Camp Barnabas gives gift of memories

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Director: 'It's the best week ever for the kids'

Camp Barnabas is inviting Barry County residents to give a child with a disability, special need or a chronic illness a special gift this season that will not break, does not require batteries, will not go out of style or be eventually forgotten, but will last a lifetime -- the gift of a unique camp experience tailored just for them.

Camp Barnabas is not just any summer camp. It offers the same traditional camp activities, but this week-long camp has the potential to change a child's life, staff say. And they know, because they see it first-hand every week of the summer.

"It's the best week ever for the kids," said Sherry Kettner, director of community development for Camp Barnabas. "The day they leave, they start counting on their calendars when they get to come back next year. They make friends at camp, and for families, it's a time of respite that may be the only time they get all year. Some families who live far away will stay nearby for vacation."

The week-long camp experience is available for those with a variety of disabilities, special needs and chronic illnesses.

"We take campers that other camps won't take," Kettner said. "We have two -- one in Purdy, and one in Shell Knob. Purdy has a pretty extensive medical clinic that was added in 2010, but we have campers from autism to chronic illness to developmental delays to physical disabilities, and all ages too, so it isn't just children we're serving, but adults, too.

During the week, disabilities do not limit campers from participating in activities, and they are loved on and encouraged to try new things in a place where they are never made to feel different.

"We love them a lot," Kettner said.

Despite their disabilities, the campers still participate in the traditional camp activities that children have enjoyed for decades.

"We have everything you'd have at a typical summer camp," Kettner said. "We have a pool, canoes, archery, arts and crafts, science activities, a ropes course and we have themed parties every night that range from carnivals to game show-type activities. We've worked very hard over the years to make everything as accessible as we possibly can."

Kettner was hooked after serving as a summer staffer, finding herself returning to help with various projects until being hired for her current position.

It can be difficult at first for families to let go of their child, but it's worth it, Kettner said.

"It can be hard for them to trust other people with their kids with special needs, and for many of our families, this is the only week they have any respite," she said. "But, once they come, they're sold. We have a discovery weekend that new families attend and parents can stick around a little longer to learn more about the camp. So, we try to help families feel comfortable with the idea of leaving their campers somewhere for a week."

Each summer, the camp hosts 1,500 campers and has about 2,500 volunteers referred to as missionaries.

"[Missionaries] work in the kitchen and help with meals, and lots of our one-on-one missionaries are high schoolers and come from youth groups and churches," Kettner said. "We have adult volunteers, too. They are called missionaries because this is like a mission group. They pay something to be volunteers, but the rest [of our funding] we rely on solely from donations, and that's how we operate."

Kettner said the cost for a camper to attend camp runs approximately $750, but most families receive a scholarship of some type.

"If a family were to outright pay [out of pocket], the cost is $750," she said. "But, a lot our families can't pay for camp and request scholarships, and so essentially every camper is scholarshipped in because we don't charge what it costs to have them there."

The camp, which was founded in the early 1990s, has a faith-based focus.

"It is a faith-based, so campers have a devotional every day in their cabin, and at night, we wrap up with a talk on the verse of the day," Kettner said. "Christ is definitely a central part of everything we do, but we have campers that come in from all types of backgrounds."

A recent press release sent by the camp said that campers learn that God uniquely created them to live a life of purpose, and get to try things that the outside world says are impossible.

No camper is turned away because of money, but this year, the camp has not been able to give as easily. Therefore, the camp is encouraging individuals to give a gift by the end of the year, that's tax-deductible.

The camp was recently offered a $20,000 matching gift opportunity, so between now and Dec. 31, the first $20,000 in gifts donated will be matched dollar-for-dollar, which will go a long way to help fund the camp's operations and scholarships.

Any donation amount is accepted and welcomed, Kettner said.

"We have some who want to sponsor a single camper, which is $750, and people who want to do a fundraiser or scholarship an entire cabin," Kettner said.

To make a tax-deductible donation before the end of the year to give a child the opportunity to enjoy a week of camp, or at any time during the year, people may call Camp Barnabas at 417-476-2565. For more information, people may visit their website at: www.campbarnabas.com or their Facebook page.

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