The Camp Lady & The Camp Man
These kids are just like little sponges; they soak up every little bit of love.
Most locals in Aleknagik, Alaska, don’t know Debbie and Ken Reiswig by their actual names. Known as the “Camp Lady” and the “Camp Man,” the Reiswigs have been looking after Camp Polaris, and its campers, for the past 20 years.
Originally from Washington State, Debbie and Ken went to the northern part of Alaska as self-supporting missionaries several years ago. Sometime later the conference asked them to help at the Aleknagik church, and that was when they became involved with the camp.
“Ken and I can be called the caretakers,” says Debbie. “Ken is also the treasurer for the camp, and I’m the [camp] committee chairman.” But the Reiswigs are much more than this, as they provide a continual, year-round caring presence for the kids who get to enjoy Camp Polaris just one week out of the year.
When camp isn’t in session, local kids often come to the Reiswigs’ home and camp out. “Those are ‘our’ kids,” Debbie affirms. “They’ve all been in our home. Some officially, some not officially. But they’ve always been there—emergency care or just because they can, they always have an open home.”
Many of the children view Ken and Debbie as the adults in their lives who are stable, and they turn to them when there’s a crisis—big or small— knowing that the “Camp Lady” and the“Camp Man” will do all they can to help.
Finding a Way
“There was a kid who came to me,” remembers Debbie, “who couldn’t afford his camp fees—and back then it was $200 a week. He came every week with pennies and quarters that he had raised from washing cars. Sometimes he would buy a couple of candy bars and resell them to his friends. Then he’d come up to my desk and pull out the coins (never dollar bills) from his pockets and put them on my desk. I got a ledger sheet for him, and he earned every penny until he got his camp fees.”
The camp also has a limited scholarship fund, started with seed money from the Anchorage Seventh-day Adventist Church. In order to receive scholarship funds, the child must write a letter explaining why he or she wants to go to camp. In addition, they must have two letters from their community stating why the child should come to camp.
One day several months before camp Debbie looked out the window of her office and noticed a boy hiding in the bushes by the fence. He stayed there for a couple of hours until Debbie went out to see what he was doing. Very shyly he pulled a little paper packet out of his pocket. Handing the packet to Debbie, the boy quickly turned and ran away.
Unfolding the packet, Debbie found a handwritten letter. The boy desperately wanted to come to camp, but he had no money, and his parents had no money. In four pages of notebook paper the boy poured out his heart to the “Camp Lady,” explaining why he wanted to come to camp that year. “He went on and on about the songs, the campfires, the people who cared about him,” said Debbie, and “that ‘the girls were the cutest’!” Debbie found a way, and the boy got to go to camp.
“Every April or so kids start trooping into my office, asking if there’s going to be camp. They ask if they can have an application. They ask what they need to do and if I’ll help them get to camp. . . . And that’s just the moment for me—every year, every kid—it’s just reinforcing into me that it’s not always fun, but that it’s always really rewarding. There’s never been anything in my life so rewarding. These kids are just like little sponges; they just soak up every little bit of love.”
Camp Polaris will be receiving a portion of this quarter’s Thirteenth Sabbath Offering to build a bath house with showers and toilets. The Reiswigs think that this will definitely “infuse enthusiasm” because the current facilities have been in use since the camp began many decades ago. Regarding future projects, the camp is hoping to one day build a larger lodge. “It doesn’t have to be fancy, but just a little bit bigger so that it will be easier to accommodate everyone (see pictures of the current lodge on our website at www.adventistmission.org/resources). “If we had better facilities, we could probably have more kids come to camp, and the camp could be used a few more weeks during the summer, and possibly even in the wintertime.
Thank you for your generous support.