By Sophia Ricco
Camp Alvernia is looking forward to another summer of fun in the sun, with outdoor activities and positive development of children’s life skills.
The eight-week day camp located on Centerport Harbor has hosted adolescents since the 19th century when the land was purchased by the Franciscan Brothers for summer retreats. Brother Isidore Garvey was dedicated to youth education and brought students to the property as an escape from city life. He called it “Alvernia” after Mount LaVerna in Italy.
Camp Alvernia was an all-boys sleepaway camp until the 1970s when demand shifted to a day camp and it was opened to girls.
“Parents are looking for something that their kids can do that’ll be fun, help them build relationships, and get outside,” camp director, Ben Esposito said. “Camp Alvernia, because we’re kind of an old-fashioned, throwback kind of camp, I think we provide this.”
Each summer, Camp Alvernia hosts over 900 boys and girls aged 3-14 for camp days full of engaging activities from 9:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Over the course of the summer, Camp Alvernia hosts four two-week sessions as well as before- and after-camp care, plus a leadership training program for teens. Daily curriculum is tailored to a camper’s age and gender. Campers participate in a variety of sports, water endeavors and environmental discoveries.
“Each two weeks is a complete camp experience” Esposito said. “We will plan a schedule with a good mix of activities so they will do a little bit of everything. New ideas keeps kids coming back and keeps them interested.”
Camp Alvernia’s mission is to grow each of their camper’s “spiritual, moral, and physical advancement” in a safe environment. The camp has a t-shirt with the saying, “Kids need dirt”, that Esposito feels can be taken two ways. In a literal sense, that children should be outside, instead of glued to their screens. But also that kids sometimes need to experience challenges in life, in order to grow.
“These are social situations they must deal with, like trying something out and failing, then figuring out what to do differently,” Esposito said. “Or trying something new and being nervous about it. All of those challenges end up being something that can stimulate a child and help them learn new things.”
Esposito finds children develop a true sense of confidence when they overcome obstacles themselves in a healthy, supportive atmosphere. Camp Alvernia hosts theme days each session, like Pirate Day to Carnival Day. A favorite with campers, the annual Red vs. Blue Day divides the camp in teams to battle it out in a number of athletic challenges.
Camp Alvernia is equipped with the perfect environment to suit their educational programs. Each day campers have eight periods of activities, including a lunch, swim and free time.
“We try to pay attention to preserving that feeling of being in the woods and campers really get a chance to be in nature,” Esposito said. “I believe you respect and appreciate the nature that you grew up with and remember as a child.”
The camp’s access to the water also gives campers an opportunity to find their way on the water through paddle boating, canoeing and sailing. The camp offers a recreational sailing and certified sailing program to older campers.
“If we’re running programs and the kids feel a little bit pushed and challenged, I think that’s a good thing to get them out of their comfort zone,” Esposito said.
As campers get older, the staff recognizes many teens will begin to feel more socially conscious of those around them and instead of rising to a challenge, wait for others to make a move.
“We try to break the ice and get them out of their shell and say, ‘Let’s all be silly together. It’s OK if you don’t know what you’re doing.’ ” Esposito said. “The key is that staff person who acts as a role model and makes a good connection with the kids.”
Counselors at Camp Alvernia are expected to lead their campers with good morals and values, have patience in stressful situations, anticipate and avoid safety concerns, help children navigate conflicts and communicate fully with parents.
“We look for someone who really enjoys making connections with kids, is willing to be on the level with them and enter into their world,” Esposito said. “Everything that we do with youth development begins with trust. You have to respect the children, you have to listen and understand them, you have to care about them.”
Camp Alvernia is currently enrolling campers for four sessions between Jun. 27 - Jul. 5, Jul. 8 - Jul. 19, Jul. 22 - Aug. 2, and Aug. 5 - Aug. 16. Camp Alvernia is open to all religions, races, and national origins.
105 Prospect Rd, Centerport