| By Katie Camario

Camp Life

Nestled among 175 wooded acres along the shores of a serene lake in Citrus County, Florida, sits Our Lady of Good Counsel Camp. It’s a residential youth summer camp owned and operated by the Diocese of St. Petersburg, where children between the ages of 7 and 15 can grow closer to God through community experiences and the beauty of creation. The property is also used year-round for youth retreats.

“Our values at camp are creation, community, character, and Christ-like service,” said Camp Director Stephen Watkins.

Rustic cabins are scattered throughout the wooded property and welcome young campers every summer with the promise of outdoor adventures. 

“We have archery, boating, swimming, arts and crafts, team building exercises, a challenge course where the kids do team building, and all kinds of puzzles and problem solving that they have to work together to achieve,” said Watkins. 

The idyllic setting provides the backdrop for campers to disconnect from electronic devices and embark on wholesome, character-building outdoor activities.  

“For us, our character is what God intends for us to be, physically, mentally, and spiritually,” said Watkins. “We're focusing on the whole child while they're with us.” 

At camp, kids unplug from the fast-paced digital world and plug into the outdoors, faith, and community. 

“We have a ‘no cell phones’ policy, so phones aren't allowed. However, it’s OK if kids want to take pictures, and bring a digital camera,” said Watkins.  “There are definitely kids that struggle more when giving up those things, but we find that when kids can come into the program open minded, they can really thrive.”

Watkins knows firsthand the lasting impact the camp has on shaping faith from his experience as a camper himself.

“At 10 years old, I got to come up with other kids from Miami and enjoy camp for the first time,” he recalled. “Camp has blessed me in so many ways. I even met my wife at camp, and we got married in the chapel.” By attending daily Mass, participating in the sacraments, and engaging in traditional activities, Watkins discovered a place where he could wholeheartedly be himself.

“What I loved about it was that it was just so clear to me, that you can just be yourself; I felt safe,” he said. “There's something that we do really well here, where we just break the ice and kids can let loose and relieve themselves of the pressures of life.”

Watkins continued attending camp each year, and at 16 he was hired as a dishwasher.

“That was the best summer, we worked like 12 hours every day. There's just something about hard labor,” he recalled. “Being on the other side and seeing how much the staff puts into the program to make it what it is opened my eyes, and all of a sudden, I realized that I just have a love for service.” 

After college, he started to pursue a marketing career but found that he missed camp life.

He was hired as Camp Director in 2023, when Father James Johnson retired from that position.

To learn more or to register your child for Good Counsel Camp visit www.goodcounselcamp.org. Our Lady of Good Counsel Camp is funded in part through gifts to the Catholic Ministry Appeal.