After a record turnout for its fifth summer camp season, St. Therese’s Camp in Wasilla is expanding again.
“It’s the highest attendance ever,” said Camp Director Rudy Poglitsh, noting the camp was at 95 percent capacity with 261 youngsters over the five weeks of camps. “Each summer it has grown.”
The Catholic summer camp in Wasilla started in 2014 with four weeklong camps for children in third through eighth grades. All weeks filled quickly. In 2017 Poglitsh added a fifth week to accommodate more campers.
Next summer St. Therese’s Camp will add a sixth week of camp exclusively for high schoolers.
“We’ve had five good summers,” Poglitsh said. “Some kids have gone through the camps [multiple summers] and are really enjoying it and want to continue in high school. We want to meet demand.”
Poglitsh will be working on tailoring the programming to older campers, with longer sessions and more time to share and interact.
This summer Poglitsh was especially impressed by the counselors — college students from Alaska and as far away as Florida. Some of them said, after their camp experience, they are contemplating moving to Alaska.
“We’ve always had good counselors, but this time it was particularly great,” he said. “They really bonded and supported each other, great camaraderie. It made for a really good ministry team.”
One of the counselors was Jake Brownlee, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Anchorage. A priest was on site ministering to the youth all week of every camp, including four priests from within the Archdiocese of Anchorage. Some fun nuns rounded out the ministry team, with five Sisters of Life from New York City and two Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia visiting from Nashville.
For the first time in St. Therese’s Camp history, one of the guest nuns — replete with full billowing white habit — jumped from the elevated platform onto the huge inflatable “blob” to catapult campers into Neklason Lake.
The blob is a legendary favorite at St. Therese’s Camp. In addition to swimming and kayaking, rock climbing, archery, crafts, camp Olympics, sand volleyball and other outdoor activities keep campers happy on land.
Ideally by next summer, the list of activities will also include frisbee golf and baseball. Volunteers have been clearing land for a sports field behind the cabins, and Northern Industrial Training students are doing all of the dirt work for the field free of charge. An Eagle Scout is creating a frisbee golf course to fulfill his service project.
The final expansion in store is an industrial sized pantry being added on to the kitchen.
St. Therese’s provided scholarships for 40 of the 261 campers this summer. In addition to the summer camps, another revenue stream comes from renting the facility for groups and retreats. Nearly every weekend is reserved through the end of 2018.
Poglitsh said the financial outlook for St. Therese’s Camp is strong. A board of private investors purchased the property for $1 million from the Church of God, a Protestant denomination which established the camp in the 1960s. The seller agreed to take installments of $60,000 per year for five years, interest free, with a balloon payment for the remainder due this October.
After making all the payments plus some extra, the balance is $675,000. However, the sellers just granted a five-year extension. Poglitsh hopes to pay it off before it’s due in 2023.
Next up at St. Therese’s Camp is Glory Bound, a winter retreat for middle school youth, Dec. 28-30. Registration for Glory Bound is open at sttheresescampak.com.