Introducing Annunciation Heights

New camp seeks to create new traditions for youth and families

Aaron Lambert

 

Nestled in the Rocky Mountains and resting in the shadow of Long’s Peak, a new adventure for Catholic youth and families awaits.

Annunciation Heights is a new Catholic youth and family camp located just south of Estes Park in the Archdiocese of Denver. Acquired late last year, the four-lodge, 188-bed camp will serve as home for new summer youth and family camps, spring and fall outdoor lab programs, and year-round youth, college and parish ministry retreats.  The hope is for Annunciation Heights is to provide a place for visitors to get away from the hustle and bustle of life to gather in a beautiful setting only Colorado can offer, be served by a great staff and ultimately, grow closer to Christ.

“At the very core of everything, we’re trying to provide a beautiful, adventurous, and sacred setting for youth and young adults, parish groups and families to be brought into a deeper friendship with Jesus,” said Kyle Mills, Executive Director of Annunciation Heights.  “Our camp offers all the adventurous elements kids will love; a zip line, a lake with fishing, paddle boarding, and canoeing; a low and high ropes course and climbing wall, just to name a few, but most of all, I believe our camp will make a difference in the lives of young people because we intend to shower them with the love of Christ.”

The name of the camp was chosen deliberately because of when the camp was discovered – during the Archdiocesan consecration to Jesus through Mary.  Mary’s example of openness and responsiveness to God’s plan for her life is what Mills hopes the camp can emulate.

“What the name does is it begins telling the story of Christ and the story of every believer,” Mills explained. “If you think about it, the Divine Messenger comes to a teenage girl, at a particular place in Israel, at a particular point in history and says, ‘The Lord is with you’. Presenting the sublime reality that Lord is truly with each of us will be a special point emphasis at Annunciation Heights.

“The mystery [of the Annunciation] helps introduce what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, exemplified most of all by the Blessed Mother who demonstrates by her faith and docility how to respond to the Holy Spirit speaking into our lives: ‘Let it be done according to your word’.  Mary’s simple trust and total surrender served as the launching point for the entire gospel and sets the example for us as well.”

Same legacy, new traditions

Annunciation Heights is conveniently located two miles down the road from Camp St. Malo, the old archdiocesan youth camp founded in 1916 and famously visited by St. John Paul II in 1993. The camp was ravaged by a fire in 2011, and while there were plans to rebuild the retreat center there, a 2013 mudslide foiled them.

However, the iconic Chapel on the Rock still stands and remains as beautiful as ever, and Annunciation Heights will be utilizing the space in its operations. Mills expressed how providential it was that Annunciation Heights is located so close to Camp St. Malo, where St. John Paul II walked.

St. John Paul II was a faithful and holy man who was committed to the youth of his day, was an avid outdoorsman, and knew the enormous impact that bringing youth and families to God’s creation has.  Mills is hopeful that Annunciation Heights can carry on the legacy started by him and become a source of new traditions.

Annunciation Heights is a new youth and family camp in the Archdiocese of Denver just outside of Estes Park . (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

Annunciation Heights is making it a point to build not only a dynamic summer youth camping program, but also family camps.  “As Catholic parents, my wife, Amberly, and I see how much good it does for us and our kids when we are given an opportunity to pray and play with other Catholic families.  Jesus himself often withdrew from the frenetic pace of his public ministry to the wilderness.  That’s what we hope Annunciation Heights will be – a place where youth and families can withdraw from the normal routine of things and go to the wilderness to be refreshed by the Lord with other like-minded friends and families.”

Annunciation Heights is opening its first two family camps this July and will follow next summer with new summer youth camps for boys and girls.

‘Authentic Christian hospitality’

Annunciation Heights has been in operation since mid-March, and has already hosted several groups.  In August, the camp is also beginning a missionary program for young adults to come for a year-long mission to lead and serve at the camp. The missionary program will be the “heart and soul” of what the camp is all about, Mills said.

The missionaries will receive a robust faith formation and will simultaneously serve guests in a tangible way. They’re currently seeking applicants for the AIM program.

“We’ll be given an opportunity to go deeper with these individuals,” Mills said. “They, in many ways, will be the frontline people our guests will encounter.”

“There is nothing more powerful than living and serving in a close Christian community,” he continued. “We want the culture of the camp to be anchored in prayer, to really demonstrate authentic Christian life and hospitality.”

To aid in this endeavor, the Archdiocese is sending a full-time priest, Father Salvador Sanchez, to live and serve as the camp’s chaplain.  “We are so blessed to have Father Salvador.  We will then be able to center the life of the camp around the daily Eucharist,” Mills said.

A camp with open arms

While Annunciation Heights is primarily a Catholic camp, other groups from different Christian churches and denominations will be “absolutely” welcome to use it, Mills said. In fact, its picturesque location just outside of Estes Park makes it an ideal spot for any sort of group to hold a retreat.

“I can’t help but hope we become a place where true ecumenism happens; we don’t sacrifice in any way our Catholic identity, but rather, clarify and proclaim it respectfully to those who come to the camp,” Mills said, a former Evangelical Protestant.

