Sunday Snippet: Faith & Spirituality Thrives in God’s Great Outdoors!
When sharing with families about all that WeHaKee Camp for Girls has to offer, we often spend time discussing the fun, the activities, the confidence and indepndence building experiences and the friends. But what adds so much meaning to all this, is the faith and spirituality that weaves its way through every aspect of WeHaKee.
The Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters of Wisconsin were seeking a place for girls to discover, explore and experience God’s great outdoors, so in 1923 they created what would become today, the only full-season Catholic girls overnight camp in the nation; WeHaKee Camp for Girls. They wanted to build a positive community that would nurture each girl and help her explore and discover her gifts, talents and strengths while growing stronger in her faith. The Sisters recognized that this opportunity would provide girls the chance to grow into strong and confident young women centered in their faith. They also knew the bonds that developed among the campers would evolve into relationships that would last a lifetime.
For over 90 years this has been the focal point of the WeHaKee experience. Those Dominican Sisters envisioned and created this camp to help children grow in ways not readily available in their home and school settings. They embraced the concept of youth development and girl empowerment decades before research said they should. They did it because it was the right thing to do. And it still is today!
The mission of WeHaKee Camp for Girls is based on the five core values of Community, Compassion, Justice, Truth and Peace (click HERE to learn more about the WeHaKee mission). Through a camp culture reinforced with strong positive role models, girls are immersed in a respectful & accepting community which encourages them to engage in a sense of ownership and service to those around them; to care and show concern for each individual; to embrace the uniqueness in their relationships; to experience honesty as a positive element of all relationships; and to experience and embrace relationships in an environment blessed by God.
Although faith and spirituality is not presented with an overwhelming or intimidating evangelical fervor, it is none the less deeply and thoroughly integrated within all aspects of the WeHaKee experience. Many overt elements are present including Sunday Mass, prayers before meals, daily evening prayer and cabin reflections, however campers are also exposed to the practical applications of their faith via a witness approach. Simply stated, faith displayed through choices, words and actions! WeHaKee staff are intentionally selected for their ability to exhibit a grounded acceptance of the core values and then are guided to effectively & naturally display these values in all they do at camp – in essence, to be great role models! As exceptional role models, WeHaKee counselors have a profound, positive and lifelong impact on each camper’s choices, words and actions.
The Camp WeHaKee experience is one of reconnecting with the world, with the community, with one’s friends as well as with one’s faith and spirituality. At WeHaKee, girls spend their days outside, directly experiencing God’s natural environment. They challenge themselves physically on the water, on the court, in the field or on the dance floor. They stretch their creativity through painting, drawing, and molding clay or expressing themselves through music. They explore and expand their faith through grace, songs, evening prayer and observing others who embrace their own spirituality.
Equally important are the relationships they forge while laughing and playing with their new found friends. This is where they explore what is important to them and how their uniqueness makes them special; how they are different, yet alike; and how to accept and cherish the differences in others. Girls at WeHaKee have always come from a variety of backgrounds racially, culturally, economically and spiritually. They consistently find a powerful sense of belonging while participating in a real world living encounter. This is what makes the WeHaKee experience so incredibly positive, empowering and meaningful.
One might wonder that in this day of hyper communication and instant gratification, how a few weeks in the woods can have that much of an impact on a child. Texting, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Nintendo & PlayStation – how does an unplugged camp experience compete with all that? When campers discover a place where they feel a sense of belonging, where they are valued for who they really are, where they feel safe to share their thoughts and feelings… well, let’s just say technology doesn’t stand a chance!
It is important to note that girls who come to WeHaKee each summer, often do so for seemingly less profound reasons. They venture to Camp WeHaKee to come together and swim, sail, water-ski, kayak & canoe, ride horses, play tennis, sing & dance, write, knit, create pottery, and sketch & paint while making new friends from around the country and the world. They sing silly songs, have wonderful meals together, play and pray, lay in their bunks giggling themselves to sleep and share their tears when they depart for home. Throughout all this, most are unaware that they are also deepening their faith, building their self-confidence, becoming independent and strong, and developing a resiliency that will carry them through the challenges life will soon throw at them. They are not cognizant and presumably unconcerned about all this, because they are just having so much FUN!
It is remarkable that idea a small group of Catholic Sisters brought to fruition over 90 years ago. And it has become exceptional how it has evolved into the tremendous opportunity it has been for tens of thousands of girls and young women for five generations. An outstanding life experience that has helped each of them become confident, independent, compassionate, faith-filled women. We are thankful and blessed for the vision of these Dominican Sisters.