Mutual Affection Campers, Counselors Grow Close during a Special Week Together

Article excerpt

Byline: Jake Griffin Daily Herald Staff Writer

Sitting in the shade of an evergreen along the prairie, Megan Rieck is watching other campers rewarded for a fishing expedition.

She is a vision of a big smile and two stunted pig tails protruding above her ears.

"It's pony tail day," explains Colleen McDonald, who runs the weeklong summer camp.

Rieck, 19, is one of more than 50 participants who attend the camp, now in its seventh year, for the mentally impaired.

Next to Rieck is one of the equally numbered counselors and staff members also sporting a wide grin and awkwardly placed pony tail.

"Even some of the braver boys are wearing them," McDonald finishes.

When the award presentation is over Rieck stands up, adjusts one of her hair tails and asks, "We're going fishing next, right?"

When the answer is yes, the smile grows impossibly bigger.

This is the Winfield teenager's fourth year at camp.

"After the first week Megan never stopped talking about camp," said her mother, Mary. "It took all the nerve I had to let her go that first time, and I perched at home and never left for fear that they would call and say I needed to come get her. The first time I painted my living room because I had to stay busy."

It's also Ursula Balthazar's fourth year at the camp.

The 22-year-old Loyola University second year medical school student is now a staff member after serving three terms as a counselor.

"You don't know how much these campers mean to us," she said. "This is my favorite week of the year."

Balthazar took last year off from the camp in order to focus on her first year in medical school.

"I took a research job this summer and one of the stipulations was taking this week off," she said. "I missed it that much."

Together with her father, Reed Callahan, McDonald started the camp after seeing something similar on a trip to Mississippi. Workers, like Balthazar, are all volunteers and money and supplies for the camp is donated by various local charities with a large chunk coming from several Knights of Columbus chapters.

Camp is at the Hoover Outdoor Education Center in rural Yorkville. It is a sprawling wilderness retreat with cabins and nearby streams. It is home to scout outings yearly as well.

Callahan and McDonald credit the young counselors - all between the ages of 14 and 20 - and their devoted staff to the long-term success of the program. …