Brother I. Damian Brown, FSC, dreamed of students having access to retreats. As the president of Cretin High School in the 1940s, he believed a retreat center would enhance Christian youth formation. His vision was unique but centered on the Lasallian mission.
The Lasallian mission focuses on education and service. St. John Baptist de La Salle reformed education in France, believing everyone should be granted knowledge and the ability to study. He did not believe only the wealthy should be taught; instead, he opened schools for youth in every social class. Although La Salle’s methods were innovative and considered controversial at the time, they continued on and are now lauded.
Brother I. Damian is a great example of Saint John Baptist de La Salle’s successors. Inspired by the Lasallian mission, he proposed retreats for youth. He believed everyone should access a place to pray, reflect, and grow. Although Brother I. Damian did not live to see the fruition of Dunrovin, the retreat center strives to carry out his Lasallian vision of a place where students can grow.
Each year, Dunrovin chooses an individual or group, who have fulfilled Brother I. Damian’s vision, to receive the Brother I. Damian Award. In 2023, Dunrovin selected the Summer Program Staff who have supported DLITE and Summer Leadership Camps throughout the years. Christine Meeds, Deacon Nicholas Vance, and Teresa Richards are accepting the award on behalf of all the staff. By joining the summer programs early, they helped form what DLITE is today. They also spent years serving at Dunrovin which has impacted how they care for people and serve God still today.
Deacon Nick Vance served on DLITE 2011-2013 and was a program counselor 2014-2017 and 2019. Now he is fulfilling his vocational call by being a transitional deacon; he was ordained on May 13, 2023. When thinking back on Dunrovin’s summer programs, Deacon Nick would like to tell donors about the wonderful job that these programs do for youth. He states,
They can take a rag-tag group of students, many of them strangers to one another, and make them into a group of friends on mission, growing in confidence in their own abilities as servant leaders, and ready to pour out to those in need.”
This helps many youth and has the ability to be “pivotal” in the lives of people like Deacon Nick. Including his life.
“My time on DLITE was a deep invitation to growth, not only in the realm of service and leadership, but in real love and relationship with God. It’s one thing to talk about all these things and study them; it’s another to throw someone into it themselves, coach and guide them along the way, and then invite them to reflect,” he recalled. He remembers it as a time of forming many skills that he still uses today such as public speaking and leadership. The tools that he gained on DLITE helped him to grow in servant leadership, which he now uses daily as a deacon: “The diaconate is primarily a ministry of service: service to the Word (in proclaiming the Gospel and preaching), service at the Altar (in assisting the priest at Mass), and service in the community (in all the charitable works that deacons are particularly called to take). I recognize that as I serve the Lord and His Church in this way, many of the things I first learned on DLITE have come to fruition, especially learning to get outside of yourself and take your humble gifts and place them forward to serve.”
Someone else who served and used skills to better DLITE is Christine Meeds who helped build the program’s foundation. (Christine currently manages two departments – Kids and Aquatics – at LifeTime Fitness in Eden Prairie.) She attended DLITE from its beginning in 2009 and continued until 2015. Along with Jerome Meeds, Christine set up the DLITE program. She stated,
“being included in the planning stages was equally beneficial by building the program and then being in the program and putting it into the action…we made something that was kind of a long shot, but now this program is thriving and growing.”
Christine’s influence and planning helped make Dunrovin’s youth programs what they are today. This planning as a teenager taught Christine what she was capable of: “Now can I manage this department? Yes, I can…I look back and I can’t believe I was actually leading DLITE at that age and it actually worked.” DLITE taught Christine how to be a leader and manager trusted by her staff. She believes that this program taught her personal accountability. Her leadership roles continue partly because “at the end of the day it is because I take accountability and responsibility for my behaviors and for my results and my team.”
Christine wants donors to know that DLITE is important for the future. It impacts youth and its participants, she agrees. However, its impact goes far beyond that:
“From a business standpoint, this is a great investment not only in programs that impact lives, but it is also a program in our future and cultivating great leaders.” She describes the “ripple effect” that this program has as youth bring home their leadership skills and sense of responsibility to their families and future career.
Because of this, DLITE “is an investment in our future as well as the individuals” on the program. This hope for the future could not have grown without Christine and her dedication to the program.
Teresa (Kostohris) Richards also dedicated many years to DLITE; she attended or was part of the program staff for seven years. Her influence on the program remains because of all of her hard work during this long commitment. In her many years, Teresa inspired many youth. Her ability to see youth as individuals and meet them where they were at made her successful:
Our program is about people; this does not fit into nice, neat little boxes. It is hard to measure outcomes because we do not make people jump through hoops. We tailor the program to the people instead of making the people tailor the program.”
This is aided by teambuilding and leadership activities. For example, The Wall is a challenge where a team works to get each member over an eleven-foot wall. Teresa explains that “The Wall ties into people’s fears, it is a new level of ‘I’ve got you, you’re safe with us, we are going to take care of you.’ To verbally speak this to one another and follow through – it can be a time where kids accomplish something that seems impossible, something they are afraid of, a struggle, a challenge, something that is really difficult.”
When explaining DLITE, Teresa compares it to other programs and shows what it has to offer: “The DLITE program specifically is unique, even amongst leadership programs, because of the service involved in it and the opportunity high school students have to work with middle schoolers. They have the opportunity to work with [inner-city] kids from a very different world.” Youth are able to look outside of themselves to help others with servant leadership. Teresa continues fulfilling the Lasallian mission by leading youth programs at the Community of Christ the Redeemer in West Saint Paul.
Dunrovin is grateful for the work of Deacon Nick, Christine, and Teresa as well as the other program staff. Over the years, 28 young adults have served as program staff. They are all worthy recipients of the Brother I. Damian Award for their service to youth, vision for the future, and alignment with the Lasallian mission of touching the hearts of youth.
*The Brother I. Damian Award is given annually during the Sunset Benefit Cruise. It is given with deep gratitude to those who have touched Dunrovin and substantially supported our mission.