In Colorado, an adaptive summer camp helps campers of all abilities thrive

In Colorado, an adaptive summer camp helps campers of all abilities thrive

Sleeping in a cabin, singing camp songs, and eating camp food are some of the simple things that some do not get to experience because of differences in ability. The Salvation Army is taking steps to make that experience accessible to all. High Peak Camp in Estes Park, Colorado, launched an adaptive camp the summer of 2022, where campers of any ability were welcomed.

Zip lining and archery were some of the activities made accessible to everyone, including campers with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. The camp staff made it all possible with the right equipment, training and perspective.

“It can seem scary to try, but it’s so rewarding for us to be able to do this and see the joy on their faces,” said Divisional Youth Secretary Nick Helms.

Below is a transcript of the video, edited for readability.

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Mitchell McWilliams: Camp is a temporary community where people are able to leave some things back at home. A camper comes here and potentially for the first time in their life, they get to be a kid. Camp creates a space where character development really happens, where campers figure out who they are. They try new things. They step outside of their comfort zone into a place where they can start to learn and grow.

Dalton: I’m having a lot of fun. And I was saying, one for the money, two for the show, three to have fun.

Mitchell McWilliams: The adaptive camp here at High Peak is a pilot program to try to bring campers who aren’t quite like all the other campers that we have. And rather than create a special camp just for them, we want them to be here with the rest of the population of campers we generally see.

Interviewer: How did the archery go?

Samantha: It went very well. Did you get it?

Interviewer: You hit the target a couple of times.

Samantha: Yes, I did.

Interviewer: How did it make you feel?

Samantha: Pretty confident, really. I never shot a bow before, so this was actually my first time shooting a bow.

Captain Nicholas Helms: We have a lot of groups of people today who are marginalized, and the special needs community is one of those groups. For us, it’s really not that hard to include them and say, hey, you are a part of the kingdom of God and you’re a part of our community. It just creates a more welcoming atmosphere for everybody and to make sure that they all know this isn’t a place just for these people, it’s for all people.

Captain Rebecca Helms: We have probably about half of the kids are from the community surrounding the church, and then half of them actually attend the church. So we’re super excited that we get the opportunity to share the gospel with them, to share about the love of Christ and that each one of us are created in his image.

Mitchell McWilliams: We’re in Estes Park, Colorado, up at 9000 ft, right against the Rocky Mountain National Park. This camp is about 150 acres. On our property we have a zip line 750 ft long. We have fishing in our ponds. We do archery. We have a huge sports field. We’ve got a covered basketball court and sand volleyball. We’ve got a craft room. And our campers get to go out and do all those things.

We have special training on our zip line so that our staff can tandem zip with participants. I had the opportunity to ride down the zip line with Cameron, and Cameron has some mobility issues on one of his sides, and so he wasn’t able to fully participate in the zip line and was going to need help, and that meant him and I rode together and I controlled our speed.

And it was really hard for me to understand if Cameron had fun or if he didn’t like it. But immediately Cameron started signing to his mom that he wanted to go again. And so Cameron and I headed back up to the tower and we went again. And he loved it. And he told me that this was the first time he had ever gotten to go down a zip line. The first time that anyone took the time to take him on a high adventure activity.

Nancy Helms: So Cameron is now 29 and this is his first time ever being a camper at a camp. The experience so far has been fabulous. I don’t think we can understand the significance of that, knowing that his siblings have done that their whole life and now he gets to, it’s huge. It’s things we all take for granted that some kids never have opportunities to do.

[Nancy and Cameron sign] So tell them, first time in a cabin. His first time sleeping in a cabin ever and first time going down that zip line fast.

Captain Rebecca Helms: It’s been beautiful to see our staff and our campers, especially just love these kids to meet them where they’re at and just allow them to be part of their group, giving them high fives and hugs and telling them good job and encouraging them when they’ve gone on the zip line. It’s just been an incredible experience to witness.

Probably one of my favorite moments this week is Anna. She carries around a baby and it’s a way that helps her cope when she’s feeling overwhelmed. And after a zip line, her cabin went down to gaga ball and she really wanted to play, but she was concerned about what would happen with her baby.

She said to the girl, campers, does anyone want to hold my baby? And all of them were like, me, me. And they all took the baby and they each took a turn caring for her so Anna could go and play gaga ball. And I just thought that was so beautiful because the girls could have easily said no. But they cared for her and they loved her and they let Anna know that she was safe while Anna was playing gaga ball.

We wanted them to totally be together. So it wasn’t you and me. It really is a picture of what the kingdom will look like eventually.

Interviewer: You sing to be closer to God?

Dalton: Yeah.

Interviewer: What does that feel like when you sing for God?

Dalton: It feels God is very happy.

Interview: What’s your favorite worship song?

Dalton: I like Graves in the Gardens because I love it. It makes me happy tears.

Mitchell McWilliams: Dalton is a camper here with us who not only gets to be a camper, but gets to participate in the praise and worship. And Dalton has a passion for music. He, in fact, wrote his own song.

Dalton: I was writing a song. The first verse is like, easy. I use a Bible to put verses on the first verse, and so is the chorus. The song is called Love Others.

Captain Nicholas Helms: He has a freedom while he sings. There’s nobody else in the room. It’s just him singing to God. This is how God wants us to worship Him, with the freedom to give Him our total praise without worry about what people are looking at us or how we sound. He just wants our worship and he wants our total commitment to Him. And I could see that in Dalton yesterday.

Nancy Helms: I think there’s a lot of people out there with potential to help us grow in our faith journey that sometimes we dismiss because we think they don’t have what it takes. I hope that this can be something that every single camp can do at least one time a year, because I think in God’s eyes, that’s what the kingdom looks like.

Captain Nicholas Helms: It can seem scary to try, but it’s so rewarding for us to be able to do this and see the joy on their faces.

Mitchell McWilliams: We see the people that are part of this adaptable program as a part of the Salvation message. God has called us into community, and that community is for absolutely everyone. And after we see that here, we’d love to start seeing that across all of our camps in The Salvation Army, where we again stop asking that question or saying no and start asking the question, how? How can we change and make this possible?


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