Thursday, October 7, 2010

I.I.L. Part 2

This is the story that was told at opening campfire every session this summer. This is something from my camp past that really formed the strong belief I have in the benefits of the summer camp experience. This story is about how love change a person's personal image and help them overcome mountains (literally). This is final part of my look at I.I.L.

I grew up going to a camp called Camp Pike. It was a one week Christian hiking camp that was based out of Coppell,  Texas, but the actual camp was in Colorado at the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp, which is in Pike National Forest near Pike's Peak. I started going in 7th grade and continued to be a camper until after my sophomore year of high school. After that you can apply to be a counselor. Luckily, I became a counselor and I got to continue on helping and being part of the camp that I loved.

In my second or third year as a counselor I got to be hikemaster, which is the person in charge of organizing all the hikes from counselors to campers. During the planning, I noticed that there was a camper coming to camp that was deaf -- Trevor. I thought to myself this will be interesting since it was going to be a struggle to communicate with him on hikes. The only problem with that was my ignorance. People who are deaf also have a hard time with balance because balance is in your ears, which of course I didn't realize until he arrived at camp.

Trevor looked like a normal camper and smiled like one as well. It took me awhile to realize who he was because when stepped off the bus he wore a beanie to cover up the implant that was in each of his ears and he would always be smiling. The first night was tough one for Trevor. Something happened in his cabin that scared him. He grabbed the broom and swung it around the cabin, then he ran to his mother who was the camp nurse that weekend (his sister was also a camper that year).

The first time I saw him struggle with his balance at camp was during an evening program. Part of the game was to cross to a creek by hopping across on some rocks. He refused to hop across. His face was white and his  eyes wide. He didn't want to leave his comfort zone. The rest of his cabin had already moved on from that obstacle. I motioned for him to catch up with his cabin on the other side of the bridge. He ran as fast as he could over to them to join them for the last half of the evening program.

On the 2nd to last day we climb Pike's Peak as a camp. Yes, about 100 sixth, seventh and eighth graders climbing a 14,000 ft mountain. It is a long hike that can range from 7 to 12 hours in length. In order to go on this hike you have to complete several preliminary hikes over the first few days of camp.

Trevor struggled with the hikes but he made it through them. My only question about him was going to be his endurance. He was always really tired after the hikes. Keeping your balance over such a long period of time while hiking up a mountain had to take its toll. Besides making it up all the hikes, Trevor had started to be more outgoing. He was trying to communicate more with other campers and counselors. He taught us some sign language (I still do some today). My favorite was stars. It seemed his favorite, especially out at camp because he could actually see them. At the camp dance he asked a girl to dance for the first time in his life (she said yes).

The Pike day starts really early (around 4:00 is wake up and 4:30 breakfast if I remember correctly). Trevor was in the first group out so he could have more time to make it up the summit. I put him with a really strong (spirit, mind and body) counselor named Charles. So they headed out. I was in the last group to head up to the mountain, which meant we would catch up to the first group near the top.

We finally caught up to them about 30 minutes from summiting. It was 7 or 8 hours into their hike and 5 hours into ours. As I looked up at Trevor's hike group, I noticed something different. Charles was grabbing Trevor's backpack. I was puzzled. Then I saw Trevor stumble and Charles was holding him up. The stumbling and holding continued until the last 30 yards. That is when Trevor saw his mom and sister standing there waiting for him. He broke away from Charles and ran to them. They crumbled together in a beautiful embrace. Happy tears ran down their faces. He had accomplished something that I don't think he even thought he could do.

Not only is this story about the supportive love that happened that week with Trevor but it is about the love that Trevor planted in other peoples heart that week. I love summer camp and Trevor and his growth that week are some of the reasons why. He doesn't know but he gave me more than he truly realizes. That is what makes summer camp so great.

While I love this story, this story happens at summer camps around the country. I witness it every week out here CFA. I watch kids conquer their fears on the leap of faith out at high ropes or just being away from home for the first time. Camp provides that unique opportunity for a child to grow in a place where they are loved unconditionally. When the campers grow, so does the staff.

This past summer our staff impacted many lives and it impacted them. After our closing dinner, we watched the staff video and after that they cried, hugged and were saying goodbye. It was the end and they finally realized the impact they had on kids and how those kids impacted their lives. It seemed like 2 hours before everyone finally got done saying their goodbyes. That is what summer camp is about -- impacting lives with love.

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