‘Gasper on the Go’ provides camp experience at parish sites
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
It is an understatement to say that Gasper River Catholic Youth Camp and Retreat Center is “significant” for the Reffitt family at St. Stephen Cathedral.
“It has become a huge part of our children’s lives,’” said mom, Amanda Reffitt. “They call Gasper their ‘home away from home.’”
Reffitt said her children were disappointed when summer camp on location had to be cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So when Gasper River announced that instead of having youth come to camp this year, they’d bring camp to the youth, the Reffitt kids were thrilled.
“Gasper on the Go” took place in Owensboro on July 7-9 and in Fancy Farm on July 21-23. The Owensboro location was hosted at St. Pius X Parish and the Fancy Farm location was hosted at St. Jerome Parish.
“Gasper on the Go was a blessing to be able to have a mini Gasper experience with Adoration, the gift of the holy Mass, the opportunity to learn and grow in their faith, and the fun and games with the amazing Gasper staff,” said Reffitt. “They even brought the Gasper River with them in a jar!”
The three-day weeks featured morning sessions from 8:30-11:30 a.m. for incoming third through sixth graders, and afternoon sessions from 1-4 p.m. for incoming middle school and high school aged youth.
The facilities were sanitized and mask wearing was required, per state and Diocese of Owensboro guidelines.
Ben Warrell, Gasper’s director, said they had researched how to provide safe, fun games under the unusual circumstances caused by the pandemic, and it paid off: “The staff said (the children) had a blast.”
“The kids didn’t seem to mind that they had to wear a mask; they were just having a good time and being joyful,” said Warrell.
Gasper on the Go was originally supposed to take place at eight locations around western Kentucky, but six had to be cancelled due to low registrations. Warrell said he understands that many families may have been uneasy about sending their children to activities.
A significant part of Gasper on the Go was the opportunity for small group discussion. Warrell said the staff had come prepared with questions to prompt conversations, but they didn’t really need them.
It turned out the biggest thing the kids wanted to talk about was “what they’ve been going through, what they’ve been experiencing,” said Warrell; in other words, how the pandemic has been affecting their own young lives.
Just like for adults, the world has been turned upside-down for kids, and Warrell said that during these day camps it was helpful for them to safely “be around other people and friends from camp.”
“The Holy Spirit has definitely had a hand in that in terms of bringing the kids together,” he said. He added that registrations saw both Gasper regulars, as well as children who had never before gotten to experience the youth camp.
These campers, he said, were able to recognize that “my Church cares about me!”
Kelly Groves, family life coordinator for St. Thomas More Parish in Paducah, was present at the Gasper on the Go morning session in Fancy Farm on July 21.
“It was so wonderful seeing and hearing the children run, play, laugh, and dance together,” she said. “It was obvious that they have really missed being part of a group! Children that play and pray together are children that stay together.”
She said she is grateful to God “that these children are building friendships and growing in their Catholic faith while having fun and staying safe.”
Groves added a thank-you to Warrell, program director Olivia Romero, “and the entire staff for providing this wonderful opportunity for our children and youth ministries.”
Warrell agreed that his staff has done a terrific job during the summer of 2020, even with these drastic changes to their plans.
“This staff is the cream of the crop of the young adults in the diocese,” he said. “It gives you such great hope.”
He also expressed his gratitude to the host parishes, youth ministers and parish staff willing to provide a space for Gasper on the Go.
Warrell hopes that even post-pandemic they can continue to offer these types of day camps, especially on the far western end of the diocese – bringing Gasper River to families for whom the distance has been prohibitive.
“We’re looking to do that in the future as Gasper continues to grow,” he said. “We’re here to serve the diocese, and we want to let people know we’re willing to go to them.”
Originally printed in the August 2020 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2020 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic