What About Us? Special People Camp
By: Sherri Gragg
“Why can’t we go to camp?”
Twenty-five years ago, a group of special needs adults posed this question to the Rev. Steve Goad. The pastor took their heartfelt longing back to his church, Carroll Springs UMC, Athens and they, along with Lakeview Methodist Conference center, began Special People Camp to minister to special needs adults in a church camp environment.
Basic Longings of the Human Heart
The Rev. Bill Newcomb, father of an adult special needs son, worked as a camp counselor that first year. Today, he runs the program. According to Newcomb, the long years following a special needs adult’s formal schooling are lonely and difficult ones. “As soon as a young person hits the age of 22, school support ends,” he said. “Parents and guardians have to scramble to find something meaningful for their adult children.”
Special People Camp is a way for the church to come alongside these children and their caregivers by providing spiritual, mental, and social enrichment activities in an environment that is tailored to providing quality care for them. Campers participate in traditional camp activities such as fishing, crafts, and a talent show, but Special People Camp is also intentional to meet their spiritual needs as well through daily worship and Bible studies. “Just because someone is special needs, it doesn’t change the basic longings of the human heart for connection, purpose, and a relationship with God,” said Newcomb.
From Loneliness to Connection
Newcomb describes life for special needs adults outside the realm of formal schooling as incredibly lonely. Without a means for self-transportation and safe, quality programming that provides social interaction for them, they spend most of their days at home with only their caregivers for company. “It is almost like solitary confinement,” Newcomb said.
The burden of care is both relentless and exhausting for their parents and guardians. Special People Camp offers caregivers the rare gift of respite along with the assurance that their children are safe and happy. During their children’s week away at camp, they are free to visit with friends, go to the grocery store alone, or simply take a shower without worry or interruption. “Many of these parents have not slept through the night since their adult children were born. Special People Camp allows them much needed rest.”
Grasping God’s Love
As God opens doors, Special People Camp hopes to continue to grow to offer camp experiences to younger teens and adults. For now, organizers are looking forward the return of their special needs friends to Lakeview for the week of October 23-25. This year’s theme is based on Ephesians 3 in which Paul prays that the Christians under his care might be able to grasp just how much God loves them.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…”
As the campers and their parents bear witness to the tangible love of God during Special People Camp, they will experience just how “wide, long, high and deep is the love of Christ.” It is a love more vibrant than the Texas summer sun, and sweeter than s’mores fresh off the bonfire, a love that will carry them all through the fall, winter, and following spring until Summer camp comes around again.