DENVER — For Annie Powell, what began as a childhood dream has turned into a thriving Catholic summer camp that hosts students nationwide for outdoor weeklong excursions in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
“All right Lord, I guess that’s what I want to do: I want to create a summer camp that brings people to you and to your creation,” Annie Powell, founder of Camp Wojtyla, recalls telling God in prayer when she was 15.
Powell’s prayer turned into a reality in 2006, when she and her husband, Scott, established Camp Wojtyla under their direction.
“When we started dating, and then preparing for marriage, it really became sort of a mission for our marriage,” Powell told Catholic News Agency. “We wanted our marriage to bring people to the Lord.”
Powell’s camp takes its name from Blessed John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla, as he was known before becoming pope in 1978), who was passionate about bringing young people closer to Christ through the outdoors. Camp Wojtyla serves middle-school and high-school youth from all over the country by bringing them into the wilderness to help them grow in relationship with God and creation.
Daily Mass, rock climbing, confession, rafting, Eucharistic adoration and treks through the Rockies are just a few of the activities that groups experience during a week of their summer vacation.
Many of the teens that Annie and Scott Powell see come through the camp each year say, “It’s getting harder and harder” for them to live their Catholic faith in the world. The Powells say this is why a week at Catholic summer camp is so crucial for youth.
“We literally saw kids leaving here with more confidence in themselves and in their faith than when they showed up,” Scott said, “which is really incredible to witness.”
Each outdoor activity, they said, is followed by a period of reflection and discussion, where the youth are asked how the activity reflects their faith and can be applied in everyday life.
“And it’s not just, ‘What did you learn from this?’” Annie said, “but it’s: ‘How can you transfer it to what you’re dealing with back home?’” She said when youth can make the connection between their faith and these challenging and exciting activities, it helps create a solid foundation on which they can continue to grow their relationship with Christ.
“The kids just get this sense of: ‘Wow, if I can climb that mountain, I really feel like I can do anything now,’” she added.
The camp not only has an impact on the campers, but also on the staffers.
After an intensive three-week “Servant Leadership Program” and two months of living in the wilderness teaching kids about God and nature, Annie said she can see “tremendous growth” in her staff, many of whom are college students.
“They just become authentically themselves,” she said, adding that the challenge of living without many modern amenities for the summer, paired with a deepening love of God, helps them “learn what it is to serve.”
“They go back to their college campuses, and they spread that,” Annie said.
Having grown up in Boulder, Colo., a hotbed for outdoor-adventure programs, Scott said he hopes Camp Wojtyla will be a witness to other wilderness-excursion groups.
“One of the goals is to evangelize the world — and to evangelize the outdoor world,” he said. “I can see a respect growing for what we do, because we strive to be excellent in all aspects of what we’re doing.”
The couple said the camp is expanding in other ways. Camp Wojtyla is launching a program to help campers keep in touch virtually, and they will begin to offer winter-expedition programs.
More information about Camp Wojtyla can be found at camp-w.jp2adventures.com.