-Hailey Elder, Contributing Writer
People were created to need other people. This might seem like a simple statement, but college is a place that at times both magnifies and meets this need. As graduation and summer lurk in the shadows, the idea of missing one’s community for the months ahead can threaten the pressing anticipation and freedom of finishing finals. Goodbyes are hard and separation anxiety is real, but the opportunities, experiences, lessons, and memories that come from the summer are worth it.
MC students have a reputation of spending their summers in a camp, volunteer, or mission setting, but there is a stigma at times that to qualify as a mission trip it must be an outside-of-your-comfort-zone or be a cross-cultural experience with a language barrier and unreached people groups. Camp Blessing is a camp in Texas that serves children and adults with special needs and their families. This summer, they will have eight terms of camp and need young volunteers to help make it happen.
Camp Blessing requires getting outside of your comfort zone because it requires putting someone else’s needs above your own for six days. It is uncomfortable because being selfless is hard. It is cross-cultural because the special needs community includes people of all backgrounds (and it is in a state whose residents like to claim their history of being their own country). Language barriers exist because communication can occur without spoken words. “We have some campers who say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ by blinking once or twice or raising one hand or the other,” said staff member Kaitlin Smith. “It’s easy to assume they don’t understand, but we have to remember that we all have the desire to be known and heard, even if we aren’t capable of making comprehendible sounds.”
It can be labeled as an unreached people group because it really is. “The vast majority of families affected by disability do not attend church because they are either blatantly not welcome, because the church doesn’t know what to do with their child, or because it is simply too exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally,” said Laura Elder, the Camp Blessing director’s wife and mother to two children with special needs.
Camp Blessing is unique in that each camper has his or her very own counselor, who understands the value of community and strives to meet each camper’s individual needs. Counselors basically get to be their buddy, their new and long-lasting best friend for the week.
Many may think they have no experience and are completely unqualified to do something like this, but being “qualified” is not a requirement. Each week is a new term, which means a new group of volunteer counselors. “Each new group is trained for 24 hours prior to the arrival of campers on topics such as communication, disabilities, team building, and caretaking. But the goal of all this training is not to create experts on Down syndrome or autism or cerebral palsy. We don’t want our counselors to know everything about their camper’s disability- we want them to know everything about their camper. It’s about the relationship,” said a Camp Blessing counselor.
“People are people are people. Just like we need and want to be known and valued, so do they,” said Smith.
“The Lord knew what He was doing when I got the opportunity to work at Camp Blessing for a summer. I saw God move in mightier ways that summer I worked at camp. The volunteers, the campers, and the other staff made up this heaven on earth place- a place of so much joy and love!,” said MC junior and 2013 summer staffer, Danielle Clinton.
This summer will be Camp Blessing’s 10th summer since opening in 2006, and they are in need of over 500 volunteers (especially guys). So consider going for six days with your family, church, a group of friends or a group from your tribe, club, or other campus organization. They promise it will be the cheapest and most rewarding mission trip you ever go on.
Lexi Frautschi, MC sophomore whose smiling face is easily recognized on campus will be serving on staff this summer. “If I am being completely honest, the first draw to Camp Blessing for me was the simple fact that my friend would be there,” she said. “It was not until after I applied when I realized the impact that this place would leave on me. I have not even been to camp yet, but I am already changed because of it. I know that when I step foot on the Camp grounds that my soul will learn a level of compassion and caretaking that it has never known. This place is called Camp Blessing for a reason, and I think that it is going to change my life more than I will change it. However, I am beyond ready to get to be a part of a place that is such a clear picture of love, community, and the kingdom of God.”