*Names have been changed
I want to let you know about my son's first time at camp last week. *Ben is eight and has Asperger's and ADHD. He has never been away from home for more than a couple of nights. My husband and I were both scared for him to be in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces for that long, but we heard such high reviews of Camp Barnabas that we had to give it a try.
I learned about Camp Barnabas the same way most people have--from the Extreme Makeover show. I remember bawling during the entire episode. Kids with disabilities are able to go to camp each year and not have any judgements or strange looks for an entire week. They are uninhibited and they get to be kids. I didn't know Camp Barnabas would creep into my life ten years later...
Ben has had a rough year. We lost his little brother last summer and Ben regressed. Ben regressed so badly that his school put him in a 6 by 6 square foot room with only one desk. No windows. No access to peers. No access to sunlight. The school told me he was a danger to himself and others and called the Safe Line multiple times. Day after day, he was suspended. Of course, to Ben a suspension was a reward. After six long weeks and multiple meetings with school administration, the decision was made to remove him from public school. He was sent to an alternative school for kids with extreme behavior problems. On the first day at alternative school, I realized he was in a place that cared about him. The remainder of the school year was wonderful.
Our community hasn't been very supportive either. We aren't allowed to eat in many local establishments and are not allowed at the local YMCA. Getting care for Ben after school and during the summer is hard. Emotionally, is it exhausting and draining. When I pick up my child, I want to see a smile and hear good things. It is the rare exception that I experience this.
During Ben's annual well child check up, his pediatrician suggested that Camp Barnabas might be just the thing Ben needed. I went online and was placed on the waiting list. Within three weeks, Ben was accepted! We were ecstatic! Some place actually wanted Ben to be there!
On Arrival Day, we drove up to Camp Barnabas and saw nothing but smiling faces from everyone. Counselors and campers were dancing and the entire place was filled with joy! Ben said he was a rock star and wanted to hang out of the sunroof. We encouraged him! He talked to missionaries and counselors while we waited for his turn to be announced. Everyone seemed so excited. We checked Ben in, checked in with his cabin staff and Missionary, and headed home to wait.
We were waiting for the call that said "Come get him. We don't want him here" but it never came. Slowly but surely, my Facebook page blew up with posts from Camp Barnabas. There were pictures of Ben with his missionary, and he was having the time of his life! Our worried grew less and less over the next few days.
Finally it was Pick Up Day! We were so excited to see Ben. He saw us as we walked up to his cabin. "Mommy, Daddy! I've had so much fun! Meet all my friends!" Ben was followed by a sea of campers. We were introduced to everyone. And then I was pulled aside by his cabin staff. I braced myself for it. For the he can't come back and what were you thinking? I've heard it all before. We tried. We failed. Again. But then he started talking and asked if we had signed Ben up for next year. I nodded and he went on. "Ben is an exceptional young man and we can't wait to have him next year." Wait. What did he just say? They want Ben to come back? I was jumping up and down from excitement in my head.
We then headed to the Closing Ceremonies. Ben was up and talking, but it was OK. No one judged. It was wonderful. We watched the video and clapped along with everyone else. Then, there was a clip about the last night at camp. It showed Ben carrying the cross. My eyes welled up with tears. Ben turned to me and said "Mommy, do you know what that cross is for? It means that Jesus died on a cross like that. Jesus died to save us."
Thank you to everyone who puts their lives into Camp Barnabas. Because of you all, my son was welcomed. He was happy. He was himself for a whole week. He learned about God and faith. For that, I cannot thank you enough. We cannot wait until next year...