Every summer, social-housing families in Corner Brook, Nfld., trade the bleak streets of their public tenements for the awesome grandeur of Gros Morne National Park.
Thanks to an outreach program at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral, the see of the diocese of Western Newfoundland, kids, parents and grandparents from the province’s West Rock public housing project spend four days at a camp of the same name. Housed in two-family cabins, they play basketball and volleyball, hike, swim, canoe and tell ghost stories by the light of the campfire. Best of all, they tuck into hearty communal meals, all prepared for them by volunteers.
“We’re the only camp in Newfoundland with a heated outdoor swimming pool,” said Dean Baxter Park, for 24 years a Canadian Forces military chaplain and now the cathedral’s dean. He volunteers for the entire month of the camp’s operation.
During August-when Newfoundland’s weather is most reliable-the West Rock families are bused to Killdevil, the diocesan camp, about two hours’ distance from Corner Brook, with the church volunteers taking their own cars. “The families who come to West Rock Camp don’t have the money or the vehicles for vacations, and this is often their only chance all summer to get away,” said Park.
Started in 2007, West Rock Camp has grown in popularity. “We used to be able to accommodate everyone who wanted to come back each year, but now we’re going to have to rethink the scheduling,” he said.
Park, who retired from the military in 2012, has already amassed some wonderful camp memories. “One is of a father and mother and their two beautiful daughters hiking off into the woods, all four of them, hand in hand,” he said. Another is of a six-year-old girl in the housing project who told her neighbour she was having a bad day, and was invited by the neighbour to accompany her family to the camp. This sort of gesture reminds Park, a native of the small fishing town of Cox’s Cove, of the community he grew up in, “where practically every adult was a caregiver to every child.”
The August sessions at Killdevil Camp and Conference Centre are one aspect of the cathedral’s larger partnership with WestRock Community Centre. “We’re part of a program called Homework Haven, where retired teachers and other volunteers are available to help the kids after school with their studies,” Park said. In addition to tutoring, the program provides access to pens, paper, textbooks, calculators, computers and the Internet to assist in homework assignments and learning concepts.