After a camper-less 2020, Camp Tekakwitha opens for summer

Safety regulations will be part of youth camps, say directors

Rebecca Sievers, right, Camp Tekakwitha director, and associate director,McKenna Runde, are ready to welcome summer campers again after a year of without campers due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Bob Zyskowski | For The Compass)

SHAWANO — After a camper-less year, Camp Tekakwitha will welcome young people for faith-infused summer camps starting June 13.

The Diocese of Green Bay’s youth camp will operate at 80% capacity and with safety-based precautions in a number of areas, but camp director Rebecca Sievers said the weekly camp sessions are almost filled for 2021.

When COVID-19 restrictions prohibited large gatherings such as summer camps, “We hunkered down and let camp grow,” Sievers said. Worn areas trod into bare patches grew grass again, and nature revived the wooded location on Loon Lake north of Shawano.

“Camp was beautiful,” Sievers said, “but we missed being out here.”

The shutdown meant there were no jobs for the usual college-age summer counselors, and all of the full-time staff were furloughed for several weeks — Sievers included.

Camp Tek associate director McKenna Runde finished maternity leave last summer after having her first child, Joseph Patrick, and worked at a strategy to keep summer camp families connected to the facility.

“We talked about not wanting our families to be sad when they thought about missing summer camp, using social media, primarily Facebook and Instagram,” Runde said.

Via “Where Is It Wednesday?,” for example, Runde posted a photo from somewhere on camp grounds, inviting campers to guess where it is located.

“We sent postcards for birthdays so they knew we were thinking of them all year ‘round,” she added.

Along with the reduced number of 6- to-17-year-old campers at each session, changes to camp practices this summer will include:

  • Enhanced sanitizing between activities and sessions;
  • Individualized materials for arts and crafts;
  • Prepackaged meals instead of the usual family-style;
  • Readily available and encouraged use of hand sanitizers.

“If there’s inclement weather and we need to be indoors,” Sievers noted, “we will be masked.”

Sievers is grateful for the support Camp Tek received through the pandemic year.

“Our families were phenomenal,” she said.

When the shutdown for 2020 was announced, families who had already made payments for their youngsters’ week at camp were offered options for a refund, to defer the payment to be used for camp in 2021 or to donate the dollars to support the camp.

“”Thirty-five percent were exceptionally generous and donated the funds to help us survive the shutdown, and 27% deferred the payments. It goes to show how important the summer camp is to their kids’ lives,” Sievers said.

“Kids love camp. You’re going to see the joy of Jesus Christ in every single counselor who boldly lives out their faith,” she said.

Sievers described Camp Tekakwitha summer weeks as faith-filled.

“Campers are able to be themselves, to try to be more Catholic. They feel something and want to be part of a community, part of something that makes them a better person, more Christ-like, that makes their families better,” she said.

“There’s a different type of joy when you’re on the grounds,” she added. “It’s a vibrant, electric energy that says it’s cool to be Catholic.”