International Staff Member Keeps Camp O Close to His Heart
Many campers and staff travel far from home when they come to Camp Ondessonk, but few traveled as far as Jesus Villate did when he was on staff. Known as “Mitch” during his summers as a Unit Leader, Jesus was sent to Camp Ondessonk from his home in Spain through Camp America’s cultural exchange program.
More than 25 years later, Jesus feels his time on staff put him on a different life trajectory. “More than a single memory, it was the whole package that got my heart.” He explained, “Being so far away from home (in Spain) and expending a few summers in the middle of a forest in North America with hundreds of people speaking with a particular English accent that I could not understand at first, was a life experience that truly changed my priorities. I ended getting a master’s degree in the United States and have lived here (in and out) for the past 25 years.”
His induction into Lodge came as a surprise to Jesus. While he had heard about Lodge from other campers and staff, he had no idea what to expect, recalling, “I was mentally unprepared, but enjoyed the whole experience.” His original Lodge sash remains in his parent’s home in Spain along with his other memorabilia from his summers at Camp.
Jesus, who now lives in Miami, stays involved with Camp’s mission as a volunteer, supporter, and active Lodge member because of his children. “I want to get them in touch with other dimensions away from technology that have more to do with the nature, the environment, and lasting friendships along the way.” He continued, “I am fortunate to have been able to pass along Camp O traditions to my children. For the last couple of summers, we’ve taken a plane from Miami to Nashville, drove for 3 hours, and delivered my oldest son to the Unit Leader at Camp. My oldest will be a third-year camper next summer and I have a six-year-old that is very outgoing, so Camp is the perfect fit for his energy level.”
“Camp Ondessonk gives the opportunity every year to thousands of kids and young adults to grow as independent and more responsible human beings while respecting the environment and each other.” Jesus said. “However, the beauty of Camp, to me, evolves around the simplicity of enjoying life with what basic things that God intended us to have.”
Jesus ended, “A big hug to all those friends I made in the summers I spent in Southern Illinois….wherever they are!”
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