theme is 'Wonder.'
"We want the kids to have a moment of one or look up at the big trees or the sky or whatever and their gene creation and saying, 'There's a God who created that and a God that created me,'" Egan said.
Lauren Schubilske just graduated from Franciscan University in Pennsylvania and is serving as a counselor.
"I was like, 'what the heck why not go to Texas and try a summer camp. Do some missionary stuff, just over the summer because I'm a theology major.' So I could put my schooling to good use."
Schubilske says this has been a learning experience outside the classroom.
"It's so different from any experience that I've had because they truly will the good of every other person that's here and just seeing them interact with one another and being jokey but also loving towards one another."
Counselor Steven Chabarria, who grew up in Whitehouse, is currently studying at Holy Trinity Seminary to become a priest.
"I've deepened my prayer life. My relationship to god has gotten a lot closer just by seeing these beautiful souls and seeing them and getting to know them and being able to to love them as a brother and as a mentor."
Most of the counselors and staff members are involved in college campus ministry or work in youth ministry. Others, like Ann Plat, are former campers. From the counselors to those serving food in the dining hall, every role has a direct impact on the students' experience.
"It's not about ourselves, you know. It's a lot about learning to get past, like who we are as individuals. It's not like we're being awesome mentors. It's that we're letting Christ lead and bring kids closer to him."
The camp, which first opened in 1988, features all of the traditional favorites: campfires, sports, swimming, arts & crafts, skits, lip dubs, and plenty of singing. Campers sleep in rustic cabins throughout the shaded property.
A small lake is home to a water slide, an inflatable air bag, canoeing, and even a log rolling activity. Students also have the opportunity to participate in a ropes course, zip lines, climbing walls, as well as signature camp games such as Ga-Ga, Granny's Candies, Nukem, and Eagle Ball.
"(It's) a lot of fun and games but that's not the point," Chabarria said. "The point is to know the person of Jesus Christ. To experience that. To encounter him."
The counselors play an important role in helping kids disconnect from technology and get in touch with their faith. Throughout camp, there there's time to explore spirituality by attending Mass, nightly reflection, Eucharistic Adoration, and Confession.
"I think we want the kids to have a moment of impact," Egan said. "And that's one of the big things we talk about all the time -- that they have an experience of an encounter with the Lord that they can create an interior life. (It's) something where they're able to develop a prayer life, develop a communion with our Creator."
At the end of camp, many of the students leave with a new sense of confidence found in these newly-formed lifelong friendships.
To learn more about The Pines Catholic Camp, click here.
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