For over a dozen years, come snow or shine, Camp Turner has provided a winter camp full of hikes, games and campfires. If the weather is right, snow forts are made, if not, hockey and crafts are still available.
"Winter camp is a blast," said Kerry Brinkhurst, a counselor with 10 years of experience. "To me it is the perfect time to send your kids to camp, other than the summer." Being right between Christmas and New Year's where kids are off from school and are looking for something fun to do, winter camp offers a three-day experience at the diocesan campsite, located in Allegany State Park.
This season, winter camp was held Dec. 28-30, when the air was cold but not much snow was on the ground. Still the campers, aged 6-15, made boondoggles, slime and jewelry indoors, while others made elfin villages and walked the rough terrain out in the woods.
"I've done hiking mainly because it's just beautiful around here," said Abbey, 12, a three-year veteran of Camp Turner.
Campers can choose any of the indoor or outdoor activities during the four club periods, which include the traditional camp activities. At night there is a Palooza, with a campfire and stargazing. Being a Catholic camp, a Mass is held each week.
Beyond learning how to track animals and make lip balm, the campers make friends.
"There are a lot of girls who come together in pairs or with a couple of their friends from school. Just watching them go from those couple little cliques to being such a cohesive group and being friends with each other, I think, is one of the most magical things. They're breaking out of their shells and going to activities without the friend that they came with," said Anna Gullo, another counselor.
"This is where anyone can build a relationship and make a friendship. And I mean anyone," said Brinkhurst. "The trickiest of campers. I've been here for a long time and I have had my fair share of campers who have challenged me or really surprised me. At the end of Friday, that camper is still writing down phone numbers, taking pictures of people and crying that they have to leave. This place brings out sides of people that you didn't even know you had. Anyone can come here and succeed."
All the winter counselors are experienced. John Mann, executive director of Camp Turner, always rehires the summer counselors. Some keep coming back year after year.
"It's a nice place to totally be yourself," said Emma Overfield. "It's kind of like a family away from home. Whenever I come back here, you jump right into the same mode that you always are. Everyone is so nice. It's great to work with kids."
"You find out things about yourself that you didn't even know," added Brinkhurst. "You somehow grow from awkward 16-year-old to a leader and a role model for 7-year-old girls. The atmosphere just pushes you to be the best version of yourself."
"For my money, there is no better training for ministry than doing it. And that's what they're doing," said Mann.
Mann challenges the veteran campers to help the younger kids.
"You'd be surprised how gentle the older kids are with the younger ones, and how thoughtful," he said. "For me, our God is a god of relationships, and is most visible in the relationships between people."
A registered nurse is on staff. The campers have 100 percent adult supervision. Camp Turner has a full kitchen staff to provide healthy meals and unlimited hot cocoa to its campers.