St. Therese’s Camp in Wasilla is preparing for its fourth summer with an extended season of providing “fun, faith and friendship” to area youngsters. This summer the camp has added another week to its schedule to accommodate a growing demand.
Everything from team sports to archery, kayaking, swimming, volleyball and arts and crafts are offered. And that’s just a sample. For those interested in the “blob,” check out the camp’s website. Hint: think inflatable water toy, only massive.
Along with the fun the camp offers a strong faith-based environment and a team of caring and talented camp counselors. There’s even a priest at camp full-time for at least two of the five weeklong sessions this summer.
Director Rudy Poglitsh said St. Therese’s Camp “invites campers into the joy of Catholicism through fun, faith and friends. We hope that every camper leaves the camp a little bit closer to Christ for having spent a week here.”
The camp is open to students entering third grade through eighth grade, and the sessions last from Sunday afternoon through Friday. There are about 57 slots per session. Cost is $315 a session, and each child is welcome to sign up for more than one week. But spots are filling up quickly. Some financial aid is available.
Long-time Alaskans may recall the “old” St. Therese’s Camp, which provided years of summer fun for area Catholics at its site near Soldotna. The Archdiocese of Anchorage ran that camp, but closed it and sold the property in the late 1990s. It lived on in the memory of former campers.
Those fond memories helped spur a group of area Catholics to form a board and purchase an established 57-acre camp in the Wasilla area from a Protestant group. The goal was to offer a Catholic summer camp experience, and run a retreat and conference center on the property during the off-season.
Rudy, camp director, is assisted by his wife Ruth, who plans and coordinates meals year-round.
“If it weren’t for Ruth, I couldn’t do this,” Rudy said.
The Poglitshs were just finishing up a 10-year stint teaching in Swaziland, and looking for their next adventure when Bob McMorrow, a friend who was helping with plans for the camp, contacted them.
Poglitsh originally served three years in the Peace Corps in that African nation, and after returning to teach in the U.S., he and Ruth were married.
“We went over to Swaziland at Christmas to visit,” Poglitsh recalls, “and visit my brother who was in South Africa. Ruth fell in love with the place.” In 2002, they began a life in Swaziland that included a growing family. Today, the couple has five children ranging in age from four to 14.
McMorrow’s call came at a good time. Poglitsh was looking for a change, and he plunged into camp creation. He and his family arrived in Alaska in October 2013, and began operating the camp as a conference center while planning for the summer camp.
“The Pines,” a Catholic camp in Texas, served as a model, and two women from the camp came up to helped organize the summer programming. Their involvement piqued the interest of other counselors in Texas, who jumped at the chance to spend time in Alaska.
“The counselors are the heart of the camp,” said Poglitsh. “We have been blessed by a steady stream of high caliber young Catholics.”
Counselors pay their own airfare and are paid “peanuts” according to Poglitsh, who said they are great role models.
“We seek counselors who love God, love children, and love the Catholic church. These counselors bubble over with the love of God, and it splashes onto the children, and the children are led to Jesus through the counselors,” Poglitsh said.
One of those counselors was Paige Christensen, who had worked at The Pines.
As she prepared for her trip, she thought, “Hey, I’m going to Alaska, better bring my camera.”
For Christensen, however, photography wasn’t just a hobby. She had studied at the New York Institute of Photography, and it soon became apparent that her gift for catching the right moment and translating it into exciting social media was just what the camp needed.
Today, Christensen spends the summer as the camp’s communications coordinator, transforming the website into a vibrant and up-to-date showpiece, with photos and videography. She maintains the Facebook page, sometimes with live postings for parents, and maintains Snapchat and Instagram accounts for the camp.
Children of every denomination are welcome, but all counselors are Catholic. The day includes morning, afternoon and evening prayer. The evening session might include eucharistic adoration, a chance for confession, or a sharing session with counselors. Mass is offered at least once a week.
Although too old to be campers, high schoolers may serve as volunteers during the weeklong sessions and help with kitchen duty. While unpaid, their stay is free and they share in the bonding experience and spiritual formation. The high school positions have proven popular and all spots are filled for the summer.
The camp is run independently of the archdiocese, but Poglitsh said it has a great relationship with the local church, and many parishes and Catholic groups use the conference center during the off-season.
For more information, visit stthereseak.com or call 907-232-2066.