Director wants classrooms, trails on 20-acre plot

By Sarah Colburn
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Students at St. Cloud Children's Home now have a place to camp, sit around a bonfire and spend a little time in the great outdoors.

Leaders at the Children's Home are beginning improvements to some of the 20 acres of land recently purchased for use as an environmental camp.

John Krueger is director of the division of residential and day services for Catholic Charities that operates the Children's Home.

His dream for the land, which is about three miles south of Cold Spring, is to develop trails that can be used year round, several camp sites and a bunkhouse with classrooms.

"It provides kids with opportunities they might not have otherwise had," Krueger said.

The Children's Home specializes in care for students with emotional or developmental difficulties in school, the community or at home.
The camp is an extension of the Home's Cultivating Youth Garden project. It teaches students about the importance of land preservation, Krueger said.

Already, some students participate in the garden horticulture class where they plant and tend to thousands of flowers. This year, they're adding a fruit and vegetable garden.

"We really wanted to incorporate the lifelong skills, building opportunities for kids," Krueger said.

The biology teacher at the school is looking into ways to use the camp site to teach students about trees and wildlife.

This summer, students could begin using the site for overnight tent adventures or bonfires.

Staff at the Home already do a lot with traditional therapy methods including individual, family and group counseling.

The camp is just another method.

Kids learn by doing and when they do, they learn to feel better about themselves and their life situation," Krueger said. "It's been my experience that for most kids, the most memorable counseling experiences are the hands-on activities."

Charles and Marcia Lavine owned the land and building that now are making the vision of the camp a reality.

They gave the building to the Boys & Girls Club and later sold the property to the Children's Home for a reduced price, Krueger said.

The purchase was made with donated dollars from Warpo's Charity Benefits Inc., which has donated to the Children's Home since the mid to late 1980's.

The people who make up Warpo's used to conduct an annual Christmas party for friends and gave the extra dollars collected to charity.

In 1993, the group began a golf tournament and last year raised, and contributed, $51,000 to the Children's Home to help pay for the land.

"They give us a list of five or six projects that they really need to do and we're able to knock off one or two of them," said Mike Cicharz, who's been called Warpo since high school.

Working the land

Work is beginning on the trail system and the camp sites. An extensive trail system eventually could be built to accommodate hiking and cross-country skiing.

Some of the work to develop the camp may be done by students who are part of a paid work program.

Staff members at the Children's Home are working to get a permit to use the land as they've planned, Krueger said.

The building on the land likely will be used for the bunk house and classroom space. Plans need to be put together to modify the building, Krueger said.