CHEPACHET — A child’s job is to learn – learn about the world around them, their purpose within it and most importantly about God. Just because the school year ends doesn’t mean that learning should end as well. One major way that children learn is through play. Mother of Hope Day Camp in Chepachet offers children from the ages of 5-12 the opportunity to learn and play in a safe, Catholic environment throughout the summer.
Mother of Hope has been in operation along the shore of Echo Lake for more than 70 years. Camp director Michelle Ficocelli explained, “We are a safe, fun and vibrant Catholic community. Parents do send their children here because we are a Catholic community, but they also send them here because we are a traditional camp.”
As such, Mother of Hope offers common camp activities such as archery, arts and crafts, swimming, fishing and general outdoors activities. What sets it apart from other day camps is the faith aspect, however.
“We spread the gospel, we live the gospel in every aspect of what we do at camp,” Ficocelli continued. “We also – campers and staff – we challenge them to more deeply know, love and serve God and their peers every day.”
Ficocelli has been a part of the camp going on 14 summers, beginning as arts and crafts counselor, then senior counselor and, since 2019, director. Her own now-grown children attended camp years ago starting at age five. She takes pride in the work the camp does within the Diocese of Providence and as a teacher herself, understands how important it is for children to learn through play and connecting with nature.
“Sometimes our campers come back because it’s fun, sometimes they come back because of our Catholic community, and whatever it is we know it’s a safe environment for them where they can forge stable and life-giving relationships in the context of our camp,” she said.
The camp has its own chapel in which Mass is celebrated weekly by diocesan priests, which Ficocelli states gives the children the chance to see their own pastor and other priests participate in camp life. Since campers do not have to be Catholic, those who might not have encountered the Catholic Church gain exposure to holy Mass and the teachings of the Church. For non-Catholic (or non-Christian) campers, Ficocelli said that counselors teach them simple prayers, like the Our Father and Hail Mary. One of her favorite stories is when children go home and tell their parents about the faith that they are learning, only to return later and report that they are now attending church. Oftentimes, word of the camp spreads from Catholic schools to public schools, so Ficocelli reports that attendees are a “good mix” from both.
Safety is the highest priority of Mother of Hope Camp. With 126 wooded acres of land and campers as young as age five, accidents can happen, and Ficocelli dedicates herself and her team to prevention and quick action. It is critical that safety protocols and training are in place because “these are someone’s babies,” and she takes the responsibility of keeping them safe seriously. Counselors are first aid/CPR trained and undergo safety drills similar to schools.
When hiring counselors for the summer, she looks for those with a heart for children and a desire to share of themselves and their faith. Though counselors don’t have to be Catholic, she says during the interview process, “I want to hear that you embrace our faith … you embrace what we do, the camp spirit, kids.”
Many of these counselors are also teachers or college students on the path to teaching. Others started off as campers themselves and have gone through the counselor-in-training program, which began when parents asked for more camp experience for their children over the age of 13. This program teaches leadership and teambuilding skills. After completing the course in 1-3 years, these young men and women can be hired as counselors.
Part of their job involves connecting with the campers and to do this, Mother of Hope tries to keep camper ratios low. Counselors make campers feel welcome and have a good time, not only encouraging them to return year after year, but also to help build friendships with other campers.
“So, it doesn’t matter if you come in one day or two days or the whole eight weeks, those kids are just building relationships and they’re sharing the fun and the faith in their play,” Ficocelli said.
Cost can sometimes prevent parents from sending their children to camps, but Mother of Hope charges reasonable rates of $220 per week and offers financial aid for those who cannot afford it, so that anyone in need can have at least one free week of camp. Bus transportation is also available from various locations in the state. Day camp hours are 9-3:30, Monday through Friday, and campers can come for the entire eight-week session or one week or one only day, if they so choose.
Aside from the day camp, Mother of Hope also rents their property to parishes, groups or individuals for gatherings or various programs that an organization might request.
Ficocelli said that the camp constantly looks to grow and improve their offerings, relying on God to provide. With all the anguish and negative influences children see in their lives today, her philosophy at Mother of Hope is simple: “I just want to be a little bit of light — not just me but my staff, I’d like them to be a little bit of light … and I want to make it as fun as possible and give them hope — just a little hope, that’s all.”
“Hopefully the way we live, work and play together has had a positive effect on all our campers,” she concluded.