A tradition dating back almost a century will come to an end in early August, when the final campers spend a week at the St. Vincent de Paul Summer Camp on the shores of Lake Erie in Angola.
The board of directors of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, based in Buffalo, has made the decision to transition its summer youth programming to Buffalo, and will no longer operate the camp.
"This was a difficult, but carefully thought out, decision," said Mark S. Zirnheld, executive director and chief executive officer of the society. "For the last several summers, the number of campers has fallen significantly, resulting in an under-utilization of the camp."
Since 2011, the camp has operated at a deficit, a direct correlation to the declining number of campers. In 2006, 426 children attended the camp. In the summer of 2015, the number had fallen to 256.
The 15-acre property at 8462 Lake Shore Road has welcomed more than 50,000 children since it first began operation nearly 90 years ago. Youngsters between the ages of 8 and 13 have been given the opportunity to interact with other children in what is described as a pleasant, stress-free environment. Campers come from urban environments and are given the chance to learn about nature, experience the shoreline and Great Lakes environment and enjoy the opportunity to make new friends. It offers cabins for lodging, a recreation/dining hall and a variety of outdoor activities.
A majority of the campers come from Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Lockport. Through the generous support of society members and benefactors, the camp has been affordable and accessible to children through full and partial scholarships.
"Many summer camps are encountering similar challenges," Zirnheld said. "We have studied trends very closely, and have decided it is prudent to move our summer programming into Buffalo, where the needs of children are significant."
Zirnheld said the next step will be to examine summer programming and partnership opportunities. "We expect to develop unique summer programs that will not duplicate existing services, in keeping with our mission to fulfill the two great commandments: love of God and love of neighbor."
The future of the camp property will be determined at a later date.
The camp property was once part of the Bennett homestead and was operated as a resort, beginning in the early 1900s, until it was purchased by the society in 1933. The camp was in response to the needs of children at that time. With limited social assistance, the members of the society established the camp to bring children together in the outdoors with fresh air and plenty of good food. This effort continued through the Great Depression and World War II.
In years past, multiple buses have transported campers in large numbers from Buffalo, Lackawanna, Niagara Falls, Lockport, Batavia and Olean.
"We will use the summer to celebrate the wonderful heritage of our camp, our camp alumni and staff. Its legacy will live on for generations to come. We are grateful to the countless donors, supporters, society members, employees and volunteers whose selfless service has helped to make a difference in the lives of so many young people, bringing charity to life," Zirnheld said.