CYO photo
Youths pose with instruments at CYO dance.
CYO photo
Youths pose with instruments at CYO dance.
Nine times a year, MaryAnn Altenhofen-Stewart helps young people get down.

Catholic Youth Organization's dance director for eight years, she's in charge of coordinating all the details for the organization's monthly teen dances that run from September through May.

The dances are for seventh and eighth graders and are held at the Dance  Pavilion at Oaks Park in Southeast Portland.

"My primary job is to provide a safe environment for these kids to have a good time," said Altenhofen-Stewart. "It's all about blowing off steam, meeting kids from other parishes and schools. It's about having a good time. What we're doing is a ministry to the youth."

Invitees include kids from parishes that CYO serves and anyone who has attended Camp Howard. At the last dance of the year, sixth graders are invited as well.

Between 300 and 400 kids come to each dance from Salem, Hillsboro, Portland, Vancouver, and other towns to dance the night away. The dances are all overseen by 20 to 30 adult chaperones who volunteer their time making sure the dances are safe. Chaperones can earn money by volunteering for church organizations, trips, and events.

Dozens of Domino's pizzas are served at every dance with "as much water as they can drink" says Altenhofen-Stewart. There are also snack foods for sale.

CYO executive director St. Mary of Oregon Sisters Krista von Borstel and Mary Jane Altenhofen (Altenhofen-Stewart's sister) can often be seen helping out at dances, a welcome sight says Altenhofen-Stewart, who appreciates the representation of the Religious lifestyle to the children who attend.

A popular event at every dance is the drawing for an iPod Nano.

"My job is great," said Altenhofen-Stewart. "We get to bring these kids together, have them interact in a non-competitive environment and help them connect with future high school classmates and establish friendships outside of school. It really is a joy."