Felipe Silva, Alumnus of Northwestern College, Named 2017 CCCU Alumni Award Winner

November 10, 2016
Felipe Silva, a 2012 graduate of Northwestern College (IA), is the 2017 CCCU Young Alumni.
Felipe Silva, a 2012 graduate of Northwestern College (IA), is the 2017 CCCU Young Alumni Award winner.
Jeremy Towns (left), 2013 graduate of Samford University, and Ryan Struyk, 2014 graduate of Calvin College, are the runners-up in the 2017 CCCU Young Alumni Award
Jeremy Towns (left), 2013 graduate of Samford University, and Ryan Struyk, 2014 graduate of Calvin College, are the runners-up in the 2017 CCCU Young Alumni Award.
WASHINGTON – The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is pleased to announce that Felipe Silva, an alumnus of Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, has been named the winner of the 2017 CCCU Young Alumni Award. 

Silva, a 2012 graduate who majored in religion and minored in sociology, is the founder and director of Fara Limite Sala de Catarare (No Limit Climbing Gym) in Vulcan, Romania. The climbing gym provides a safe, healthy place for the youth of Romania’s Jiu Valley, an economically depressed region, and gives Silva an opportunity to mentor many at-risk children and teens. (The full text of his award nomination, which outlines his work in Romania, is available below.)

“To be honest, what made me really excited about this award was how many people backed me up to vote for me. It was a full month of people encouraging me and speaking about our ministry,” Silva said. “Working in a place where you are so far away from those you love and those who really believe in you is not easy, so when you get a lot of people encouraging what you are doing, that is a great honor and blessing. This award really got me more excited, motivated and encouraged about what we are doing here.”

Silva, a native of Brazil, said his time at Northwestern College had a tremendous impact on his current work in Romania. “Northwestern College gave me the tools to work where I am working today. It’s not that Northwestern prepared me for every situation that I encounter day-to-day, but it gave me the tools to deal with them in a godly way. It was not just the academic part of my education made the biggest impact, but the great example I saw in many of the staff I encountered in my college years.”

“I am delighted that Felipe is being honored as the CCCU Young Alumni Award winner,” said Northwestern College President Greg Christy. “He and his wife, Janelle, are excellent examples of Northwestern’s mission to engage students in courageous and faithful learning and living that empowers them to follow Christ and pursue God’s redeeming work in the world. They are investing in their Romanian neighbors tirelessly and putting to work the practices of Christian community development they learned at Northwestern.”

Jeremy Towns, who graduated from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, in 2013, is the first runner-up. A former player in the NFL, Towns serves as a student mentor at Putnam Middle School, one of Birmingham’s academically struggling schools. He is also currently a medical school student, with plans to become an orthopedic surgeon.

Ryan Struyk, a 2014 graduate of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is the second runner-up. Struyk utilized his studies in both mathematics and political science and worked as a political reporter and researcher for the 2016 election with ABC News.

The CCCU Young Alumni Award is given to individuals who have graduated within the last 10 years and have achieved uncommon leadership or success in a way that reflects the values of Christian higher education. Thousands of people cast their votes for the nominees, and votes were weighted against the full-time enrollment (FTE) of the institution.

The award will be formally presented during the CCCU’s 41st Annual Presidents Conference in Washington, D.C., which will be held Jan. 25-27, 2017.

About Felipe Silva 
Felipe Silva’s goal is to keep climbing higher. Literally.

As founder and director of Fara Limite Sala de Catarare (No Limit Climbing Gym) in Vulcan, Romania, Silva shares his love of rock climbing with the youth of Romania’s Jiu Valley. But his vision is much higher than seeing children and teens develop a love for the sport and enjoy the beauty of the Transylvanian Alps.

“First of all, one of our desires is to provide them with a safe, healthy place to hang out,” says Silva. “When I first got to Romania in 2013, I saw kids outside not doing much. They didn’t have a safe space to go to and role models to share their faith with them. The Jiu Valley is an economically depressed coal-mining region, and most parents are unemployed or living off of pensions. There are very few healthy activities to do outside of school, and many students drop out early and resort to stealing or begging for money.”

Silva, a native of Brazil who graduated from Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, in 2012, tells the story of one of Fara Limite’s climbers to illustrate the situation in their region and how the gym can help. The 17-year-old dropped out of school when he was in the fourth grade and is in charge of his 15- and 12-year-old siblings, as their father left for a job in England and they don’t know their mom. They live in an apartment with no water or heat and sometimes stop by the gym looking for food.

“He started coming to the gym but couldn’t pay the $20 monthly fee (we have them pay to give them a sense this is worthwhile). We negotiated a fee of five leu (about $1.25). He didn’t have the money, so he paid for it by collecting scrap metal from around town.”

As he became a skilled climber, he also found an anchor in his relationship with Silva and his wife, Janelle. The Silvas have seen him become more responsible and less violent, and they are working to get him into a program to continue his education and learn a trade. 

Rock climbing helps develop trust—a characteristic sadly lacking in this country that’s still reeling from years of communistic influence. “They were taught not to trust people—others could be spies,” says Silva. “The basis of rock climbing is trust. You really have to trust the person you’re climbing with, yourself, the equipment, and the environment. We’re teaching them you can trust people in certain situations.”

Silva’s students also develop problem-solving skills, persistence, leadership, discipline and courage.

“All rock climbers, no matter what level they are at, will initially have a success when they begin. That is really an encouragement; it boosts them up and gives them confidence.”

Fara Limite Sala de Catarare opened in April of 2015 and has 40 sponsored climbers whose fees are paid by donors. In exchange for the membership, the students covenant to stay in school with passing grades, come to a weekly reading hour every Saturday, and climb at the gym at least twice a week. More than 200 youth have used the gym. Vulcan city officials have praised the staff for helping to stem the tide of school dropouts. 

Silva’s team takes their climbers to competitions across Romania, which provides more opportunities to strengthen relationships.

“Most of the kids haven’t been out of the Jiu Valley,” says Silva. “We bring them out, and they cling to us as people they trust in this new environment. They get vulnerable, and we see changes happen in their lives.”

The gym is a project of New Horizons Foundation, which uses experiential education to help youth develop life skills through participation in clubs and camps. 

The mission of Fara Limite and New Horizons is a great fit for Silva, who says his time at Northwestern College helped him center everything in his life around his Christian faith. “I enjoyed the theory I learned in sociology classes and exploring how I could integrate those ideas with my faith. I got my vision for Christian community development at Northwestern.”


The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 178 Christian institutions around the world. The 115 member campuses in North America are all regionally accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences and whose missions are Christ-centered and rooted in the historic Christian faith. In addition, 63 affiliate campuses from 20 countries are part of the CCCU. The CCCU’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit