It all started 50 years ago: a group of very forward thinking gentlemen led by Vilis Varsbergs had a dream of creating a place for American Latvians to meet. With hard work, dedication and help from the Latvian community in North America their dream became a reality
Located in southwest Michigan right by the beautiful Long Lake, today Garezers is known throughout the world among Latvians as Home Away From Home.
This past summer more than thousand guests from all around the world including special guests from Latvia went to Garezers to celebrate its 50th anniversary. But none of that would be possible unless for the people who have invested hard work and endless hours in making Garezers the place it is today.
The mission of Garezers is to prosper as a meeting place for Latvians of all ages, to raise and educate Latvian youth, to strengthen the Latvian language, culture and spiritual values, to promote the Latvian heritage and develop links with Latvia. Over the course of 50 years it has done outstanding job bringing people together and keeping Latvian culture alive from generation to generation.
One might wonder what this place looks like and what happens there on a daily basis. For those who are unfamiliar with Garezers, the following description might help to better understand and imagine the unique place.
Once the snow has melted and tireless volunteers have cleaned up the 68-hectare big campground, hundreds of excited kids rush their parents to drive them to Michigan to enter their highly anticipated summer program.
Garezers offer four different educational and cultural programs that are modified for children of ages 2-18.
Garezers offer kindergarten, pre-school, middle school and high school summer courses. But don’t be fooled when you hear summer school. This place is so much more than just sitting in the classroom.
The student days are carefully planned out by their camp counselors from Latvia, Canada and America to integrate education, culture, sports, music and most importantly fun. The students spend about four hours every day learning about Latvian history, geography, culture, traditions etc. After they have completed their academic lessons they have a variety of activities to choose from ranging from music, sports, art and outdoor activities.
Every evening the camp counselors plan different activities for the whole student body. Some of the activities include song wars, sporting events, talent shows, dance parties, beach nights, obstacle courses and many more.
It is quite astonishing to hear the students talk about Latvia with such passion and enthusiasm.
Majority of the students have been born in Canada or North America and most of them have never been to Latvia. Yet they speak fluent Latvian, know extended history and geography, excel in the knowledge of Latvian culture and traditions as well as they master the art of dancing folk dances and singing folk songs. Their love for the culture is amazing, therefore, once they have completed the summer programs most of them return to the summer camp as camp counselors, teachers or just become regular guests.
Aside from the campers, there are many trailers and cabins along the lake for guests that come to Garezers for the weekends from all around America as well as Canada. For most Latvians, Garezers is home away from home. A place where they spend their summers, however, there are dozens of people who live in the village permanently. There are about 50 Latvian houses around the lake as well as dozens of houses in the near village. These are the people who make sure the camp group is maintained throughout the winter and will be ready for the upcoming summer.
Garezers is a place where Latvians can meet like-minded people and share their thoughts of the current events in Latvia and talk about their aspirations how to improve the Latvian community in North America. Many friendships, romances, love stories and even businesses as well as National and International organizations have started in the stomping grounds of Garezers.
To summarize in short: Garezers is a place where hundreds of children create unforgettable memories with their best friends while learning how to become a successful citizen and even better Latvian.
The Latvian Center was made my very motivated and inspirited people who wanted to establish a special place for the Latvian community to meet, however, over the 50 years of hard work it has become so much more. Today, Garezers is as revelant and important as ever providing bridge for families interested in their heritage. Here is to another 50 successful years.