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 | Katie Camario

Camp Counselor Discovers the Eucharist and a Vocation

June 26, 2023 | After graduating high school, Nathan Gonzalez, 24, was searching for a summer job. What he found was not only employment, but something that would take him on a journey he didn’t expect. 

“When I first started that summer, I was only coming here for the money,” he said.

Gonzalez’s job was at Camp Mary Help which welcomes hundreds of children and teens into their sprawling 140-acre campus in East Tampa each summer. The foundation of the camp is faith formation and evangelization, where campers start their day participating in daily Mass and join in faith activities throughout the day.

During that first orientation week as a camp staffer, Gonzales was invited to attend Mass.

“We had one Mass the last day of orientation week,” he said. “That’s when some things started moving within me. I remember wanting to receive Communion and I remember believing that that is Jesus,” he said. 

Gonzalez had been baptized and received First Holy Communion in the Catholic Church but his family mostly adhered to the Protestant faith.  

He recalls being at a crossroads that day about whether to receive Communion or not. Whichever path he would take, that would dictate the rest of the summer.

“If I'm going to receive, I’ll set that example. If I'm not going to, I need to set that example because it's all about not being a hypocrite and practicing what you preach,” he said.

“Knowing that I was going to be a counselor, and that I was going to impact lives of kids in general, I knew that I needed to be someone they could look up to, someone that they could trust and someone who leads by example,” he said.

He chose to receive Communion and became a daily communicant at camp. That decision would change the trajectory of his life.

Gonzalez has been part of the Mary Help Camp for six summers.

One day, while in adoration in front of the Holy Eucharist, he heard the calling to discern the vocation to religious life, as a brother and consecrated lay person. He is now in his second year of formation with the Salesians of Don Bosco.

“This place has given me my faith,” he said.

It’s that faith that Gonzalez now shares with campers. This summer, you can find him leading Faith Time and answering the many question campers have.

“I recognize these kids yearn for Jesus. They’re looking for truth, because they're confused by the world,” he said. “Recognizing their need and being God's instrument to help lead them to God is just the most beautiful thing.”

Camp Mary Help’s mission is to evangelize and educate young people, especially those who are poor and at risk. Their goal is to never turn a camper away, and financial assistance is offered to families who can’t afford the fees.

This year, the camp grew by 40 percent since last year, bringing the total number of participants to 200 per week. With the help of generous donations, 92 of them are able to attend on a full scholarship. The camp is still accepting registrations for this summer and campers from all faith backgrounds are welcomed.

Camp Mary Help is one of two summer camp opportunities in Diocese of St. Petersburg for children and teens in the Tampa Bay area. The second is Our Lady of Good Counsel Camp in Floral City where kids ages 7-15 go for an overnight camp experience. Both camp look to employ those interested in working in a faith filled environment.

To learn more about Camp Mary Help Click here, and Our Lady of Good Counsel Camp click below.

Our Lady of Good Counsel Camp 

Camp Mary Help

To view photos of Camp Mary Help, click on the arrow below.

Camp Mary Help