ROY — The day St. Francis of Assisi fifth-grader Joseph Crowell first heard about Camp Howard at school, he came home begging his mom to send him.
“I’m so sorry, buddy, but we can’t afford it,” his mother, Ursula Crowell, responded.
“We have six kids, and we just couldn’t,” she explained recently. Joseph’s persistent plea was repeated for several days, until one afternoon he bolted across the school field, wrapped his arms around his mother and exclaimed: “I’m going to Camp Howard, Mom, I’m going.”
Though his mom was initially “happily skeptical,” she soon learned from the St. Francis fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, Sister Alison Green, that a kind of Camp Howard fairy godmother had swooped down to the rural school in western Washington County with a gift.
For the first time ever, scholarships — organized by Sister Krista von Borstel, Camp Howard executive director, and funded by the camp’s Champions of Faith donors — were offered to two elementary school classes; all fifth- and sixth-graders at St. Francis were invited to attend one of the general camp sessions.
Sister Krista grew up on an Oregon cattle ranch and attended a three-room school, so she has a special place in her heart for the small Catholic school in Roy.
The unprecedented idea of inviting two classes to come to camp began more than a year ago when Father Michael Vuky, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, asked Sister Krista if there were a way to give St. Francis students a chance to attend the 63-year-old camp, knowing the cost was prohibitive for most of his school families.
According to Portland archdiocesan Department of Catholic Schools numbers, St. Francis’ tuition is one of the lowest in the archdiocese, in part reflecting the relatively lower incomes in the area.
“The families at the school already make a sacrifice to send their kids to a Catholic school, and to send them to camp on top of that would be a real challenge,” said Sister Alison, who expressed deep gratitude to her fellow Sister of St. Mary of Oregon for the summertime blessing. More than half of the 12 total students in her combined fifth- and sixth-grade class have been able to take advantage of the scholarship.
Camp Howard offers around 230 scholarships annually; the general camp costs about $500.
A few days after returning from the camp with three of her classmates, sixth-grader Leonie explained her experience with palpable joy.
“I thought it was going to be more city-like, but it’s all in the woods, even the laser tag,” she said, adding: “I loved that.”
The two Crowell siblings were recipients of the camp’s highest honor, the Cougar Award. The award is given to youths “who strive to become better individuals by practicing Christian values such as showing respect for fellow campers … showing patience and self-control, being honest [and] showing integrity in the face of difficulty.”
Leonie said she’ll never forget the moment Sister Krista placed the award, made from arrowhead-shaped leather imprinted with a cougar, around her shoulders. “To be given it by someone who got you into camp made it extra special,” she said.
The hardest part of camp was leaving.
“There were great friends and such great memories,” said Leonie. “You go home with so much more than you started with.”
Her mother, Ursula Crowell, was “humbled and grateful” at the chance for her children to attend Camp Howard. “They could have easily filled those spots,” she said. “For Sister Krista to be that generous is amazing.”
Sister Alison said the students’ camp experience likely will manifest itself in a number of long-term ways. “I hope the combination of being out in nature — with the view of Mount Hood and looking down on Bull Run — gives students a sense of place and centers them in the beauty of Oregon.”
Sister Krista said even if the kids never attend camp again, she hopes this year “makes a memory inside of them that they never forget and helps build their inner core from which they draw.” And, she added, “I hope we make them feel special.”
More on Camp Howard
A special insert on Camp Howard/CYO will be in the Oct. 6 issue of the Catholic Sentinel.