[Archived News] Wednesday, June 6, 2007


Aliquippa, Pa - As a young and energetic priest in Aliquippa, Fr. Stevan Stepanov, began a summer tradition in 1977  that has become a treasured memory for generations of St. Elijah youth.  At a time when most Sunday School students wouldn’t even think about learning in June, July, or August, Fr. Stevan came up with a plan to hold a week-long church camp that would give our children the opportunity to learn more about being Orthodox and Serbian as well as getting to know each other better and him in an informal setting and have fun.  

With small resources but big hopes, Fr. Stevan and Popadja Ana and a dedicated group of several adult volunteers hosted the first St. Elijah Church Summer Day Camp in June 1977.  At that time, to the best of our knowledge, none of our other Serbian Churches held this type of activity, so there was much to think about and plan.  All of the activities had to be free and close by, so the facilities of our church, social center, and picnic grounds were used.  The mornings were devoted to religious and cultural lessons and the afternoons to fellowship and fun. Through the years our children have been enriched by learning things pertaining to:  (1) Traditions - Slava, Weddings, Parastos, Blessing of the Graves, (2) Giving and Receiving - Visiting the sick, helping one another, donating to the less fortunate; (3) Do whatever He tells you - do not get angry, do not swear falsely, love your enemies all from the book of Matthew. (4) Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me, which taught them how to give service to their church, community, and commitment along with learning their culture and traditions.
With each of these subjects came activities to go along with them.  The campers learned how to:  make naphora (one of their favorite yearly activities), make kolivo, icons, Christmas tree ornaments, crosses,  write their names in Cyrillic, and make prayer rope bracelets.  The altar boys had lessons on how to dress the bishop, campers were taught to  respect the departed by planting flowers on Bishop Lastavica grave,  and donate items for  gift bags  and take them to our parishioners who are living at  Friendship Ridge just to name a few.

Several parishioners offered their pools for an afternoon of fellowship and fun in the sun, including the Zernich family in Center, the Ralich family in Ohio, and the Nairn family of Center. Many parents and grandparents donated and prepared food along with the American Serbian Club, provided transportation, and helped arrange the many activities.  Fr. Stevan was proven to be a true pioneer and all of the camp participants enjoyed these five days of camp.  Friendships were made; first loves kindled; and special memories were had by all.  

Fast forward to thirty years later, and have we grown!  Yes, we still have five full days of camp:  mornings with religious education and afternoons with social activities.  But since then, we added a beautiful new Chapel at the St. Elijah picnic grounds where we typically have morning and afternoon prayers of which the children sing the responses.  Because of the generous support of our church, its organizations, the KCC, Choir, Mother’s Club and Men’s Club along with our dedicated parishioners, campers have enjoyed religious trips to the Diocesan Headquarters both in Sewickley and in Mars, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Camp Nazareth, Monastery Marcha,   and the Nativity of the Virgin Mary Monastery.  We also made a one day bus trip to the Serbian churches in Cleveland Deanery.

Our social excursions have included, White Swan Park, Geauga Lake, and the Petting Zoo, “Just Ducky” tour boats, the Pittsburgh Zoo, Children’s Museum, to the movies, miniature golf, and the Fun- Fore- All Entertainment complex.  Each year, campers have either made or received a themed t-shirt.  And of course, a yearly highlight and “tradition” – fishing, swinging, swimming and sunning at Lake Tomahawk, Ohio, thanks to the Lampich family.  They have been entertained by hypnotists, clowns, magicians, learned to speak Serbian, sing Serbian songs and dance kolos.  Police presentations on safety, CPR courses, and 911 information have enriched their lives as well. Last year, they even survived the first ever “Serbian Survivor” game. 

This camp is unique. Each year, we encourage campers of all ages to attend, from pre-school to high school students. Even though it is not always easy, we attempt to plan activities that are enjoyable for all ages, and to encourage our older campers to teach and help the younger ones. We have five full days starting promptly at 9:00 am and ending most days 3:00 pm or sometimes later, depending on the scheduled daily activity. 

This year, after three decades of camps, it is wonderful to look back upon these experiences.  Whether it is a “pick up kolo” at the picnic grounds or a day in Pittsburgh, each moment is precious.  Kids, teachers, mothers, fathers, kumovi, grandparents, friends and camp alumni all share in this wealth of memory-making days of June.  Through fasting periods, extreme heat, rain, and lean years, Fr. Stevan and our dedicated volunteers have persevered to insure that our camp continues so that each year, new campers are able to be a part of this tradition.  Ask nearly any graduate of the St. Elijah Church School what they like best about growing up here in Aliquippa and amongst that list will be CHURCH DAY CAMP!  We are all proud of that. 

Fr. Stevan, the Church Board, and the Sunday school teachers are working to make this an extra special year, with camp scheduled from June 11 – 15, 2007. We are proud to say we have the 2nd generation of campers attending camp just like their moms and dads did! In the next few months, we will be sharing more specific information, but hope that all families with students will mark their calendars now and plan to attend.

In addition, we are going to host an Alumni 30th Anniversary Picnic on Saturday, July 21st at the St. Elijah picnic grounds, so again, mark your calendars! We will be sending letters to all former campers that we can find, but if you attended camp (or know somebody who did); please contact us at stelijah@comcast.net with a current mailing address or, you may call the Church Center office @ 724-375-9894.  We look forward to seeing all of you once again to help us celebrate this milestone event!