The hills and dales of Alverna Heights in Manlius rang with the unaccustomed rambunctiousness of children's games last week during Camp Alverna, a day camp run by the Franciscan Sisters for Syracuse youth.
"It's a way for kids from the inner city to find out what the country is like," said Molly Gray of Fayetteville, a Franciscan associate and volunteer counselor for the week.
The camp arose in the early '90s when Alverna hosted a one-day excursion for children participating in a program at Brady Faith Center in southwest Syracuse. The children and staff responded so well that Sister Pat Larkin and others at Alverna Heights developed a weeklong program that has occurred every year but one since that first outing.
The Franciscan creed centers on an appreciation and respect for nature, a sensitivity that is hard to come by in a strictly urban setting.
"It's peaceful here, quiet," Larkin said. "It's clean. We have the beautiful property here to let them see nature."
Campers learned about a pond ecosystem from an environmentalist, they practiced tranquility and stress relief and they wrote poetry. They also packed in traditional camp fun at the Alverna Heights swimming pool and in the arts and crafts room.
Larkin hopes the camp gives children an experience of security and nurture they can carry with them.
"By the end of the week they can play," she said. "They share because they know nothing's going to be stolen. They're not going to be hurt. They can just relax and be children."
David Shannon, a parishioner at St. Mary's in Minoa, serves on the camp planning committee. He also led a group of campers last week and watched his charges respond to the care they received at Camp Alverna
"It's unique," he said. "Our effort is to show love and attention to each kid so when they leave they'll say, 'I'm somebody special.'"