Preparing for youth camp. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

The Knights of Columbus at St. Bernadette Parish in Scottsdale and Arizona’s Helping Hands teamed up to ensure some first-time campers were ready for camp.

They not only fronted the $498 camp fee, but they gifted each camper’s family with a personalized shopping spree June 2. The Knights raised enough funds during an annual dinner and auction to send 23 children, some of them refugees, to St. Joseph Youth Camp at Mormon Lake this summer.

The Knights and their wives were eager to help the campers shop for gear, even though they met some challenges. Shopping for jackets and long-sleeved shirts was a little difficult in June. And as luck would have it, some of the Knights raised boys in their earlier days, but got matched up with girls for the Wal-Mart shopping spree.

That didn’t stop anyone from shopping with big smiles on their faces like they were shopping with their own grandchildren.

“The kids are so polite. That’s what’s amazing,” said Jerry McMahon, who was shopping with a camper for the first time.

One boy, upon hearing what size his mom suggested the Knights look for quipped, “Man, I really am growing like a weed.”

The youth left with a new pair of shoes, shirts, socks, underwear, sleeping bag, ponchos toiletries and other necessities bundled up in a large trash bag. Some of the Knights were able to share tidbits about the campgrounds because they had just spent a weekend cleaning it.

Camp fosters an environment where all kids are equal, regardless of their socio-economic status, said Kathy Donaldson, a local Catholic and founder of Arizona Helping Hands. To date, she’s helped send 133 children to camp in the last 10 years.

Her organization worked with principals, counselors and social workers to select this year’s campers. They’re all between 8 and 12 years old.

Nine-year-old Jada and 11-year-old Jordan will be among the campers. Last names were not used to respect privacy.

“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Sparkle, their mom. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to go.”

Camp will mark the first time the three have been separated for so long. The kids are excited for the experience. Jordan recently read a book that featured a character with a bow and arrow, so he’s eager to learn archery. His sister has other plans.

“This is going to be sweet because I get to ride a horse finally,” Jada said. She recently asked her mom for one.

St. Joseph Youth Camp, which opened in 1948 and is operated by the Knights of Columbus, offers roundtrip transportation from Tempe and memorial DVDs of each weeklong camping experience. Kids ages 8-15 can go horseback riding, kayaking, hiking or mountain biking. They can also try their hand at archery, crafts, drama and games.

A new addition this year is a dessert Dutch Oven Cook-off. The camp is also working to offer an astronomy class with volunteers from the observatory in Flagstaff.

Eight-year-old Magnifique hopes the nighttime isn’t just about learning. She said she’s ready to hear scary stories.

St. Joseph Youth Camp

The weeklong experience in the Coconino National Forest at Mormon Lake, Arizona, is still accepting registration. Campers ages 8-15 are welcome.

Teenagers ages 15-17 can apply as counselors.

For details and registration, call (480) 449-0848 or go online.