Melissa Presser shares how Damascus Catholic Youth Summer Camp changed her family’s life.
On my most trusted friend Jen’s advice, I was prompted to sign my three middle schoolers up for a Catholic Youth Summer Camp several states away. The catch was that registration had opened almost ten months before camp started, and I was petrified, as my children have never been overnight anywhere other than with family. But after seeing the way Damascus Catholic Summer Youth Camp had changed her son’s life, I knew I had to trust. I was out of work at the time and had no clue how I would afford to send three kids to a week-long Catholic sleepaway camp.
But in complete faith and doing it scared, I signed them up and committed. I told myself that if it was in God’s plan, that He would find a way for the finances and through my fear. I had never asked for any financial assistance before in my life, but without two incomes, we were already pretty stretched thin. Catholic Summer Camp felt so far out of my reach at that time, but it wasn’t out of God’s.
From the first moment I got on the phone with Damascus, they were calming and prayerful and extended a hand to me. They helped me to apply for scholarship based on my situation, and assured me everything would work out. I left it in the Lord’s hands and knew how much He loved my children and how much my family needed this. Several weeks later, I got a call that we had received scholarship money for all three kids!
Halfway there through the financial part, I was still working through the fear. There were no phones allowed for my 12- and 13-year-olds to call me if something went wrong, and they would be several hours away from me while I stayed in Indiana with Jen. But I kept praying and God kept answering. At the end of July, I found myself boarding a plane to Ohio.
We had one night in New Haven before we drove them off to Damascus. I was crying, telling them how much I loved them and how if they needed me in any way to make sure the camp staff called me. I was trembling as we pulled up to the camp site; that was until the first person that greeted me was a priest who said, “We are so happy to see you. Welcome.”
Those words soothed my aching heart as if Jesus himself was present. Peace washed over me as we checked in and got their cabin assignments, and then went over to the nurse’s station to bring their medication. The kids were ready to go, so we whisked them right away to the first of their three cabin assignments. My stomach sank as I knew they would not be together.
As I dropped the first child off at her cabin, smiles abounded. Giggling girls, neatly made bunk beds and rosaries hanging as far as the eye could see. Her counselor came over to me and told me not to worry. That gentleness and understanding went much farther in my heart than she will ever know.
Next stop was my son, who didn’t even look back! Running down to the lake to join in with new friends who were throwing around a football, he almost didn’t say goodbye. The last stop my youngest, my 12-year-old who is usually my most afraid and who I was most worried about. We walked into her cabin and before I could say I love you, she said, “See ya later!”
I couldn’t believe it. I expected tears to be running down my face but all I felt was peace. I felt peace in each of their cabins and on the grounds. Jesus was showing me that He was going to take care of them.
The week flew by, as I sent bunk notes nightly to them and told them how much God loved them, to be kind and to be attentive to the counselors and priests. The next Friday my husband and I parked our car and saw our eldest. I walked up to go hug her before the family Mass started and she said, “Mom, if you don’t mind, I want to spend the last hour with my friends.” Again, I was mystified by the peace I felt in this new community.
We toured the campus and then were led to family Mass. In a room filled with hundreds of people, I wept as child after child took the microphone to tell everyone about their powerful week in prayer, at Mass, and before the Blessed Sacrament. Additional kids came up when asked, “Who here thinks that they may have a vocation to religious life?” I almost found myself on the floor in a mess of tears.
While there, my children made a renewed commitment to Christ, made new friends, and found Jesus everywhere. In the quiet moments, in helping a friend, in the monstrance. I wondered, “How long will this last, Lord?” That was until the first thing my eldest daughter said to me when she came home was, “When can we go to Adoration?”
Copyright 2022 Melissa Presser
Images: copyright 2022 Melissa Presser, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Melissa Presser is a Jewish girl who was led home to the Catholic Church by St. Edith Stein, a fellow Jewish Catholic. She is a wife, mother of three, and a seasoned attorney. Melissa is passionate about bringing awareness to mental health issues and stopping the stigma. Find out more about her conversion and ministry at MelissaPresser.com.