“It’s like one large family that gets larger every year,” said a counselor on a video celebrating the 40th anniversary of Camp Saint Andrew’s, the official summer camp of the Diocese of El Camino Real. It wasn’t hard to see why at an unforgettable celebration in Saratoga last Saturday night.

A crowd of nearly 200 campers, staff and friends gathered in the Parish Hall of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Saratoga to reunite, share memories, and celebrate 40 years of the life-changing camp with music, testimonials, wacky camp skits, and a dinner spread much more elaborate than typical camp fare (but still offering meatloaf and mac n’ cheese).

Two years in the planning, the evening was both a family reunion and a history exhibit, with campers and staff past and present enjoying displays of T-shirts, memorabilia, artwork, photos, reports, attendance logs and more spanning the 40 years since Camp Saint Andrew’s was founded in 1977. The first summer camp took place in 1978, founded by Gary Collins, Fran Crepea, and Sue Ramar. Since then, as Ramar told the crowd Saturday night, Camp Saint Andrew’s has hosted 5,000 campers, counselors, and staff with a total of 45 camps (two camps were occasionally held each year).

A third and equally important goal was to raise a $1 million endowment fund to ensure the financial stability of the camp into the future. As of Thursday, only $5,000 remained but organizers expect to reach the goal by Labor Day.

While the camp is a life-changing experience for kids, it’s even more special for low-income students who receive “campership” funding to attend. Since the first summer camp in ‘78, 1,500 low-income kids have been helped at a total cost of $700,000. This year saw 102 campers travel to Saint Andrew’s Sierra facility near Pinecrest Lake in California; of that number, 52 were low-income kids funded by camperships, 20 of whom from foster families referred by partner Uplift Family Services.

At the heart of Camp Saint Andrew’s lies the Scarf Program, and colored scarves were highly visible on Saturday night. Based on the YMCA Rag Society, it’s a progression of personal challenges that campers and staff take on to examine their place in the world and how they can positively impact others through leadership and example. The scarves are a reminder of successful challenges: campers age 12 and under earn gray scarves to reflect their challenge to be a good citizen and a helpful camper, then progress every year to the highest colors of purple and white. Purple (age 21 and above) reflects a dedication to a high and noble life with service to others, while white (age 25 and above) is the dedication of one’s life to Christian service, especially for children.

“It’s a very personal thing,” explains Erin Collins, a counselor who helped organize the event and whose uncle Gary Collins was a co-founder of Camp Saint Andrew’s. Wearing her purple scarf, she added that Sue Mack — one of the first campers in 1978 — was Scarf Director for 38 years, a role now held by Caitlin Cameron. It’s estimated that about 3,800 scarves have been tied in the camp’s 40-year history.

“There’s something very special about this camp,” says Angelina Rodriguez, a mother of four who benefits from the campership program. Three of her kids have gone to camp, including her 12 year old son who’s attended four years in a row, plus her friends’ kids who she’s “recruited.”

“They come back [from camp] very confident, very positive,” said Rodriguez. “they feel really good about themselves. It’s special and a true blessing.”

“What I love about camp is that we’re so disconnected from everything,” adds Erin Collins, who flies to California every year to be a counselor despite living in Washington, DC. “I don’t get cell service at camp and it’s my favorite thing … you don’t know what’s going on in the world. It’s nice, you’re totally focused on what’s right in front of you.”

View a slideshow from the evening below. For information about Camp Saint Andrew’s visit www.campsaintandrews.com