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 | By Natalie Burt

Heart Ridge’s Catholic camp is a true vacation for families

When dreaming up the perfect family vacation, few of us would add “exhaustion” to the list of what we want to achieve. But for many of us, that is exactly what a family vacation leaves us feeling: tired, drained, wanting alone time. Sure, the kids had fun! All they had to do was play and enjoy.

It’s typically parents who take on the role of meal and snack planners, shoppers, cooks, housekeepers, activity coordinators, lifeguards and tour guides. And that’s not even mentioning the price tag. What does a typical family vacation cost? Beach condo or house rental, Disney tickets, restaurant bill — it adds up so quickly.

So it raises the question: what do we really want from a family vacation? Danny and Whitney Dorsel from St. Mary the Virgin Mother Church in Hartsville pondered this question. When it came time to choose a family getaway, where did they go? Catholic family camp. In the words of Whitney, “It is a true vacation!” 

“It’s a break from the hustle and bustle of your family life and whatever that entails,” Danny said. “It’s a break from a commercialized vacation, inundated with activities that don’t feed the soul.”

The heart in Heart Ridge

When searching Google for “Catholic family camps,” several pop up, and one of them is right here in South Carolina. During the summer, Heart Ridge Retreat Center in Sunset offers only family camps. Each week from June 18 to Aug. 4, Heart Ridge gives families the opportunity to be together, have fun and build community. No matter your age, family camp has something for everyone.

Tami Kiser, who owns Heart Ridge with her husband Keith, shares that the children are never bored because they always have other kids to play with. In a world where the default setting seems to be tables or cell phones, no one is on their phone. The kids enjoy the attention of and time with their parents. Parents enjoy connecting with their teens. And teens reconnect with their parents, in a good way. Moms don’t have to cook or plan activities, and dads enjoy the break from work and a chance to be family.

A different kind of vacation

In 2021, the Dorsels were looking for a beach or mountain vacation, and everything seemed exorbitantly expensive. Danny saw an ad in The Miscellany for family camp at Heart Ridge. The couple decided to do something with their children that was geared toward nature and family and less commercialism. Catholic family camp was not just their choice for that summer, it has become their primary vacation choice for subsequent summers.

Danny and Whitney homeschool their kids and live in a small town, so interaction with other Catholic families who model faithful devotion is a constant desire. From going to family camp, their kids have made friends with other Catholic children, and camp has given the family a chance to connect with others on the same journey.

Whiney also shared that having a chaplain there for confession, adoration and Mass was a blessing. Their children loved being around a “real live priest” during normal everyday meals and activities. The Dorsel children became comfortable with his presence, which made them more attentive to participating in Mass. Whitney said she sees the fostering of these relationships having the potential to build vocations. Upon driving away from Heart Ridge to return home, Danny and Whitney’s kids were already asking about when they were going back. That is a testimony in and of itself, when your children are looking forward to returning next year.

Founded by the faithful

Keith and Tami Kiser, members of Holy Cross Church in Pickens, are parents of 10 kids ranging in age from 11 to 34. Before they owned Heart Ridge, they experienced first hand the blessing of attending a family camp. They said it provided the right balance of family time, down time and time with other families. The Kisers’ wanted to provide a similar enriching experience to other Catholic families. 

“Yes, it’s a lot of work,” Tami said, “and by the end of the summer, we are tired. But when we hear the amazing feedback and how it has transformed their lives, we know that it’s totally worth it.”

A typical day at their camp begins with all the dads cooking breakfast. This gives men a chance to talk and share together, which can be challenging for them to find in everyday life. They prepare food while speaking about their faith, the busyness of jobs and family, and hopefully find encouragement in each other.

The day’s theme is introduced to all participants after breakfast through skits, music, teaching and sharing. Everyone breaks off into peer groups: parents have their own small crew, and there’s one each for young adults, teens, tweens and children divided by age. Then, individual families gather and share with one another before daily Mass. Afternoons include crafts and excursions to waterfalls and hiking trails, which are optional but included in the cost. Evenings feature movie nights, parents nights out, skit nights, barn dances and field-day style games. 

In addition to lodging, dining hall and a gym, Heart Ridge is surrounded by the natural beauty of a lake and mountains. A small chapel is always open to provide a place of quiet prayer and adoration. Good food, fun games, lake swimming, campfires, smores, prayer, fellowship, hiking, waterfalls and a few chickens all make Heart Ridge a great family vacation.

To learn more about Catholic Family Camp, visit

Natalie Burt is a professional organizer serving the Rock Hill area and the creator of the Christian family website Faith and Flavor: Email her at