Zachery El Youssef and Drew Carter, 11-year-olds from St. Therese Parish in Northeast Portland, pose in the Oregon Convention Center prior to the annual fundraising benefit for Catholic Youth Organization/Camp Howard. The friends served as greeters for the event, which raised $300,000 for CYO and Camp Howard programming — a record amount. “The people who coach in CYO are especially kind,” said Zachery. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Zachery El Youssef and Drew Carter, 11-year-olds from St. Therese Parish in Northeast Portland, pose in the Oregon Convention Center prior to the annual fundraising benefit for Catholic Youth Organization/Camp Howard. The friends served as greeters for the event, which raised $300,000 for CYO and Camp Howard programming — a record amount. “The people who coach in CYO are especially kind,” said Zachery. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
The first faces many guests saw as they stepped out of the elevator and into the Oregon Convention Center in Northeast Portland Oct. 15 belonged to 11-year-olds Zachery El Youssef and Drew Carter.

“Hello, welcome!” the two CYO athletes said in unison. Zachery sported a referee shirt and Drew a football jersey. Each wore broad smiles. The pals, members of St. Therese Parish, were among the greeters for this year’s Champions of Faith dinner, the annual fundraiser for Catholic Youth Organization/Camp Howard. This year the event raised $300,000 — the most ever.

“The people who coach in CYO are especially kind,” said Zachery, taking a quick break from duties during a lull at the elevators.

“I love how in CYO we are able to say prayers before the games,” Drew added. “Plus, I’ve been a Catholic my whole life.”

In a sense, the boys reflected the heart of the night’s festivities — sincere, enthusiastic and unapologetically Catholic.

CYO and Camp Howard are about “handing on our Catholic values, our Catholic faith, our Catholic morals to the next generation,” Archbishop Alexander Sample told the nearly 800 diners before leading a blessing with CYO athletes. “And that’s so important in the world today that grows colder and colder and seems more and more inhumane.”

St. Mary of Oregon Sister Krista von Borstel, executive director of CYO/Camp Howard, provided two news updates at the start of the annual benefit.

Over the summer she began collaborating with the St. Vincent de Paul Portland Council to bring disadvantaged youths in the area to Camp Howard. Soon after the collaborative plan was formulated, a donor agreed to donate $25,000 toward the effort.

“When things fall into place with such simplicity I always thank God because I know that he is making it happen,” said Sister Krista.

She also announced a $15,000 donation to CYO/Camp Howard from the newly formed Sean and Sheri Dooney Family Foundation.

Sean, a longtime supporter of the organization and a former co-chair of the benefit dinner, died in a boating accident last year. Sheri presented the check to Sister Krista alongside four of the Dooney’s seven children.

This year’s co-chairs, Tim and Gina O’Neill, described the ways CYO had influenced their lives.

“The real beauty of CYO is the joy it gives to kids, and this joy extends to all kids regardless of financial means,” said Tim, who knows this firsthand. His dad died when he was 7 years old, and his mother raised three children on her own. It was difficult to make ends meet, but his mom worked and prayed hard. Tim said in the absence of a father, CYO sports provided mentors who guided him in the right direction at critical points.

CYO “helps kids like me learn the value of hard work and the confidence to overcome life’s greatest challenges,” said Tim.

Keynote speaker Galen Rupp, a distance runner with two Olympic medals, admitted that his mom — his CYO track coach — convinced him to run for All Saints by bribing him with McDonald’s. “That’s how I got my start in running,” said Rupp, a father of four, as laughter erupted.

That incentive years ago successfully sparked a love of running that’s brought Rupp success and taught him what matters most, he said — the desire to do “everything to glorify God.”

Rupp said his faith has guided him through the good times by “trying to keep me humble.” And it’s gotten him through the difficult patches, such as helping him deal with the first major injury of his career. “It’s been hard; I’m not going to sugar coat it,” said Rupp. “On top of that, as some of you might now, I’m going through some personal hardship as well.” He was alluding to the recent coaching ban of his longtime coach, Alberto Salazar, due to doping violations.

“It’s been my faith and truly that unrelenting belief in God’s plan — no matter how hard it might seem — that has gotten me through all this,” Rupp said.

Sister Therese Gutting, a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist, was among the many religious and clergy present at the fundraising dinner. Her order operates Franciscan Montessori Earth School in Southeast Portland, which has a robust CYO sports program.

“CYO helps our students believe in themselves, believe in one another and, ultimately, believe in God,” said Sister Therese.

“Faith sets the tone of CYO,” added Jim Wasko, who works for Oregon Catholic Press, publisher of the Catholic Sentinel. Wasko participated in CYO and then coached his kids.

“It teaches fair play and how to care for each other — to care for the other players,” he said. “And it’s also just a whole lot of fun.”