Two weeks in the mountains telling ghost stories, swimming in Oxbow Lake and forging new friendships — sounds like “heaven on earth.”
That’s how Alicia Goldenziel, 14, of Moscow described the start of her fifth summer at the former Camp St. Andrew, now Camp Kelly.
Campers packed in Sunday, kicking off the second year of resident and basketball camps for girls since United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania took over from the Diocese of Scranton in 2016, rescuing the rustic retreat from impending doom.
“You can go to any camp and you can do rock climbing, swimming in the lake, kayaking, you can do that anywhere,” Goldenziel said. “It’s the people here, it’s the atmosphere, that’s the best part.”
UNC will bring back resident camp for boys later this month, which hasn’t been held for at least 20 years, said camp Director Kelly Langan.
A part-time camp counselor for the past 10 years, UNC hired Langan to be full-time director starting this year.
She’s been devising new ways to keep the place busy year-round for the community at large, not just during summer camp season.
“It’s a beautiful property. It’s a shame to leave it go for all the other months of the year,” she said.
UNC, an organization that helps families achieve self-sufficiency, had run Project Hope, a program for low-income children, for decades at Camp St. Andrew.
After UNC successfully managed its first summer camp season, the diocese in November officially transferred 64 acres, including the camp buildings, the lake and other features, to UNC.
On Sunday, troops of girls marched between the cabins, down the long paved trail toward the lake.
They were on their way to take a swimming proficiency test, and Langan stopped them to offer some encouragement and for a round of high-fives.
Shrieks of giggling echoed from inside cabins, and out in the large field, groups of girls sat in circles breaking the ice with their cabin mates.
For this first week, there are 135 girls in resident camp, and 35 attending basketball camp, which happens concurrently.
This will be year three at basketball camp for Madison Swenson, 13, who plays for Tunkhannock Area during the regular basketball season.
In years past, she’s honed her dribbling and shot-selection skills during the three daily training sessions, but she’s most looking forward to scary story night, she said.
“Everybody goes into that building over there,” she said, motioning toward a huge hall shrouded by trees. “The lights are all off, and it’s only the fireplace, and everyone sits on the floor and they tell stories about camp.”
While one counselor spins a spooky yarn, others rattle the shutters and make noise from outside, she said.
UNC officials have embarked on a capital campaign to renovate some of Camp Kelly’s aging buildings, the swimming pool and waterfront.
So far, they’ve fixed a camp office foundation problem and upgraded the bathrooms with new fixtures and plumbing.
“I know it sounds silly, but the kids are so pumped about these new bathroom buildings,” Langan said.