Kansas nuns host leadership camp for girls.
by Jessica Langdon
LEAVENWORTH — Take a long piece of knotted rope.
Then untie the knots.
Sounds easy enough, right?
At this camp, there’s a catch.
Several people are holding onto the same rope — and no one can take her hands off, even for a second.
The undertaking kept groups of girls’ hands full — at least until they learned to communicate and collaborate to complete their mission.
Teamwork and communication are just a couple of the leadership skills girls honed June 26-28 in Leavenworth at the annual Leadership Camp sponsored by the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison and the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.
In its 14th year, the three-day camp brings together girls entering sixth, seventh and eighth grade. The location alternates each year between Leavenworth and Atchison.
Leadership Camp’s name doesn’t even hint at all the fun the girls have there.
But 11-year-old Lauren Biritz, a member of St. Peter Parish in Kansas City, Mo., already knew that.
“I was excited, because my sister came two years ago, and I wanted to go, but I was too young,” said Lauren.
Now old enough, she had a blast making new friends and figuring out what it means to be a leader.
“It means to be a nice person and to have good qualities,” she said.
Working together, growing individually
Ashley Krause, who will be a sophomore at Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kan., attended the camp all three of the summers she was eligible.
Like many former campers, she has now returned as a counselor.
“You can’t get through life alone,” said Ashley, emphasizing how important teamwork is at camp and in the real world.
“There’s no way a team can be a team without working together.”
Maddy Rieck, 11, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph Church in Leavenworth, liked the challenge of fishing as a team for objects on the ground.
Using ropes, the girls moved a wooden block with a hook underneath to make their catches.
“I think it’s fun because you get to hang out with this group of girls you haven’t known and you get to have new friendships,” said Maddy.
And she learned a few things about herself.
“I’ve grown out of my shyness and I can be more up with people and cooperate,” she said.
Her roommate, 11-year-old Valencia Rodriguez, a parishioner of Holy Name Church in Kansas City, Kan., was impressed with the work the Sisters put into the camp.
“They go through a lot to make this happen,” said Valencia.
Sister Suzanne Fitzmaurice, OSB, was entering the religious community when she was asked to design this camp.
She and Sister Vicki Lichtenauer, SCL, have worked on it together every year since then.
“I think [the girls] learn to think differently,” said Sister Suzanne. “I think it’s giving them [a] foundation at a key time in their life when they’re becoming young women.”
Sister Vicki cherishes this opportunity for women of all ages to interact.
The camp gives girls a personal experience with Sisters and religious life.
Past campers have shared how this camp helped them choose college courses or opened up leadership opportunities in high school.
“That’s, for us, really exciting — to make sure we empower women to use all their time, talents and treasure and not be scared to be a leader,” said Sister Vicki.
Confidence and Catholicism
Anna Powell, 16, is a student at Bishop Ward.
Though she didn’t attend Leadership Camp as a camper, she returned this summer for a second year as a counselor.
One of her favorite parts has been bringing the girls together on the first night to name their small groups.
Campers have come up with everything from Giggling Rainbow Monkeys to Discombobulated Minions.
They’re not afraid to be silly with each other, said Anna, and she sees the ability to relate as a key leadership quality.
It is exactly those qualities that campers develop in their short stay with the Sisters.
“You believe in yourself,” she said. “Things you didn’t think you could do, now you can; you’ve solved problems.”
Thirteen-year-old camper Maggie Overfield of Raytown, Mo., agreed.
You leave the program “more confident in yourself,” she said.
Maureen Kennedy, a camp counselor who is studying at Washburn University in Topeka, remembers the influence her counselors had on her as a camper.
“I wanted to give these kids the same experience I had,” she said. “One of the most important parts of this camp is knowing that their faith isn’t only about going to church and praying. It’s about meeting people and talking about it and experiencing it in new ways.”
Kristen Owsley, now 25, discovered her own confidence as a camper when she attended the first-ever session.
She was forced out of her comfort zone. And now, as a counselor, she loves watching younger girls emerge as leaders.
“It brings out the best in you,” she said. “It’s really fun just to get away and share time together and grow as a person — and in your faith.”