The 2022 Malta Camp USA, a summer camp for disabled young adults, opened on Sunday, June 19th with celebration at Siena College in Loudonville, NY. Eleven guests and 28 volunteers, including one to one helpers for each guest, are taking part in the first Order of Malta, American Association Malta Camp. Every hand on deck waited in front of the residence hall to herald each guest’s arrival, playing music, waving banners, flags, and handmade posters, and gathering the newcomers into the growing group to greet the next arrival. The welcome and love poured forth was explosive and fun!
The opening Mass was celebrated by our Upstate New York Area Chaplain and Bishop of Albany, the Most Rev. Edward Scharfenberger, who reminded the camp-goers that together “we are one body,” each with abilities to serve our Lord in one another. The camp theme, “Wonderfully Made”, from Psalm 139 was revealed on Sunday, the Feast of Corpus Christi. Upstate New York Area Chairs Peter and Jean Maloy and Malta Camp USA Directors Christopher Carter Lee and Luisa Majnoni d’Intignano led the Daily Prayer of the Order and the Malta Camp Prayer, which was crafted for this year’s camp.
After lunch, Mary Elizabeth Sell and Andres Zuniga of the NYC Ballet’s corp de ballet taught graceful motions directly from the choreography of Balanchine’s “Serenade” and Jerome Robbins’s original “West Side Story.” Both guests and volunteers were moved from surprise to joy as they learned how they could move and perform great ballet sequences.
The camp song, “Home”, and a camp dance the volunteers developed for the song and which all the Malta Campers could learn, kicked off a dance party and games on the Siena College quad. Laughter and games set the tone for an evening of folk music and contra dancing, as everyone paired off for each dance getting to know and befriend one another. The night closed with a slideshow of the day’s highlights and prayer together.
After a hearty breakfast, Malta Camp USA set out to Lake George. The morning was spent exploring Fort William Henry of French and Indian War fame. A dedicated interpreter, from the 18th-century troops who man the fort, introduced the events at the time the original fort was built. The story of Saint Isaac Jogues was recounted, and musket and cannon demonstrations on the ramparts were seen. Camp guests and their helpers cooperated in punching tin ornaments.
The steamboat Lac du Sacrament launched at noon and a lunch, accompanied by pop standards and piano tunes, were enjoyed by all campers. Sitting out on the deck or dancing on the ballroom floor were enjoyed as the boat toured the lake.
Returning to Siena College for dinner, all present attended and participated in a grand talent show. Guests sang karaoke style, in duets, or ordered up music of their choice, dressed and decked out with props and accessories for the stage. Costumed volunteers cheered on each courageous performer. The daily slideshow, revisiting the day’s best moments, capped the evening.
Camp guests and volunteers explored Howe Caverns, a series of underground caves and waterways operating for tourism for the past century, with guides who had special preparation to interpret for the campers. Recent 2020-21 renovations made the visit especially accessible and enriched the building of friendships between camp participants with and without disabilities.
At June Farms, all campers were given a golf cart tour to see and learn about heritage breed cattle, goats, and other livestock. The tour was loaded with photo opportunities and special care for those with disabilities as the farm’s staff and interns guided the caravan around manicured trails and paddocks.
Members, Auxiliary, and Associates from the Upstate New York Area prepared outstanding arts and crafts projects for each camper, with finished tote bags, a photo project, and ornaments created by the guests and volunteers. Guests also enjoyed the visit of a certified therapy dog.
The “Silent Night” began with the Rosary as Area Members joined campers in processing to Siena College’s Lourdes Grotto. Prayer, praise music, and a holy hour of candlelit Eucharistic Adoration followed in the chapel. Four friar priests from the Franciscan community offered reflection on the True Presence and then confessions throughout the hour. A quiet turn-in with desserts available was enjoyed afterwards.
Like the crack of the bat, Malta Camp USA’s day began with great cheers as Gary Holle, formerly of the Texas Rangers, and Tom Carroll, of the 1975 World Series champion Cincinnati Reds, met our camp participants emerging from their ADA-compliant “kneeling” bus in front of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. With enthusiasm and a background in disabilities education, Matt from the Hall of Fame’s education team began our guided tour by transforming the Malta Campers using historic uniforms and equipment from across 150 years of the game.
