By Allyson Escobar     8/16/2016

To bloom authentically, grow with dignity, and plant the seeds for a life with Christ—this was the mission of the first-ever Blossom Girls Camp, held last month at the Santiago Retreat Center in Silverado Canyon.

The camp was put together at the beginning of this year through a collaborative team effort, and with the tremendous help of Endow: an educational apostolate program that provides studies/resources for Catholic young women and girls looking for ways to grow together in their faith.

“It was such an organic process. We approached the [Santiago] retreat center with the idea of having a camp for girls ages 8-13,” shared Aileen Blachowski, Endow Special Projects leader for Orange County. “We started the project with few resources and a big idea, and God provided.”

“Endow is really growing here in the Diocese of Orange, especially recently with Spanish program studies through Endow Hispano,” she continued. “We also have a good network of women from Endow—daughters, granddaughters, and nieces; all who wished they had a program like this when they were children, who wanted to send their own girls to camp.”

The organizers of the camp wanted to incorporate Endow studies with fun summer camp activities designed for both the younger girls and middle schoolers.

Along with talks and small group discussions, over 90 campers enjoyed five full days of hiking, swimming, arts and crafts, sports, games, skits, and “mess”-tivities.

“Santiago’s rustic, natural campus is perfect for this camp, and right in Orange County’s backyard,” said Baker.

“We have plenty of material for middle school girls that can be adapted to the younger girls,” Blachowski shared. “It was a very simple and beautiful message that all can understand: that every person has dignity, and living that dignity means something differently for everybody. Know your dignity and how to live it out—discovering your gifts and ‘girl genius’—in a way that brings glory to God.”

The Camp “Blossom” theme had several main components: defining dignity, authentic love, and the feminine genius, as outlined in St. John Paul II’s “Letter to Women” (1995). Each day, participants heard talks, performed skits, and engaged in activities integrating the theme.

“The girls were able to articulate their gifts through the activities, skits, affirmations from building new friendships with one another, and learning about dignity to help make the world a better place,” shared Ale Baker, who works with programming Endow Hispano in Orange County. “They really did blossom.”

“We heard from parents that their daughters loved the camp—it helped them to break out of their shell, and they were busy, creative, learning, and of course having fun,” said Blachowski.

A unique aspect of Blossom was the presence of various religious orders (the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, the Congregation of Norbertine Sisters, and the Trinitarians of Mary) to help facilitate and share with the girls. Each day, a new group of sisters came to visit the campers and talk about their vocation and charism, allowing the girls to ask questions and, for many, have their first-ever interaction with nuns.

“It was a beautiful experience of having the girls and the sisters spend quality time sharing together. You don’t find that anywhere else,” said Baker.

“There is a beauty and transformation when you spend so much time around such lovely, authentic religious women,” added Blachowski. “It was also a great opportunity for exposure to those discerning a religious vocation, for both our campers and camp counselors.”

There were also opportunities for daily Mass, Holy Adoration, and the sacrament of reconciliation. On the last day of camp, the girls completed a prayerful Stations of the Cross hike.

“With Endow, women of every age can feel safe to learn the truth of their faith, share it with others, and build beautiful friendships. It’s a space that fills a need women have to share with other like-minded women: gathering, living, growing together in faith,” Baker said.

The faith formation program is currently present in 165 dioceses around the country. Endow is spreading across the Diocese of Orange, supporting bilingual events, day retreats, community projects, and women’s studies for different age groups.

“We’re eager to work with the diocese [of Orange], with the full support of Bishop Kevin Vann, to better reach out to young ladies about how they can use their feminine genius and be formed,” finished Blachowski.

After an overwhelming positive response, Santiago Retreat Center plans to host a second girls camp in summer 2017. For more information, please visit http://www.santiagoretreatcenter.org/girlscamp.