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Angel of Courage Retreats offer hope, support

Carly Nelson's vision is moving one step closer to reality with the inaugural fund-raising event Saturday, Aug. 18, to benefit the Angels of Courage Retreats, which will eventually have its own facility constructed on 11 acres of land on the north side of Little Cormorant which was donated by Don Goering.

The mission of Angels of Courage Retreats is to create weekend retreat experiences for individuals who have been diagnosed with an illness or who are dealing with the loss of a loved one, through an environment where people can join together to learn about living with their illnesses and loss, form relationships with others who have experienced similar struggles, as well as deepen their faith.

The inspiration behind Angels of Courage Retreats was a joint effort of Nelson and Goering, both cancer survivors, who experienced life-changing revelations in the midst of personal suffering and who wanted to channel their experiences to help others.

Nelson grew up in Lake Park, and now makes her home in West Fargo. She is employed in sales and marketing at Microsoft.

When looking at Nelson, you would not know that 17 years ago she was diagnosed with Lupus during which time she almost died twice. Her Lupus has been in remission since 1993. In 2001, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and in March of this year with skin cancer. Luckily, neither time chemo or radiation was needed as surgery removed the cancer.

Throughout her illness, Nelson was looking for a more meaningful purpose in life. She graduated from Concordia with degrees in biology and psychology. Wanting to add a faith component, she went on to earn a Masters degree in youth and family ministry from Luther Seminary in Minneapolis.

Even though she has had a great job at Microsoft the past eight years, after being diagnosed with cancer, she really began questioning her purpose. She started thinking seriously about what she really should be doing. "My faith has a huge part to play. I prayed and prayed and it came to me that I should be involved in such a project that would help others dealing with suffering and loss," she said. "Now my involvement with work at Microsoft and with Angels of Courage Retreats has put both worlds together. I can use my business expertise and the faith aspect of my seminary days to help put the pieces together. I know it's exactly where I'm supposed to be."

Consequently, when Nelson and Goering first came to know each other in 2005, they both quickly learned they shared a common passion. Their collaboration began almost immediately. Nelson set about gathering the resources to proceed, and Angels of Courage Retreats, Inc. was founded as a non-profit in 2006 within the state of Minnesota to provide education, support and a retreat experience for individuals dealing with chronic illnesses, caregivers of individuals with chronic illness, and individuals dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Nelson said that gathering support for the project has been much easier than expected, with most everyone responding with open arms. "It's surreal. The thing is that this has been an ongoing project for three years. Now that it is actually happening, it's kind of like I need to put on the brakes and take the time to realize that it is working. This concept resonates with so many people and they are coming forward with support."

On that note, Nelson and Goering are currently in the process of raising funds through grants, planned gifts, personal donation solicitations and special events like the one being planned on August 18, in Cormorant Village. The funds raised through these activities will be used to provide scholarships for retreat attendees, to fund retreat programming, and to cover operating expenses.

Monies earned through the August 18 fund-raiser will specifically be applied toward matching a $25,000 grant from Dakota Medical Foundation, with whom Angels of Courage Retreats has built a strong partnership.

The event will be held at Cormorant Pub, located 12.5 miles south of Lake Park, starting with a 5K run at 9 a.m., followed by a motorcycle ride and poker run through the heart of Minnesota lake country, starting at 2 p.m., ending back at the Pub for food and pop at 5 p.m.; silent auction at 7 p.m.; followed by dancing to the music of the Bryce Niemiller Project at 8 p.m.

Cost for the run/walk is $25 per runner; for the motorcycle ride it is $25/rider or $35/bike. Registration for either event also includes a ticket for the dinner at the Cormorant Pub, admission to the dance and a free T-shirt.

A second event is also in the works for the end of next month when Angels of Courage Retreats first-ever weekend retreat will be held Sept. 29 through Sept. 30, at Fair Hills Resort just outside of Detroit Lakes, Minn. This gathering will be for cancer patients only; those who are newly diagnosed, as well as those who have been living boldly with cancer for some time. The peaceful Minnesota setting will provide the perfect backdrop to study the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of how to live life in the midst of a cancer diagnosis. The cost is $100, which covers all presentations, three meals and one nights lodging.

Nelson herself will be there to handle some of the programming and encourages anyone interested in participating in the retreat to do so. It will be a small session limited to 30 individuals. "There is tremendous hope and encouragement from being around people who have experienced the same thing you have," Nelson said. "The retreat will also provide time for people to sit together and visit, talking one on one with someone who has gone through the same thing they have." She said anyone interested in attending, but who can't afford the session, should inquire about sponsorships. Availability of sponsorships for the first retreat will be based upon the success of the August 18 fund-raiser.

Realistically, Nelson said organizers are looking at least a couple of years before the Angels of Courage Retreats facility becomes reality. "We need to incorporate a lot of programming and thought into the design of what we actually want and we will start a major endowment campaign toward that end."

As for the name, Angels of Courage Retreats, Nelson said it was actually quite easy to arrive at. "You have to have courage in order to take the next step to move forward, whether it is a minute or a day; and people living in midst of this are angels on earth, with the potential to help others who haven't taken those steps."

Registration for both the Aug. 18 fund-raiser and the Sept. 29 retreat can be completed at Those who want to register for the retreat can also do so by calling Rick Mangahas at 701-238-4673.

Sponsorship opportunities are also available for those wishing to donate to Angels of Courage Retreats but who cannot make the August 18 fund-raiser in Cormorant Village, by contacting Nelson at for more details.