Located on the shore of Big Sandy Lake near McGregor, the Catholic Youth Camp (CYC) is the only place in Minnesota that combines residential summer camp activities with a Catholic faith experience. Since it was founded in 1947, it’s brought a fresh approach to nurturing faith in young people ages.
Natalie King has been the CYC director since 2007 and has spent most of her tenure revitalizing the camp which had been in decline. She’s spent the last few years modernizing the facility, adding new programs, and increasing enrollment. Natalie’s words are infused with enthusiasm as she talks about her work. “We get kids from both really strong Catholic families and nonreligious families. Everybody is welcome,” said Natalie. “Some kids are worried it’ll be boring or we’ll make them pray all day, but once they’re here, they see how fun it is.” Now, Natalie is excited about the potential to reach even more young people ages 7 to 17.
Grants Bring New Kids to Camp
This year the Catholic Community Foundation (CCF) made a grant of $31,000 to CYC to support outreach efforts. The funds come from one of CCF’s oldest endowments and was established by contributors to the Family of Faith campaign which helped launch CCF in 1992.
The grant to CYC funded scholarships to help families cover the costs of camp for their children. “These families couldn’t afford to send their kids to camp without scholarships,” explained Natalie. “For a lot of kids who come here, this is one of many summer camps. They also go to soccer camp, basketball camp and art camp. But for the scholarships, we’re talking about kids who spend their entire summer at home. This camp is it.”
Natalie recalls one boy who came to camp on a scholarship who seemed like just another happy camper during his weeklong stay. Afterwards, his dad emailed Natalie to share what a big difference the CYC had made in his life. “His dad told me he didn’t have friends back home and he was picked on at school,” Natalie said. ”Then he came to camp and bonded with the 12 kids in his cabin.” His dad reported that for the first time ever, his son felt like he fit in.
Planting the Seeds of Faith
Natalie believes that it can be hard for young people to connect with their faith in a way that’s meaningful, so CYC strives to make the spiritual relevant. Amidst the archery, canoeing, campfires, and group games, kids talk about and act on what Natalie calls the Five Cs: courage, charity, cooperation, community, and Christ. “And then we have our counselors who are so excited about their faith,” said Natalie. “They’re young and fun and really get the kids going.”
While every day is jam-packed with summer fun, time is set aside for daily reflection and prayer. It takes her back to her own childhood memories. “As a kid, prayer usually felt boring,” Natalie said. “But at camp, I felt like God was listening.”
Kids who are more confident in themselves and in their faith leave camp with a renewed spirit and sense of purpose. “Maybe they’ll pursue youth group or be more excited about Mass,” Natalie said “We’re planting the seed of faith, and we believe it will grow into a lifelong experience.” Certainly, the CYC is planting seeds, unseen now, that represent the future of the Church.