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Grant gives youth a greater view

The Archdiocese of Denver, through Camp St. Malo Religious Retreat and Conference Center, made an investment in Catholic camp programs for youth this year by awarding a grant of $100,000 to the John Paul II Adventure Institute.

The grant intends to assist economically disadvantaged youth participating “in the wonderful youth ministry programs overseen by the John Paul II Institute,” according to a statement from St. Malo’s.

“This help from the archdiocese is phenomenal,” Sandy Harem, executive director of the John Paul II Outdoor Lab and an original founder of the institute, told the Denver Catholic Register Oct. 30. “The grant will help us grow because there are some students not able to participate now because of funding.”

The Adventure Institute entails two ministries: the John Paul II Outdoor Lab, operated during the school year to serve student in Catholic schools; and Camp Wojtyla, a program for middle- and high-school students that runs during the summer. Both programs have their roots at Camp St. Malo in Allenspark: Camp Wojtyla in 2006 and the Outdoor Lab in 2008. The Adventure Institute launched in 2009 as an umbrella organization.

When fire destroyed the St. Malo conference center in November 2011, they were pressed to find a new site. Then after last September’s flooding triggered massive mudslides that devastated the property, they sought a permanent new home.

“After the fire, we moved the Outdoor Lab down the road,” Harem explained. “Then after the flood, we asked: ‘Lord, where do you want us to go?’ We started looking and found Camp Santa Maria in Bailey.”

The Outdoor Lab has operated from Camp Santa Maria since the last year. Camp Wojtyla moved to 1,200 acres of wilderness at Camp Cal-Wood in Jamestown.

The grant, awarded last spring, is being applied to three primary areas: attendee scholarships, staff development and staff salaries.

“Without the support of the archdiocese, Camp Wojtyla could not possibly offer the faith and adventure integration that we do. From daily Mass to confession nights, we depend on priests for all our sacramental needs,” explained Annie Powell, executive director of Camp Wojtyla. “To have the financial support of the Archdiocese of Denver … allows us to not only survive as a program … but to thrive and focus on the next steps the Lord is calling us to, like how we can grow and expand the program to serve even more children.”

Fees cover about 45 percent of the actual cost, and more than 25 percent of campers cannot afford the subsidized rate.

“A majority of the funds is being used for scholarships,” Harem said, adding that students attending the John Paul II Outdoor Lab pay based on a sliding scale, thus necessitating supplemental funding. Sources of funding include fees paid, donors through The Catholic Foundation of Northern Colorado, corporate sponsorships and grants.

The Outdoor Lab serves approximately 900 students in 25 Catholic schools. About 19 percent come from lower income households. Since the grant, the institute has been able to more than double that percentage.

“We’re able to reach students we couldn’t reach before,” Harem said.

And the message they strive to reach them with is to look for God in every part of their lives.

“We create encounters with Christ through his creation,” Harem explained. “We really want to inspire a new generation of Catholics to live a life reconciled with God, with themselves, with others, and with creation.”

The camps incorporate daily prayer, Mass, confession, eucharistic adoration, catechism, Scripture and papal encyclicals.

“Camp Wojtyla leads and challenges young people through adventures in the wilderness into a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church,” Powell said. “Through adventures such as rock climbing and white water rafting, we can teach us a lot about trusting God, how the Church works and how to be a man or woman in today’s difficult culture.”

After attending camp, students go back “on fire for the faith,” she added.

“They are changing the culture of their schools and serving as leaders,” Powell said. “It is my hope that we’re helping all of the youth programs through what we do. We are truly blessed to be a part of the Archdiocese of Denver and feel so grateful to operate within such a strong and faithful archdiocese.”

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