CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Now that school is out, many of us have plans for the summer. Some of us may be going to visit family and friends or going to the beach. Some of us will go to camp. The majority of Valley High School students will soon join students from across the state and beyond at a little summer camp called Camp Billo.
Camp Billo is a camp for the Catholic parish of St. Anthony Shrine in Boomer and Immaculate Conception in Montgomery. The kids and adults who attend may invite one friend outside the parish, and even campers who have moved out of state can return. Some who attend the camp aren't Catholic, but they still come and find something amazing about Catholicism and may go on to study the religion and join the church when they get home.
Father Leon Alexander started Camp Billo in 1973 at Camp Brookside in Summers County. It didn't occur in 1993 and 1994 but was restarted after people in the parish talked with the new priest and worked to restore it. It was moved to Beckwith in Fayette County in 1995 and in 2002 was relocated to its present location: the Wyoming County Youth Camp near Glen Rogers.
Sis Berry was part of the parish before moving to Nashville. She went to the camp its first year, and in the 37 years ever since, she has not missed a single year.
"It's the children, the love, the fellowship that keeps me coming back," she said. "You don't see that kind of love and bonding anywhere in the world."
Berry, who works in the school system and with her church, said she doesn't see anything else like Camp Billo. There are a few small things she would change, but otherwise she loves everything about it -- especially that it's completely free.
During camp, she often says to people, "My battery is charging." For her, Camp Billo is a time to relax that she doesn't get to do but for that one week each year. She said it means the world to her.
Emily Beard is a student at Valley and a camper since 2007. She started attending because her older brother and sister went. She said she enjoys seeing people that she doesn't get to see very often and becoming closer to God.
"I love trying to win the Billo Cup," she added.
The Billo Cup is a tournament where teams play a mixture of sports. The winner gets the Billo Cup trophy.
"Nothing about camp is really bad, except finding out you didn't win -- that always sucks," said Beard, who would like to see more games added to the competition.
Patrick McKnight is also a Valley student who has attended Camp Billo since 2007. He started going because one of his friends told him how much fun he had there and encouraged McKnight to come along.
"I like to go because it's some of the best days of my life. It also makes me feel like I'm closer to God," he said.
The hardest part about the week for him is the camp's start date. "It is hard leaving on Father's Day, but once you're there, it's one of the best weeks of your life," he said.Do you have a camp like Camp Billo? Share your summer camp stories at www.wvflipside.com.