You know that strange feeling you get when you leave a place? Like you’ll not only miss the people you love, but you’ll miss the person you were at this time and place because you will never be this way again—that’s camp.
While this past summer was my first as a camp counselor, it was not my first time at camp. I went to a Christian camp for a few odd years when I was younger; in fact I can still tell you the smallest detail about my weeks at camp. Camp as a kid was both the best and scariest thing that could happen to me. While it meant freedom from family for a week it also meant that I was away from family for a week. Running around with friends, both new and old, and goofing around in activities and cabins was fun, but putting myself to sleep at night and no home cooked meals were no fun, so naturally as most kids do, I would get homesick. To my surprise, this past summer at camp, I never truly felt homesick; that’s when I realized that Charis Hills was a HOME.
Charis Hills brought me life-long friends. The kind that make saying goodbye hard whether it’s leaving after the summer or just a short coffee-shop visit. Camp reestablished my passion for two things: Jesus and children with learning differences, both of which I didn’t think needed reestablishing. First, Jesus, a figure who has been in my life since the day I was brought into this world. They say there is knowing God and knowing about God, and before camp I only knew about God, but now I think I can say that I know God thanks to the twice daily devotion; “Cross-talk” and evening devotion. PLUS, we had almost weekly staff worship nights as well as staff Church on the weekends. Second, my passion for the population of kids with both social and learning differences skyrocketed. I have been dead set on working in Special Education for a good portion of my life, so there was always passion there. But let me tell you, with an almost 2-week training and hundreds of campers telling you about their struggles and victories, the passion you thought you once had now doesn’t even compare to a mustard seed. Lastly, each Saturday after the campers leave the awards ceremony, for a short moment the Dining Hall becomes a very somber place. Full of staff, we stand in circles talking about the past week and every once in a while, or a lot of the while, you’ll see a tear in someone’s eye. We often get told that we are making an impact on their lives, but it’s right there in that dining hall, that we start realizing these campers have a greater impact on us than we could have ever had on them.
With that said, counselors are not the only ones heavily impacted by Charis Hills. In fact, on more than one occasion, I watched new campers walk through the door of the Dining Hall apprehensive about being in a new place. Leaving their parents was scary. They were worried that camp wouldn’t be as fun as everyone was telling them it would be, or maybe it was there first time away from home, but these same campers were slow to leave on the last day of camp. At this camp some kids make their first good friend, while some campers meet with friends they made the year before. There’s a stigma around our camp’s population that tells us that “these kids don’t make friends”. I have seen this is not true. Our camp founder , Rand Southard, told us during our training, “these kids do have a hard time in our society making friends, but our society excludes them and makes it hard. Given the opportunities they get at camp, they do make friends! It’s not the child’s in-abilty to make friends, it’s our society that does not give them the opportunity.”
Friday nights are my favorite at camp because that means it’s talent show night. My goodness are our kids talented. We accept all kinds of acts, so you can expect to see anything from dancing, magic, stand-up comedy, singing, or even drawing. Every once in a while you get to watch a camper perform in front of the whole camp after you spent the week trying to break them out of their shell and were beginning to think it wouldn't happen. What a moment.
Most importantly, the impact I saw Jesus make in our camper’s lives was the most rewarding. I got to sit with kids day in and day out reading passages from the Bible and doing my best to answer their questions about faith. Watching Jesus work through campers is a sight to behold, and one I wish more people could see. In fact, I loaned my Bible to a camper during one of our kid sessions and allowed her free reign to write and highlight as she pleased. Occasionally during my personal Bible study I’ll turn to a page and see her writing and I am in awe of her understanding. For this, I thank the Lord daily.
In an effort to keep this reading short and sweet, I will stop there, but Lord knows I could write page after page about this camp. Charis Hills gave me purpose, a place to call home, and I will never forget this summer. Regardless of a child’s diagnoses, the life they live back at home, or how they are treated elsewhere, when they walk through the door of the dining hall on the first day of camp, they are a person made by God, and that’s the way it should be.
Counselor Vonnie N, 2017
Charis Hills Camp is a place for children with HF Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD and other learning differences can find a place of encouragement where they can safely build skills for life. Located in Sunset, TX, Rand and Colleen Southard teach counselors and campers how to show grace and acceptance to all. For more information go to: http://www.charishills.org