By S.L. Hansen
McCOOL JUNCTION (SNR) - As part of the effort to expand the ministry of Camp Kateri Tekakwitha, the Diocese of Lincoln recently hired Russell Koos to serve as executive director. He assumed leadership of the camp March 3.
A member of St. Teresa Parish in Lincoln, Koos has a rich professional history in directing camps.
“I have been a camp director for most of my adult life,” he said.
During his 11 years with the American Lung Association of Nebraska, Koos directed a camp program for kids with asthma. He then spent six years as director of Camp Kitaki, the popular Nebraska camp run by the YMCA.
“I believe strongly in the value of connecting kids to nature,” Koos said. “Nature activities help them not only understand the beauty God created but the science behind it as well.”
Camp Kateri, he said, “is a beautiful piece of property. We want to utilize it as much as we can.”
As executive director, he has followed in the footsteps of Father Thomas Kuffel, who juggled direction of Camp Kateri in addition to his responsibilities as pastor to St. Stephen Parish in Exeter and St. Patrick Parish in McCool Junction.
“He’s done amazing things with the resources he’s had and the pressures on his time,” Koos stated.
Currently, the camp is equipped with six air-conditioned cabins, a rectory, a restaurant-grade kitchen with attached cafeteria, a bathhouse (which also serves as a storm shelter), two buildings for staff quarters, and a recently re-roofed barn that serves as a multipurpose area and indoor chapel.
The grounds also include an outdoor chapel, campfire pit, basketball court, and areas that inspire prayer and honor the camp’s patron, St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
Each of these items was added over time since the 80-acre property was purchased in 1999. Funding has come primarily from private donations
Bishop James Conley has charged Koos with two initial tasks: get accreditation from the American Camp Association (ACA), and devise a strategic plan that will guide future development.
“I’m very appreciative that Bishop Conley wants to make an outdoor youth experience an important part of our ministry,” Koos said. “He’s committed to making Camp Kateri Tekakwitha sustainable and something that can persist and grow.”
ACA accreditation ensures that the camping experience is high quality with appropriate protection for the health and safety of campers and staff. With more than 300 standards, ranging from staff training to emergency procedures, ACA accreditation can give parents even more confidence that their children will have a positive experience at Camp Kateri.
As Koos works on the master plan, he is taking into account all the camp’s various stakeholders to determine priorities.
“Once we get a sense of where we want to go, we’ll know how to develop the property,” he said.
With his experience at other, more established camps, Koos has some ideas that may fit the master plan.
“If we’re trying to teach kids about how to communicate more effectively, one way is to go through a challenge course that campers have to navigate as a team,” he suggested.
With his own children currently ages 10 and 8 – just below the youngest age for most of the sleep-away outings offered at Camp Kateri – he said day camps were another possibility. He also envisions an equestrian program and swimming pool. (Currently, campers are transported to a city pool in nearby Exeter if swimming is on the agenda.)
This year, Koos and his family will be living on the grounds during Camp Kateri’s summer sessions: SKY camp for middle school kids, “Campin’ with the Marians” for middle school girls, and the ever-popular Altar Server Leadership Camp for boys.
The camp is also available for rental by parishes and families. It can be used for Confirmation retreats, parish missions, scout groups, family reunions and even weekend getaways.
Koos considers camping an opportunity to deepen one’s relationship with the Lord.
“When we are experiencing the Catholic faith in a normal setting, we tend to talk more than listen,” Koos reflected. “What’s really nice about the camp setting, you tend to listen to God, you reflect more. It really opens doors.”
“As parents we all hope our children become capable, productive citizens… to get along without us in the future,” Koos said. “Kids need to spend time outdoors, but also to practice social and practical skills. We’re offering a way to help kids learn the life skills they need.”
To register a child entering sixth through ninth grade for SKY Camp, contact the Family Life Office at 402-488-2040.
For more information about Camp Kateri Tekakwitha, visit the website, www.campkateritekakwitha.org.