Then, scavenger-hunt-style cards were distributed so each camp-goer could find a special inductee while visiting the Hall of Fame’s hallowed Plaque Gallery. Campers next saw the World Series ring collection where Tom Carroll excitingly passed around his own 1975 ring for each Malta Camper to try on; something even our guide had never experienced at the Hall of Fame before! Through green-screen technology, our guests had their own baseball cards made, memorializing the visit and putting them each on their favorite Major League team. The visit concluded with a restful stop in the theater to see the Hall of Fame interpreted by the game’s greatest living legends. Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky chimed in, moderating an outstanding Q&A with our Major League player-companions for the day, Gary and Tom. Afterwards, a picnic lunch was enjoyed alongside Otsego Lake, the bucolic setting energized at last by our camp song and dance.
The Malta Camp USA bus pulled into the long drive of Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky’s “Dancing Lawn”, coming to rest before our Cooperstown host’s home, festively bedecked in Order of Malta flags, a voluminous pavilion to sit out in the shade, and most excitingly a baseball field lovingly crafted for the campers’ visit. While Tom Carroll and parish pastor Fr. Michael Cambi alternated pitching whiffle balls (with T-Ball option available), Camp Directors Luisa and Christopher’s teams took to the field and filled the batting lineup, enjoying what must be one of the most fun and spectacular games this baseball town had ever seen! Tours of Dancing Lawn’s stunning chapel and a generously catered dinner under the tents were capped by each guest having a baseball signed in order to remember this incredible day. Very specially, our campers witnessed the surprise presentation of the Order of Malta’s COVID-19 Campaign Medal, freshly arrived from Rome, by Area Chairs Jean and Peter Maloy to Dr. Dutkowsky for his extraordinary efforts during the pandemic.
Returning to Siena College, Malta Camp USA took in and sang along to the celebrated Disney film “Encanto” while set out on picnic blankets, inflatable chez lounges and Adirondack chairs, with blankets and boxes of popcorn aplenty. It was a whimsical end to an incredible fourth day of Malta Camp USA.
As bright eyes of guests and volunteers alike descended to the college fields from breakfast, each of four field activities and games were captained by pairs of camp volunteers. A parachute game had guests finding common interests and hobbies as they learned takeaways about each other that they hope to link up on in the months ahead. Most uproariously, volunteers and guests faced each other in full-body bubble suits, bumping and bouncing off each other surrounded by an encouraging circle of friends. After these bouts, everyone cooled down as they searched for gemstones and matched them up to an identification guide, discovering arrowheads and other hidden treasures. Last, a special relay was played with croquet mallets and wickets, beach balls, and distractions of all kinds, with volunteer helpers partnering with guests while other volunteers distracted with bubbles, balloons, and many other obstacles. Singing, dancing, and laughing were enjoyed continuously throughout the morning. Despite the threatening clouds, rain held off throughout the morning hours until a light, warm, summer sprinkle pattered down softly just as everyone returned inside and lunch began.
“Team Time” gathered all Malta Campers — guests, volunteers, and camp committee members as well–to share their experiences of the week. Few dry eyes could be found in the room as the realization set in of what had been accomplished: the advent of a new Malta Camp USA community based upon loving friendships between those with and without disabilities.
Most Rev. Edward Scharfenberger, Bishop of Albany and Order chaplain, returned to Malta Camp USA, joined by Knights and Dames from the Upstate New York Area as he celebrated the Mass of St. John the Baptist, our Order of Malta patronal feast. Echoing the camp song “Home,” the bishop noted that a home is a place where a family comes together. Like a baptism, enriched by the presence of the Holy Spirit, coming to Malta Camp recognizes the dignity of each camper and offers another home in which we are all “Wonderfully Made.”
Determined to celebrate the many newfound friendships on this feast day, a Malta Camp USA carnival was enjoyed by all. Guests attempted balancing skills and other fetes, relying on their helpers, with instruction offered by professional performers with backgrounds in disabilities instruction. While discs whirled and juggling sticks twirled, respite was enjoyed over challenging contests, lawn games, and giant jenga. A cookout dinner followed before the final evening revelries resumed. The last night of Malta Camp USA extended late with volunteers and guests all costumed and made up, availing themselves of props, hats, and a very well-trafficked photo booth for the closing night’s DJed dance party.
The first Malta Camp USA concluded with great joy and music filled the air as new friendships were recognized and farewell embraces were shared between the many guests and volunteers.
The impact of Malta Camp USA goes well beyond just a week– the intention is that the friendships developed at the camp create a robust community of support for guests year-round and longer-term. The camp week is the introduction and setting-off point for these friendships that help build up and empower our disabled peers.