At the commissioning service for the St. Elizabeth's Camp volunteer staff, the Rev. Laura Lockey, the director, invited each staff member to come forward for a blessing and to receive a vial of blessed water. A tag was attached to each vial that reads, “Christ, the living water, refresh me and make me new. Amen.” During the four days the staff members spend as a “buddy” to their campers, this vial will serve as a reminder of Christ’s power to renew and give new life.
St. Elizabeth’s, whose campers (ages 14 to 25) have mild to moderate cognitive disabilities, started in 1999 as the brainchild of Happy Pullman, former director of Shrine Mont Camps. The first few years of St. Elizabeth's there were only five campers, a counselor, a chaplain and a director. The Rev. Laura Lockey has been director since 2001 and watched as the camp grew to a staff as big as 34 and 20-28 campers.
While other camps focus their staff training on establishing counselors both as an authority figure and a friend to your camper, St. Elizabeth’s puts more emphasis on being a friend and buddy. The role of the buddy is to help facilitate the camper’s ability to enjoy camp activities that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to do on their own. The campers and buddies are matched based on energy level and interests. Each outgoing buddy writes a letter to next year’s buddy with a description of their camper, with a positive focus on difficulties and blessings the next buddy may encounter.
“For our counselors, [St. Elizabeth's] is a phenomenal opportunity to learn and acquire leadership skills and to practice selflessness and generosity,” said Mary Beth Abplanalp, assistant director.
On a typical day at St. Elizabeth's campers are divided into three teams and take turns visiting an activity station, chaplain’s time, working on an art activity and participating in activities at the lake. In the afternoon they skip rest period and instead participate in free electives such as bingo, yoga, letter writing, "beauty parlor" or swimming. Each team of campers and buddies is responsible for planning and leading worship one day.
St. Elizabeth’s is well-known for their traveling concert. They make instruments and take them on a traveling show up and down Orkney Grade, singing songs and dancing. “This has become one of our things we do to evangelize and normalize [the campers’] presence. It’s a chance for public exposure,” said Mary Beth.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of how St. Elizabeth’s fully embodies the love and life of Shrine Mont Camps is the emphasis they put on celebrating each camper’s uniqueness. At St. Elizabeth’s, campers are not identified by their disability but by their interests and gifts. As Mary Beth said, “It’s no longer ‘This is Johnny and he has autism’ but ‘This is Johnny and he loves ketchup, the pool and marshmallows.’”
By Kendall Martin
Kendall Martin works at Mayo House as the assistant to the offices of communications and transition ministry. She graduated from James Madison University with a bachelor's degree in English.
She worked previously as assistant editor at the Center for American Places and as a production/circulation manager at Briefings Media Group. Kendall and her husband, Brandon, have two sons, William and Noah.
Spreading the good news of Shrine Mont Camps into the Valley of the World.
The View from the Mountain is written by a rotating cast of staff writers and contributors.