Local Youth & young adult

Summer dreaming

Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg will host a wealth of activities this summer

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

WILLIAMSBURG — There may be snow on the ground, but kids from all over the archdiocese are already looking forward to summer.

Many have established a Camp Tekakwitha tradition of gathering with friends to share fun, live faith and form bonds that last a lifetime.

As the camp in Williamsburg gears up for its 15th season, moms in-the-know are counting the days until registration begins.

“It’s marked on all of our calendars — January 31, 9 a.m.!” said St. Michael the Archangel parishioner Joyce Feder, whose children have attended the camp for eight years now.

When the Leawood Catholic was asked what she would tell other parents considering the camp for their children this summer, Feder said simply, “It will be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.”

New and improved

Greg Wellnitz, a theology teacher at St. James Academy in Lenexa, has recently been named the new director of programming and operations for the camp. (Look for a story in next week’s Leaven.)

“He’s a great guy,” said camp director Dana Nearmyer. “The kids love him, and he’s really articulate in the faith.”

The camp will also be dedicating its new chapel in March.

“That will be a really enriched worship space,” said Nearmyer. “The kids have always loved Mass there anyway; it’s so vibrant.”

Nearmyer said the new chapel will have four air conditioning units instead of the one that barely cooled the former chapel. So this summer’s campers will be worshiping in complete comfort.

Also new this year, as it is every year, is the camp curriculum.

“We write the curriculum fresh every single year,” said Nearmyer. “We’re starting to work on that now.”

The activities kids have grown to love will be the same — from rock climbing, horseback riding, canoeing, and high ropes challenges to archery, swimming and lots of great music.

“After going to camp for eight years, you think it would be mundane,” said Feder. “But the kids are dying to go.”

Camp Tekakwitha lets kids trade their high-tech, over-commercialized world for one centered on nature and God, where they can grow in strength, self-confidence, friendship and faith, she said.

“It’s wonderful for them to take that time off and enjoy the beauty of nature and learn about their God,” said Feder.

Families find that campers return home filled with the Spirit and eager to share their experiences.

“It really has a profound, positive, faith-forming effect on our family,” said Feder. “And it’s so wonderful to have your faith come in through your children.”

“The Holy Spirit is in the house,” she added. “They bring him home with them. And it really gives them a lot of energy and faith throughout the year.”

“They get to experience Jesus in a very unique way,” said Nearmyer. “They’re with college [counselors] that are really on fire for their faith, and they’re learning while they’re doing ex- traordinarily fun activities.”

Family tradition

Sarah McNerny, also from St. Michael the Archangel Parish, has five children ranging in age from 10 to 20.

Her three oldest have been hooked on the camp for many years.

“We’ve done everything from the get-go,” she said. “They’ve been through all the different levels — even the X-treme.”

The two youngest are looking forward to starting their camp adventure this summer. McNerny appreciates the camp’s reinforcement of the Catholic principles she teaches at home.

“These guys know exactly where to come at them, at their level,” she said. “[The campers are] also able to share with each other and with the adults there. It’s a safe environment.”

Familiar elements of the camp environment include eucharistic adoration, rosary, Scripture study, Mass and reconciliation — and these faith activities are often as exciting and memorable as the outdoor adventures.

“One of the kids came home once and said, ‘Mom, I got to have reconciliation with the bishop!’” recalled Feder. “And you know, for the kids to have face time with our bishop? That’s incredible.”

Best of all, camp experiences can last a lifetime.

“My oldest is 20, and she’s made some of her best friends for life at Tekakwitha,” said McNerny. “They go to different colleges, but they keep in touch to this day.”

“Their camp counselors keep in touch with them, too,” she added.

Parents agree that the camp’s staff of administrators and counselors are the keys to its success.

“The directors there, they really have something special,” said Feder. “They just share their love of God so openly. And the counselors do, too.

“I think it’s one of the best experiences I could recommend for any child,” said McNerny. “Find a way to get your kids there and then support them when they come home.”

Feder agreed.

“We just feel it is a blessing straight from God that our children are able to go to the camp each year,” she said.

“At Camp Tekakwitha, it’s cool to be Catholic,” she added. “They celebrate it!”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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