As the bikers wound their way around the lower level roads leading behind the camp mess hall, campers and volunteer staffers lined the roads, cheering and clapping, some exchanging "high fives" with the riders. When they stopped, the group was quickly surrounded and hugs exchanged.
The "Bike2Barnabas" trip had ended, part of ongoing enthusiastic support for the camp founded by Paul and Cyndy Teas that is presently in the midst of camp sessions.
Last week around 150 campers with Down Syndrome or some degree of autism are enjoying the camping experience. Approximately 250 support staff for the campers and 100 camp staffers make up the camp's population.
Among the volunteers are 36 people, mostly youth, from the Greenwood Community Church in the Denver area. The church has sent volunteers to work at Camp Barnabas for 10 years. The "Bike2Barnabas" group included seven teenage boys, all of whom will be seniors in high school this fall, and their youth leader, Tom Wanberg.
Smokey Ridgley, volunteer leader with the church, who has come for all 10 years, said, "Camp Barnabas has opened up the eyes of our kids. In schools, often, the special needs kids are invisible. Our kids come here, they tell their friends, then they want to come. This is one of our passions."
"I love all their spirits," said youth volunteer Nicole Valiga, from the church. "They show the kind of love you can't get at home."
Five of the cyclists had attended Camp Barnabas as volunteers last summer. On their way home last year, Spencer Knierim decided he wanted to do something for the camp. He and Andrew Martinek and Kevin McGraw thought up the bike ride, combining it with an effort to raise funds for the camp's scholarship fund. Two others who had attended last summer and two more who had hoped to come but had to go on scheduled family trips instead got on board for the venture.
Most of the cyclists had their doubts the trip would actually happen until the final month when parents jumped in to help with logistics and all the plans fell in place. Some of the fathers rode part of the trip with the cyclists. A van plus a trailer to haul the bikes accompanied the cyclists.
The trip itself proved arduous. Several mentioned the weather, especially the wind, the ride across endlessly flat western Kansas and even the challenge of being with each other for so long, despite being best friends and being acquainted for over five years.
The excitement grew the closer they got to Missouri. The ride into camp was so invigorating one of the cyclists commented he did not want it to stop.
There was one final task: to present the check from their fundraising. The presentation was made to Paul and Cyndy Teas in front of a packed crowd in the mess hall. The Teases commented no one had ever made a cross country bike ride to Camp Barnabas before, so they had no idea what to expect.
Knierim said when the group began its efforts, their fundraising goal was $10,000. The number seemed small, he said, so they let God work. They tore the tape off the numbers on the oversized check they presented to reveal a final donation of $22,040.
The hall erupted in cheers and a chant of "Oooh," with arms raised in an arch over the heads of the campers, the symbol for a standing ovation.
According to Donna Robertson, storyteller for Camp Barnabas, the money will be used for the camp's scholarship fund. Sixty percent of campers receive partial scholarships, meaning the camp must raise around $300,000 in scholarships annually plus operational expenses.
"Donations like this help a great deal," Robertson said.
The cyclists will work the rest of the camp session with their fellow church volunteers and travel back to the Denver area together.
The fundraising effort fit in with this year's camp theme, "Believe in God." A banner displaying the acronym BIG flies across the driveway greeting all arrivals.
Campers will attend sessions at Camp Barnabas through Aug. 8. For more information about Camp Barnabas, call 417-476-2565.