Category: Archive

Young Irish find fulfillment as counselors

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Hunter Mountain is often touted as a place to go skiing in the winter because it is within easy enough reach of New York City. But the resort village is a heck of a long way from Cork or Kildare, even when there+s no snow to cope with.

But distance is no object at all when the end of the traveler+s rainbow promises a full pot, not of gold, but of caring and love and a degree of job satisfaction that seems somehow unlikely in this cynical age.

But here is where the rainbow ends. It is a place called Camp Loyaltown. And everyone shares the brimming pot during the hazy and hot days of highest summer.

Loyaltown, just outside the village of Hunter, N.Y., is a special place in every sense of the word. The campers are special kids and adults and the counselors bring to their work an equally special sense of responsibility, commitment and, yes, love.

And they do so around the clock, seven days a week from mid-June until the end of August.

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Camp Loyaltown was founded 29 years ago and for most of the time since it has been run every summer by Paul Cullen, a Pittsburgh native, and his wife, Karen, who is from the Bronx.

The fact that both are Irish American played some part in the fact that young Irish counselors have played a pivotal role in the camp+s success story.

But it wouldn+t be the entire story. Word of a place such as Loyaltown has a habit of traveling on the wind. And it has traveled right around the globe and Ireland too.

The Loyaltown campers range in age from 4 to about 84. Each and every day they face an array of physical and learning challenges the kind of which most of us can+t even imagine. But they don+t face these challenges alone.

One day last week 350 campers and counselors engaged in a variety of activities from arts and crafts to boating and swimming in the camp+s spacious new pool.

There are times during the summer that the camp+s population can top 400. And there+s a waiting list to get in. This is a busy and purposeful place.

It+s also something of an Irish place.

Loyaltown caters to kids and grown-ups from the New York and New Jersey area but primarily draws its campers from Long Island, both Nassau and Suffolk counties.

It is owned by the Association for the Help of Retarded Children+s Nassau County Chapter.

Not surprisingly, then, 35 lush acres of the Catskills provides quite a contrast for the Long Islanders, just as midday temperatures hovering around 90 degrees is quite a change of pace for the Irish counselors.

Irish, Irish everywhere

And there are a dozen Irish in camp this year, all in their late teens and early 20s and drawn from Counties Cork, Dublin, Kildare and Tyrone.

One might think that given the intensity and demands of working at a camp like Loyaltown there might be just a little grumbling and complaint.

Counselors will call the work hard and the days long but that is clearly accepted by all. So apart from the odd wistful comment about the absent delights of a soft Irish summer+s day, the tone and comment is consistently upbeat.

The Irish counselors, as do the counselors from a number of other countries working here, display a joy in their work that might seem almost spiritual if it wasn+t so immediately tied to the absolutely earthly and practical.

Stephanie Gartland, who is from Kildare, is at Loyaltown for her fourth year. Like all the other Irish working here this summer and in years past, Gartland heard about Loyaltown by word of mouth.

-I had experience working with children with learning disabilities in Ireland, so, thankfully, I was accepted for Loyaltown and have never looked back,+ she said.

Gartland+s job this summer has her coordinating evening activities and filling the role of a roving counselor during the day. She covers for those counselors on their days off.

There+s one of those per counselor per week.

Roving as she does, in a golf cart with a walkie-talkie to keep in touch with all and sundry, she gets to do a little bit of everything.

-I work in the dance class, the woodshop, music, athletic, nature and many more,+ Gartland said. -I really enjoy this as I get to work with all the campers and counselors.

-In my previous years, I worked as a cabin counselor with young teenage girls with mixed disabilities. During these years I acted as a teacher, a parent, a sister and friend to these girls. They changed my outlook on life forever.+

Gartland, like all the Irish counselors, displays a remarkable degree of attachment to her job despite the responsibilities and demands that are her companion every waking minute and even beyond that.

Indeed, no one in the Loyaltown Irish contingent displayed even the slightest hint of a negative outlook on a job that is not going to make any of them rich, at least in the financial sense, and rarely gives the individual a slack minute.

-Cool and brilliant,+ is how 19-year-old Trinity College Dublin social studies student and Kildare native M

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