PURDY - Over and over they're told by well meaning people "no, you can't."
But at Camp Barnabas they're told "yes you can" - and they do.
Nestled in its own 33-acre hide-away about 45 miles from Springfield, the camp helps return childhood experiences to youths who've been robbed of them by disease. Here, children are able to shift their focus from sterile medical environments and the language of their sickness or handicap to focus on activities that build their courage and belief in themselves.
Several youths from the Kenny Rogers Children's Center recently had that experience and the smiles that creep up on their faces at the mere mention of Camp Barnabas says it all.
"I had heard about Camp Barnabas and we really wanted to see firsthand what was there and what it was like," said Chuck Martin, executive director of the Children's Center. "Back in November we took a group, two therapists and myself, and flew over to Camp Barnabas. We toured it while there weren't any kids there, met with the founders of the camp and kind of walked through to see first hand before committing to send any of our kids. We were really impressed even at that point, just with the people, the facilities, the vision they have in instilling nothing but positive attributes in these kids. We felt this is the camp that we would love to partner with."
On July 16, 24 Children's Center youths from five different counties and three therapists piled into vans and headed for the camp which became home through July 22. There they joined 96 other special-needs children ranging in age from 7 to 17.
The camp caters to children with diseases like cancer, hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and AIDS. But this particular week was devoted to youths with mental and physical challenges and they came from Wyoming, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arkansas to join the fun.
Camp Barnabas, designed for both body and soul, provides the young guests an opportunity to do things many have never done, building their self-esteem and providing a greater sense of independence and responsibility for self-care. It is a non-profit organization that invites children with serious illness or disability regardless of their family's ability to pay. Siblings, too, become a part of the experience.
Under the watchful eyes of founders Paul and Cyndy Teas and the many volunteers and counselors on hand, the variety of activities at the children's disposal include canoeing, riflery, going on an airplane ride, fishing, tennis, singing in front of an audience, watching puppet shows, therapeutic horseback riding, rope courses, rappelling, archery, swimming and even going to themed dances. The list is endless.
The cost of taking the Children's Center children to the camp, which was at no expense to their families, was more than $9,500. It was made possible by the generosity of many businesses, organizations and individuals.
"All of their lives they have been the ones who have been different and now to be a part of a group of 125, and just one of the gang," said Martin. "It made a big, big difference. But the neatest thing in the world, and we talk about it all the time here at Kenny Rogers, is focusing on ability, not disability, what can be, not what is. So I think being able to partner with an organization like Camp Barnabas really just solidifies what our vision has been all along. That is, not looking at these kids with pity, but looking at them as individuals who bring in their own set of gifts and abilities to the table and with just a little bit of help, love and hands up, they can be what they want to be. It was the neatest thing to see that happen over there. I cannot begin to tell you the impact it had on their lives," Martin said, smiling, adding that the result turned out even better than he expected.
The primary physician at the camp was a paraplegic and they had the opportunity to fly with a group called Challenge Air in which everyone associated has some type of disability. "They had the most wonderful role models," Martin said. "Over and over they were exposed to a message that was basically don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't be what you want to be. Here you had a doctor, for goodness sakes, who had not only gone past his disability to become a physician but was also one of the pilots who flew the kids with Challenge Air. They flew every single child over the camp, over Purdy and Monett. It was really a great experience."
What made the camp even more special, Martin said, was the fact that the camp is based up on a Christian foundation. Although nondenominational, the camp bases its values around the message of Jesus and his finished work at the cross. Martin was pleased that none of the parents had any objections and the fact actually intensified many of their desires for their children to attend.
"We made very clear to the parents that this was a Christian camp but that their child wasn't going to be indoctrinated to become a Baptist, a Methodist, a Pentecost or anything else. I was thrilled to death to hear the reaction from the parents. It was so neat because to be exposed to a daily message that there is hope is so important for these children to hear."
Saying goodbye is seldom easy, but the children who attended Camp Barnabas found it to be difficult and Martin recalled more than a few tears being shed.
"When camp was over I can just remember pulling up in the van and there were these wet eyes and the kids were hugging their counselors and friends. They made the neatest friendships with other kids who had special needs as well. You had to see the goodbyes. These kids have made friends that will be, I think, there for a lifetime. They were exchanging email addresses and regular addresses with each other and with their counselors.
"One little boy told his counselor he didn't want to leave because he wouldn't have any friends when he went home. It was one of those things where it wasn't a quick trip over and back, it was a life-changing event for many of these kids who had exposure to an incredibly positive message."
For more information on Camp Barnabas contact the Teas at 417-476-2565 or email them at barnabas@MO-NET.com