Annunciation Heights will also be the new location for the ever-popular JPII Outdoor Lab program.  Beginning it’s 11th year of operation, and under the dynamic leadership of its director, Julie Morrison,  JPII Outdoor Lab will continue to serve all the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese, and will even serve some public schools for their outdoor education classes.

Annunciation Heights will serve a variety of guests, hosting and providing programmed camps and retreats throughout the year. No matter who stays at the camp and experiences the beauty of the natural wonders that surround it, the mission remains the same.

“Youth and families are particularly hungry for a place to encounter Jesus, and hopefully in a way that is tangible,” Mills said.  “At the very heart of everything, we want to make Jesus known.”

Annunciation Heights

Book now: annunciationheights.org
Or call 970-586-5689

COMING UP: Working to make our schools safer

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By Carol Nesbitt

The issue of school safety is always on the minds of parents. Parents want to know that schools have a plan in place for all types of emergencies, from fires to intruders to staff or students feeling unsafe for various reasons.
The Archdiocese of Denver is excited to share that they now have someone directly supporting the safety preparedness and plans of the 37 Catholic schools under its watch and care.

Matt Montgomery is a former police officer and award-winning school resource officer (SRO). He’s also a chemistry and forensic science teacher as well as Director of Security and Safety at Holy Family High School. And, as of Nov. 13, he is the new Interim Director of Schools Security and Safety for the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools. The position is new and the first of its kind for the Archdiocese of Denver, but important.

“As a Catholic school community we believe the safety and wellbeing of our students comes first. Time and again we hear our parents rate school safety as one of the top reasons why they entrust the care and formation of their children to our schools. As such, we believe we have a duty and moral obligation in our schools to ensure we are doing everything we can to ensure our children are safe from any type of harm,” said Elias Moo, Superintendent of Catholic Schools. “Historically, each of our schools has had to take on the crucial task of defining and implementing their own safety and security plans and systems. While our schools have certainly gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the safety of their school community, we believe it is critical in our current reality that we provide our schools with the expertise and qualifications of someone like Matt to support them in really analyzing their plans and assisting them in ensuring best practices are being implemented. It’s the least we can do for our school communities.”

“My role is really to lead a task force with the intention of identifying needs around school safety,” said Montgomery. He says there are a number of great models for school safety around the area, so it’s more about bringing it all together. “All public schools have someone overseeing safety and security, usually with staff members doing threat assessments, suicide assessments and emergency drills, building security, fire drills, and those kinds of things, but there really isn’t a position like this in other dioceses that we are aware of.”

Montgomery says that his job will be taking the variety of practices at schools and helping to bring consistency in efforts across the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic School community. He also says that the term ‘school safety’ is more broad than people realize. “When people think about school safety, they always gravitate to school shootings, but I think we really have to step away from that and realize that school safety and security is an umbrella. It encompasses everything from events prior to an incident all the way through recovery (post-incident).”

The five areas Montgomery is focusing on include:

Prevention
What do we do to create a loving and responsive Catholic community where students and staff feel safe and are empowered and given resources to report any behaviors or activity that is unsafe and counter to our values?

Protection
What systems and proceses do we have to vigilantly monitor for behavior or activity that is harmful to our Catholic community?

Mitigation
What procedures and policies are in place to mitigate issues?

Response
If an incident occurs, how do we respond to that incident? How do we support that school from an archdiocesan perspective? What tools are we able to provide to that school? What relationships do we have with law enforcement and first responders in that community?

Recovery
Recovery begins the second an incident occurs. How do we reunite students with families, provide counseling support and address staff issues in the case of a crisis?

Montgomery says his work will also help establish a plan for the archdiocese in the case of a larger emergency.

“What is our incident command structure going to look like so that we can respond to an incident, while also keeping in mind the unique structure of the various schools beneath the Office of Catholic Schools?”

He’d like to see the Standard Response Protocol — created by the I Love You Guys Foundation — used throughout the school system.

“One of the issues I noticed is that there are a lot of different agencies who respond to various incidents and they don’t know what the other ones are doing,” Montgomery said. “The crisis plan needs to be uniform, created for a specific age group. We need to standardize our crisis plans throughout the AoD and work with the schools to create private plans for each school that is specific to that school, simple plans that outline for administration on how they implement the plan at the moment of crisis.”

One of the biggest things Montgomery will be doing is identifying policies and procedures and training. “This is uniformly saying ‘This is what we’re doing, this is how we’re going to do it, and these are the amount of times we will practice it each year.’” This also includes training of staff on mandatory reporting, the importance of documenting things, and threat assessments that ask the right questions to get a non-biased, vetted approach to assessing threats. “There are a lot of things we can do to mitigate the chance of someone being hurt at a school. That’s by good training, good policies and procedures, and hardening our targets, meaning the physical security of our school buildings,” said Montgomery.

As a teacher, Montgomery says he has a unique perspective. “I’m not just some cop or just an SRO. My heart is in the classroom. I’m a Catholic educator who used to be a cop. My goal is to make sure kids can focus on being a kid and learning, not having to worry about being hurt at school or being bullied or having thoughts of suicide. I want them to feel that school is a safe place. That’s why I do it. I really love doing school safety.”