by Kara Hansen
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — What’s cooler than hanging out with God? Hanging out with God — and some of your BFFs (best friends forever) — in an extreme tree house.
That’s why three, towering, man-made “tree houses” have been built for the national Catholic youth Conference this fall.
“We’re trying to create these serendipitous spiritual encounters by having the tree houses there for everyone,” said Dana Nearmyer, archdiocesan consultant for the office of evangelization and Catholic formation for youth. “They will be a place for people to hear a brook and have silence as a meditative spot, and each of them will be dedicated to a saint and have catechesis included.”
NCYC will be held in Kansas City, Mo., Nov. 19-21. The theme of the biennial conference is “Christ Reigns,” and coordinators have created a Reign Forest thematic park as part of the program.
Nearmyer said tree houses seemed like a perfect fit for the Reign Forest theme.
They were designed by an architectural consulting team and then constructed throughout various summer sessions at Camp Tekakwitha by campers and staff. T-Extreme campers spent the greatest amount of time working on them.
“The guiding principle with the tree houses is sustainability,” said Nearmyer. “They are created from modular construction, and we’re going to use 100 percent of it again in a meaningful way.”
Nearmyer said the tree houses, currently at Prairie star Ranch in Williamsburg, will be deconstructed and taken to the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., for NCYC. After the conference, the three structures will find a permanent home at Prairie Star Ranch.
One tree house includes a bridge and the two largest ones top out at 29 feet off the ground.
Nearmyer also said one of the tree houses was handicapped accessible and zero-entry.
“We wanted this to be something everyone could experience,” he said.
Currently, more than 1,100 youth from the state of Kansas alone are registered to attend NCYC. More than 20,000 participants are expected for the event. The large number of attendees creates a great need for adult volunteers, said Nearmyer.
“We need about 700- 1,000 adult volunteers to pull this off. But also we need a large number of adults to witness to kids, so kids can witness back to them,” he said. “We need warm adults around to create an atmosphere where kids can feel comfortable opening their hearts to Christ.”
Sixteen-year-old Aaron Broxterman is one of the many teens registered and ready to attend NCYC.
“All of my brothers, my sister and my mom have gone to NCYC before and just loved it,” said Broxterman, a member of St. Matthew Parish in Topeka. “I’m really looking forward to being there and experiencing the whole thing.”
Broxterman is also participating in NCYC as an animator, along with 63 other teens from around the country. As such, he will help lead participants in the scheduled activities and music, which are designed to keep the program fun and interactive.
In preparation, Broxterman participated in a training session held at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kan., in July and is now rehearsing on his own in order to be prepared to lead the crowds in November.
“The animators learned music, dance, script text and staging for the upcoming NCYC 2009 [at the July training session],” said Carmil O’Connor Mulaney, a NCYC program team member from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. “They will lead the gathered assembly along with our emcee, Steve Angrisano, and featured session leaders. At the conclusion of the training, they left with sheet music, CD and video access to continue to learn and study their roles.”
Broxterman said he’s really enjoyed training to be an animator for NCYC and is looking forward to the day he can put all his efforts to good use.
“My old youth coordinator and my parents really encouraged me to do this,” said Broxterman, “and it’s been the best experience of my life so far.
“Getting to meet different teens around my age from all over the country and to get together and celebrate something without being embarrassed about it has been an awesome experience.”