Camp Barnabas creates fun for disabled

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Associated Press/Ryan Hasler

Jaci Johannessen, a counselor at Camp Barnabas, from Elk Grove, Calif., explained to Phillip VonGontard, 9, a blind camper, that his drawing looks like a mountain with clouds and a river. Camp Barnabus is a summer camp for disabled children near Purdy, Mo.By Connie Farrow ~ The Associated Press

PURDY, Mo. -- Don't count Paul and Cyndy Teas among the adults who relish the start of school.

The ringing of class bells means the end of another summer session at the camp they created for special needs children and their siblings.

"It's hot, sticky and the days are long. But it means so much to the kids," Paul Teas said. "When it's all over, it stinks."

At first glance, Camp Barnabas looks like any other summer camp. Children ages 7 to 17 arrive with swimsuits, shorts, T-shirts and favorite comfort items. They bring their siblings, too.

They also bring their wheelchairs, braces, artificial limbs and hearing devices.

The Teas established Camp Barnabas six years ago out of 83 acres of forest and mountains that overlook Shoal Creek in rural Barry County in southwest Missouri.

It's the only non-denominational Christian camp in the country that offers one-week sessions for children with a wide range of disabilities, such as autism, cancer, blindness, deafness, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, AIDS and leukemia.

Just wanted to be normal

The camp was inspired by a young girl named Lauren Hauschild. The Teas met her in 1992 while working at a summer camp in Branson. Cyndy was medical director, and Paul was purchasing director.

Cyndy suggested that then 12-year-old Lauren see a doctor about her leg pain. She was diagnosed with bone cancer.

Lauren returned to camp the next summer as an amputee. She struggled to keep up and dealt with the discomforts of her cabin mates, who feared it could happen to them.

"When I asked how she was doing, Lauren said, 'I just want to be a normal kid at camp,'" Cyndy Teas recalled.

The Teas were determined to create a place where children wouldn't have to worry about being different.

The camp is named for the disciple Barnabas, who was known as the encourager, Paul Teas says. Characteristics such as being faithful, caring and loving are emphasized.

They minister to families, strengthening parents and children by given them a break from medical woes.

For those with special needs, it's a chance to be a kid with a focus on what they can do.

For the siblings, it's a chance to be free of the worries that come with having a physically challenged brother or sister.

It's clear there is no time for worries among the 123 campers with visual and hearing impairments, who are attending the final summer session.

They are busy doing crafts, canoeing, singing, riding horses, rappelling, shooting rifles and jumping on the "Blob" -- a 20-foot air-filled tube -- which catapults them into the air and into a pool.

They also pull pranks: The girls hid the boys' bunkbed mattresses; the boys retaliated by toilet papering their cabins.

"I really like it here," said 12-year-old Springfieldian Jenny Rawlings, who is deaf but uses a hearing device. "It's a lot of fun. I really like to swim."

'Acting like new mothers'

The children are paired with teenagers, who serve as mentors and protectors -- while maintaining a level of "coolness."

"It's funny because you'll see these big macho guys acting like new mothers," Paul Teas said. "One guy's complaining because his boy hasn't had a bowel movement. The other's worried because his puked."

About 1,000 children had spent a week at Camp Barnabas by the time camp ended Aug. 12.

The cost of providing a full range of camp activities is $425 per child. Youngsters of limited means pay only $25, and not even that if their parents can't afford it.

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