Temperatures are beginning to soar; humidity’s up; bug spray’s in abundance — let the fun begin at Camp Ondessonk. Young people don’t mind inconvenience and a little heat because they are living the dream while they explore, hike, ride — two-wheeled or four-footed — swim, craft and more in the 983 acres of the great outdoors in the Shawnee National Forest.
One of the newer ways to see and experience the camp is through a mountain biking adventure. Owners of the Bike Surgeon in Shiloh have been partnering with Camp Ondessonk for the past several years to introduce campers to the excitement and joy of mountain biking, Alissa Hollman, Camping Services Director, said.
Campers learn about bike riding, maintenance and safety before heading out on the trails at the camp. Without the generosity of the Bike Surgeon folks, this would not be possible, Hollman said.
“Campers get to ride some really nice bikes,” Jon Greenstreet, a co-owner of Bike Surgeon said as he checked the air in the tires of riders’ bikes.
Bike Surgeon also provides bikes for other weekends during the year, including family camp and sometimes father-son weekend.
Not only do volunteers from Bike Surgeon maintain biking trails around camp, Hollman said they created a new trail that they also maintain.
“It’s definitely a win-win situation for everyone,” Tony Vroom, Ondessonk’s marketing director, said.
And, without volunteers of every stripe, many of the projects at the camp would not be possible. Most of the volunteers have been associated with the camp in some way, either as youngsters and campers themselves or as staff over the years.
For example, Jim Shively — former camper, former staff, lodge member and volunteer — had a friend create carvings to represent the “spirit animals” of each unit.
The units are named for the North American Martyrs, and they have an accompanying symbol of an animal or bird.
Shively installed the carvings during the restoration of the altar, Vroom said. The volunteers see not only the value of camp for this generation but also for future campers.
To make sure campers know who the North American Martyrs are, “council” is held, and they learn the stories of St. John de Brebeuf, St. Anthony Daniel, St. Charles Garnier, St. Isaac Jogues, St. Gabriel Lalemont, St. René Goupil, St. John de Lalande and St. Noel Chabanel.
New programming keeps campers and staff engaged in bringing gospel values into every aspect of camp life.
This year, the camp is inaugurating Teen Leadership Camp, a time when 13- and 14-year-olds can sample what it means to be leaders and serve others, Hollman said.
This age group “is definitely ready for something more,” Hollman said, explaining that this group will rotate through various camp activities emphasizing leadership.
Hollman is looking forward to a service project Shannon Sonderman will lead.