Campers begin making a “web of life” upstairs at the Lutheran Church during a Girl Scout day camp.

Girl Scouts of Alaska organized residential camps and day camps throughout the state this summer. Katie Anastas visited their community camp in Petersburg and talked to campers and staff about what it means to them.

On the top floor of the Lutheran Church, 15 girls pass around a ball of yarn. They’re doing an activity called the web of life, meant to show how everything in the environment connects.

As they build the web, an earthworm connects to soil, soil connects to trees, and so on. Lucia Worhatch said activities like these are one of her favorite parts of Girl Scout camp.

“I really enjoy the camp because we do lots of types of games and we go places and we learn new things,” she said.

Other activities this week included tie-dying, arts and crafts, playing games and singing camp songs. Lucia’s sister, Ivy, liked the field trips around town.

“We went to Sandy Beach, and that’s where we got to see all the sea creatures,” she said. “Then we went to the ball field, and we just went to the harbor.”

Almost all of the girls said they had met each other before camp. For Kaliyah Morales, who recently moved to Petersburg, camp makes the start of her first grade year a little less scary.

“I’m happy that I can make more friends,” she said.

There’s a Girl Scout song with the lyrics, “Make new friends, but keep the old.” Mackenzie Wieder, one of the camp counselors, said that’s what camp is all about.

“There’s a lot of power in a girl-only space,” she said. “To see them blossom throughout the summer — we’ve had some campers who at the beginning of the week are super shy or having trouble making friends. To see that growth in those kids has just been awesome.”

Wieder and the camp’s two other counselors have worked throughout Alaska this summer. They trained in Eagle River near Anchorage, then spent two weeks in Wasilla, six weeks in Juneau, and one week in Wrangell.

Here in Petersburg, Wieder said they got a warm welcome. The Lutheran Church acted as a home base for the camp, and also lodging for the counselors. Kids got free lunch through Stedman Elementary’s school lunch program.

“It’s been a really amazing example of what life here looks like,” Wieder said. “I feel really fortunate to see this as an outsider and be invited in in the way we have been.”

Next, they’ll spend a week in Kodiak. At the day camps, both campers and staff are required to wear masks indoors. Wieder says she’s glad to provide a safe camp experience, after the pandemic has put many kids’ social lives on hold.

“We want everybody to be able to experience this as much as possible and see what Girl Scouts is about, so they can hopefully have the same wonderful experience I know I did growing up in scouting,” she said.

Lucia Worhatch says she has, due in large part to people like Wieder.

“The Girl Scout leaders encourage us to do things that we have never done before, and then we actually do it,” she said. “Like when I’m jumping rope, they taught us how to jump in. We all kind of failed the first time, but the second time we went around, almost all of us did it. So they encourage us until we get the right thing.”

Wieder hopes that encouragement sticks with the girls through the start of the school year.