Here I am, sitting in my dorm room, just two days away from starting my senior year of college (yikes!). Even though it’s still August and still technically summer until the end of September, I have to come to terms with the fact that my summer is effectively over.
That being said, though, I did have an incredible (and incredibly busy!) summer, and I’d love to share the highlights with you all!
Literally the night I moved out of school and went home, my Aunt Tina picked me up and swept me off to her house to babysit her three amazing kiddos with our other cousin, Yanna. I was there for three days, and during that time, we played games, watched movies, became obsessed with Uno, and even did face masks! Even though we may get on each other’s nerves sometimes, I cherish time with my cousins more than anything.
And that was only the beginning! I got to celebrate Father’s Day with my family, send my cousin Yanna off to her junior prom, hang out with them at camp (more on that to come!), spend the day with them at Orient Point Beach out east on Long Island, and celebrate my cousin Daniella’s Sweet 16, too. I did miss our annual Cousins’ Weekend, where all the aunts and cousins stay in one house and hang out for the weekend, because I was at camp, but the times I did get to spend with my family made it a little easier.
I also got to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. My best friends from high school are all separated during the school year, but we always come together during breaks. This summer, we had an awesome beach day where we played Uno practically forever, jammed out to great songs in the car, and got Ralph’s Italian Ices (which you can see in my last post about going off Whole30).
Another day, we went on a hike at Caumsett State Park, which had beautiful trails and amazing views of the Long Island Sound. I did get pretty tired on that walk, but it was so nice to have my besties cheer me on and push me to keep going. We also did plenty of shopping (as always), and my bestie from college, Ian, came to visit and go to lunch one day, too, so that was fun.
Shortly after I came home from school, I had the incredible blessing of traveling to Greece with IV Next, a version of the Ionian Village program that aims to help young Orthodox Christians grow as professionals and leaders all while remaining in touch with the Church. The 11-day program brought us all over Greece. We stayed at Ionian Village’s campground in Glyfa for a majority of the trip, but also had the opportunity to visit monasteries, cathedrals, saints’ relics and other historical sights in areas like Kefalonia (where my grandfather was born and raised!), Patra, Athens, Zakynthos and Aegina.
I had the opportunity to venerate saints such as Saint Dionysios of Zakynthos and Saint Nektarios of Aegina for the first time ever. Visiting the relics of these saints was such a powerful and moving experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. We also got to attend church services in Greece, including an outdoor liturgy that was held at the Ionian Village campground. It was such an amazing experience to be able to worship in Greece.
Part of the IV Next program also had us taking part in sessions that would help us grow as people, too, so it wasn’t all fun and games. We were able to meet in Orthodox Life sessions to discuss what being Orthodox Christian means in such a secular world, as well as how we can integrate our social, personal and spiritual lives. We also had professional development sessions with members of Leadership 100 (who funded the trip!) in which Orthodox professionals shared skills we could use to also integrate our professional lives with our spiritual lives. Some of these skills included budgeting, time-management, and marketing yourself. A big thank you to Leadership 100 for investing in us and giving us this incredible opportunity!
The highlight of the whole trip, though, had to be the people. We were a group of 40 young adults, and by the end of the trip, we felt like a family. I went in only knowing four people (including my best friend Chloe), but left with 36 new friends. I feel like I learned something new from every single person I met, and now I have friends all over the U.S. and even one in Constantinople! We also had incredible guidance from our amazing trip leaders, Father Vinnie and Nadia, as well as the Ionian Village administration, including Director Father Evagoras, Assistant Director Konstantine, Program Director Alex, and, of course, Nurse Kristin! I am so tremendously grateful to all of the leaders and other participants for making my experience amazing. Any other Orthodox Christians ages 19-24, you should definitely apply to this program next year!
Camp Saint Paul
Just over a week after I got back from Greece, I got to go home. Like, really home. Anyone who knows me knows I can’t shut up about how much I love Camp Saint Paul and how much it’s meant to me over the last six years. This year, I had the opportunity to return as a staff member for the third time. It is such a huge blessing to give back to the camp that gave me so much. Camp Saint Paul is the place that really sparked my interest in and love for my faith, and I pray that I have and can continue to help campers in the way that my counselors helped me.
It was also my second year serving as Diakonia (community service) and Camp Store Director, and it was such an honor and privilege not only to work with camp’s stellar admin team, but also with every single camper to come past our gates. I love being responsible for the sugar rushes, too!
One of my favorite things about camp is that it has given me the opportunity to grow relationships built on a mutual love of Jesus Christ. I have made some of my best friends while serving on staff– friends who have taught me about generosity, kindness, compassion, selflessness, and faith. I have also learned an incredible amount from our amazing leadership– Director Father Elias and his wife Presvrytera Melanie, Youth Director Father Panagiotis and his wife Presvrytera Christina, Assistant Youth Director Alex, Program Director Dean, Girls’ Director Thea, Boys’ Director Michael, Kitchen Director Alex, medical man George, Activities Directors Anastacia and Greg, and, of course, all of our visiting clergy. I can’t even find the words to thank all of these astounding people enough for their dedication, patience, service, love, and example. I hope you all know how much you mean to me.
This year was also extra special to me because it was my brother Nicholas’s first year on staff. My yiayia and papou also got to come visit what they call “the camping” for the first time ever, and that meant so much to me! I was so ecstatic to show them a place that has such an important place in my heart and to introduce them to all the people I love there.
Some other highlights from camp this year also include visiting Camp Saint Paul’s future home (the program will be moving to its own campsite in a few years!), participating in color wars, making guacamole with my best friend Chloe during one of our breaks, wearing a bright purple wig just to make others (okay, and myself!) smile, and, of course, the week that my cousins were there. Even though there were some challenges, this summer at camp left me feeling content and spiritually recharged.
My family also got to take a vacation together for the first time in several years, which was really nice. The five of us stayed at a resort in Punta Cana called the Now Larimar, which was right on the beach and was totally beautiful. The food and drinks were delicious (our favorite was the resort’s French restaurant) and the entertainment was a lot of fun, too. I even got to relax with a book (Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins) by the pool and the beach. I hadn’t read a book in quite a while, so it was really nice to have that time to just unwind. It was also nice spending time with just my immediate family, basically for the first time all summer. I had to share a room with my brothers, which ended up not being so terrible because we got really into playing Uno at night. Ultimately, it was a great way to relax and get tan, and I was so happy to end my summer that way.
And that’s about it! My summer was definitely one to remember and I’m so glad I got to travel and adventure before I graduate college. I’d love to hear about your summers! Let me know what adventures you had this summer.
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