Children who don't interact with peers outside of school are often transformed into social butterflies at Camp Scully, said Geoffry Goversten, 18, a staff member and former participant in the Catholic Charities summer camp on Snyder's Lake in North Greenbush.
"It's giving the kids a perfect place, in my mind," Geoffry said, recalling a shy boy he counseled last summer. At first, "he was the quietest kid you could possibly imagine. By the end of week seven, he was one of the most popular kids in the cabin. It was one of the coolest things I've ever seen in my life."
Geoffry started attending Camp Scully at age 10. He would have aged out of the program at age 14, but the camp initiated a leadership program for older campers in 2008.
Now a freshman liberal arts major at Paul Smith's College in the Adirondack Mountains, Geoffry intends to return to Camp Scully on his summer breaks. His experiences at the leadership program have a lot to do with that.
"I think it seals the deal," he said. "It ended up giving me a lot of helpful [skills]. I understand how to use everybody's ideas. My entire life has pretty much changed from this program."
The three-week leadership camp goes beyond training teenagers to become counselors, said Colin Stewart, director of Camp Scully. Over two summers, it teaches them how to work together, resolve conflicts and even tailor a resume.
"I think they get a gradual introduction into being an adult," Mr. Stewart said. "They get a lot of life skills."
Sometimes the experience culminates with a job offer: At least eight leadership camp graduates will work at Camp Scully this summer.
Many want to give back to the camp that gave so much to them. "They want to be that counselor that they idolized as a kid," Mr. Stewart explained.
Camp Scully distributes at least 326 scholarships each summer; the majority of the 480 seven- to 14-year-olds who will attend residential camp this year come from disadvantaged families.
"You see a lot of kids with rough backgrounds," Geoffry said, recalling his East Greenbush family's financial difficulties when he was 10. "When they get to Camp Scully, it's just like a week of freedom. We teach kids all the positives of being a kid."
Mr. Stewart said one of the camp's biggest strengths is the cultural and religious diversity of its campers, who come from the Albany Diocese and beyond. Last summer, a busload of children of migrant workers came to the camp, as well.
More than 900 children will spend time at Camp Scully this summer. A day program launched two years ago has grown to accommodate children up to age 10 and include two winter sessions.
Funds from the day camp have helped add 10 more staff members; construction began on a new, heated dining hall last fall.
Geoffry can attest to the positive effects the camp has on participants: "I've never seen a kid leave Camp Scully without a smile," he told The Evangelist.