Malekai gives a thumbs up during a group photo at camp. “Being out there in nature was so awesome,” he said. (Courtesy CYO/Camp Howard)
Malekai gives a thumbs up during a group photo at camp. “Being out there in nature was so awesome,” he said. (Courtesy CYO/Camp Howard)
On a fall afternoon, Katie Shultz Walker stepped into Southeast Portland’s St. Vincent de Paul pantry hoping to pick up food and winter coats for her family. The young mom left with those items — but also something wholly unexpected: the chance for her son to attend Camp Howard.

“We’d never be able to come close to affording the camp on our own,” said Shultz Walker, who recently gave birth to her second child, a daughter. “This opportunity was a blessing.”

During the 2019 fundraising gala for Catholic Youth Organization/Camp Howard, a donor — who wants to remain anonymous — gave $25,000 to help children most in need participate in programming. Sister Krista von Borstel, executive director of the Catholic nonprofit, worked with St. Vincent de Paul to select families for a full scholarship to Camp Howard. The remaining funds will go to additional low-income families in the future.

The pandemic meant no camp in 2020, but this year the donation sent two youths to Camp Howard.

A few weeks after his session ended, Malekai Walker spoke with gusto about his adventures in the Mount Hood foothills. “Being out there in nature was so awesome,” said the 9-year-old. He loved capture the flag, archery and swimming. “Even though I didn’t pass the swimming test — and I didn’t like their noodle soup — I had a lot, lot of fun,” he said. The family is looking into scholarships for next year.

Shultz Walker knows time in the natural world nourishes children’s spiritual and emotional well-being. But substantial trips out of Portland and into nature require longer drives and thus more money for gas. “That can be tough for us,” acknowledged Shultz Walker. The scholarship “gave him something special, a week outside in fresh air and with no electronics.”

Though the family is not Catholic, they believe in God and Shultz Walker said she’s grateful spirituality is woven into the camp.

“Plus that stretch of staying overnight in a safe place, making friends — it made him feel proud and empowered,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience.”