Blizzard in D.C. delays return of youth group

By Sam Jack

More than 20 Conway Springs, Argonia and Danville high school students and adult leaders spent the weekend stranded in a Washington, D.C., hotel, held in place by a winter storm that dumped around 18 inches of snow on the nation’s capital.

About 600 people from the Wichita Catholic Diocese were stranded after they came to Washington to participate in the March for Life, an anti-abortion rally and protest. The march went ahead despite the snow, but due to concerns about the roads, leaders made the call to keep everyone at a hotel until plows had had a chance to catch up.

At least two groups of Catholic youth that decided to head home as planned on Friday were stranded for hours on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The decision to wait out the storm at the hotel turned a potential negative into a positive experience for the Wichita Diocese group.

“It brought us all together really close as friends, young and old. We all came together as a great big family. We made lasting friendships with everybody, and love for everybody,” said Dan Blanchat, a leader from St. Joan of Arc Parish, which includes Danville, Harper and Anthony.

“Between building snowmen and having snowball fights, it was a lot of fun for me. I would do it all over again,” said Blanchat.

Participants had a full slate of activities up to the time of their planned departure, according to Christian Kiser of Argonia. But during the unplanned extended stay, people made their own fun by playing in the snow, dancing and watching football.

“Jonas means ‘Gift of God,’” Kiser noted, referring to a popular designation for the winter storm. “God always has a plan. You might not always like it, but as Winston Churchill said, ‘An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.’ I am very grateful that I was given an opportunity to meet Catholic youth who have the same morals as me, and I am positive I will keep in touch with them over time.”

An ad hoc talent show added to the festive atmosphere at the hotel, according to Nathan Ohl of Conway Springs. 

“It was such a good idea. There were so many contestants, and even the chaperones got in on it – they placed third. There was a group of boys from Kapaun Mount Carmel that did a synchronized swimming skit and won,” said Ohl.

Local participants in the show included Audrey Doffing, Ben Doffing and Mitchell Becker.

“I think we have had more opportunities to bond and get to know each other. The experience also gave us something in common,” said Ohl.

After a marathon bus ride, area youths and leaders arrived back home Tuesday morning.

Catholic youth from Conway Springs and Garden Plain venture outside their Washington, D.C.-area hotel to ogle huge piles of snow. Six hundred people from the Wichita area were stranded in D.C. when a blizzard hit.