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Catholic summer camp blends the joys of cross and canoe

For nearly 50 years children from throughout the United States and other countries have spent part and sometimes all of their summers at Our Lady of Good Counsel Camp in Floral City.

The camp, situated on 144 acres fronting Lake Tsala Apopka, has housed thousands of children, from ages 7 through 16, since it was founded in 1947 by the Rev. George Cummings.

The camp is under the direction of Tom Miklusicak, who also serves as diocesan director of youth ministry for the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. His wife Kathy also works at the camp.

Campers come from 12 states and countries including Venezuela and Mexico. Some of the counselors and support staff hail from Australia, Lithuania and Russia.

Campers take part in traditional activities such as canoeing, hiking, fishing, archery and crafts. Plus, they learn valuable principles about life, Miklusicak said.

"We at Good Counsel teach them to live according to gospel values, how to learn to get along with other people, appreciate nature, work as a team and be supportive of each other. They also learn skills, independence, how to increase their social skills and experience God and nature," he said.

The beauty of nature permeates Good Counsel. From the pristine lakefront rippling from a gentle summer breeze, to grandfather oaks and towering pine trees, to the sound of birds singing, peacefulness reigns.

"This is the only truly rustic Catholic camp in the state, an outdoor adventure camp! I really love this job, being at the camp and being able to be of service to the young people here and their families," Miklusicak said.

In the rustic setting of Good Counsel there also is a variety of buildings, an open air chapel, mess hall, cabins, infirmary, obstacle course, pool and an area where the campers have bonfires and play games.

Campers pursue the activities energetically, but one of the "biggest hits" is not listed in any camp literature.

Miklusicak's baby daughter Megan is such an attention-getter that whenever the children see her, no matter what activity they are involved in, they flock to hear her laugh.

This session's youngest camper, 7-year-old Magan McGuire of Spring Hill, said, "This is the best camp I have ever been to."

Rachel Curran, 13, of Naples, Fla., said this is the fifth year she has attended summer camp. "I am an only child and some of the things I have learned here are teamwork, how to live with other people and how to meet new friends. It is a like a city where I am from compared to this, where it's peaceful and the people are great!

"I always look forward to seeing my friends again year after year when I come here too. We write all year long and then we see each other during the summer here," she said, smiling.

Counselor Tiffany Chalk, a 19-year-old Australian, raved about her summer at the camp. "I just love it, the kids are great and it's great to be able to do things with them," she said.

Chalk said that her responsibilities at the camp include the boating department. She said that is the time of day when she sees nature at its best. "When I am in the water with the kids every morning, it's just beautiful!" she said.

Though fun and excitement seem to be prevalent at Good Counsel, Miklusicak said one event at the camp is taken very seriously: the Cross and Canoe activity.

According to the 1996 Good Counsel Camp brochure, "During the third session campers are eligible to be chosen as honorees who most exemplify the characteristics and values attributed to Catholic Christian morals and standards. Cooperativeness, politeness, prayerfulness, genuineness and having a great love for Camp Good Counsel are some of the qualities Cross and Canoe candidates possess.

"One camper is chosen from each cabin by his/her peers to attend the steps necessary to attain the honor. Those who endure have their names inscribed on a shield, which is displayed in the mess hall for generations to come."

Rates for the camp vary, depending on the number of children in the same family attending, the length of time they stay at the camp and how soon the fees are paid in full.

For information, call 726-2198.