St. Therese's Camp in Wasilla, Alaska, is gearing up for another summer of canoeing, archery, field games, campfires and camaraderie - all within the context of celebrating a vibrant Catholic faith.
The 57-acre lakeside camp is about to embark on its sixth summer season, serving kids in grades three through 12.
"St Therese's endeavours to make the week one of positive and encouraging relationships infused with a vibrant, lived-out Catholicism," said Camp Director Rudy Poglitsh. "Great activities, great counselors and friends, plus joyful Catholicism means one great summer!"
The camp first took shape as Camp Challenge under the Church of God in the 1960s. In 2011, Camp Challenge came up for sale and a lay board purchased the property with the goal of starting a Catholic summer camp. Poglitsh and his family arrived in Alaska in 2013 and St Therese's launched in 2014.
While the camp facility is available to parishes and community organizations throughout the year, its annual summer season is the primary focus.
"We're a vibrantly Catholic camp, and the kids and their parents love that," Poglitsh said. "We also have enormous amounts of wholesome, unselfconscious fun.
Summer counsellors are carefully selected from Alaska and across the nation based on their love for God, kids, and the Catholic Church, Poglitsh noted. Each day includes morning prayer, three meals, a snack, and daily Mass. Other activities include gaga ball, swimming, boating, the Blob, archery, arts and crafts, and a rock-climbing wall.
Despite all the fun activities, campers "regularly report that their favourite parts of camp are Confession and Eucharistic Adoration," Poglitsh said.
The participation of priests and religious is a priority, and campers enjoy the presence of a priest at camp throughout each of the five weeklong sessions. Additionally, campers attending in weeks three through six will enjoy the presence of religious sisters. The Nashville Dominicans will take week three. Weeks four and five are covered by two Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist and week six will include two Sisters of the Reparation of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
"At least one of our children has attended both the summer camp and winter retreat every year since 2014," said Cindy Monnin. "The magic of St Therese's is that it offers authentic community. The counsellors and staff are invested in each other and in the kids that attend the camp. The energy that they bring to their work becomes contagious."
"My kids have formed relationships through camp that extend throughout the year," Monnin added.
The combination of faith, friends and lots of fun outdoor activities helps bring "the beauty of Catholic community to the kids in a way that they can relate to," Monnin said. "Nuns in the gaga pit, priests diving off the Blob - who knew loving Christ could be so much fun?"
"Kids and adults can be so self-conscious," Poglitsh observed. "They ask, 'How do I look? Will I look silly? What will people think?' and can be so hesitant to just really cut loose and have fun. Wholesome, unselfconscious fun happens here, and people grin from ear to ear and from head to toe."
For Poglitsh, seeing campers take ownership of their faith is one of the great rewards of his work.
"I know they're still young and will face some serious temptations to leave Christ as they get older, but to see them really pray and get into deep discussions and questions about the faith, and want to grow in their faith, is very impactful to me," he said.
Monnin agreed. "I also see that their time at St Therese's is giving them the space to build on the formation of their own personal relationship with Jesus, in an environment where there are numerous examples of young people on fire for the Lord," she said. "All that, plus one of the most beautiful sites in Alaska!"
Thanks to numerous generous donors, St Therese's is closing in on paying off its mortgage, which was one million but is now down to less than $100,000.
"Paying off the camp means it is secure for generations of great summers," Poglitsh noted. "It's incredible to see the support. It's also an inspiration to do very well with the money," he said, "so that it helps the kids in the best way possible."
Monnin has been impressed with St Therese's over the years. "The campers are not just random kiddos showing up for a week of glorified daycare," she said. "They are welcomed into a community of people who truly live the beauty of our Catholic faith and are excited to have the opportunity to share it with others."
To register for camp, visit stthereseak.com. To contribute financially, click the 'Donate' tab.
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