Local group serves at special needs camp

Youth Pastor Grant Shewey, Colton Rempel, Teagyn Miller, Jayden Franz, Quinlyn Funk Talia Jost, Bailee Gawith, Katie Rempel, Austyn Driggers, Chloe Dirks, Janet Whisenhunt and Sara Rempel. The group volunteered for a week at Camp Barnabas which is a camp in Southwest Missouri dedicated to providing a unique Christian summer camp experience to individuals with special needs.
Janet Whisenhunt (left) poses with campers during a fun event at Camp Barnabus. Whisenhunt and othes from Hillsboro volunteered for a week at Camp Barnabas which is a camp in Southwest Missouri dedicated to providing a unique Christian summer camp experience to individuals with special needs.
Colton Rempel “dances” with the camper that he served all week during his time at Camp Barnabas. Rempel and others from Hillsboro volunteered for a week at Camp Barnabas which is a camp in Southwest Missouri dedicated to providing a unique Christian summer camp experience to individuals with special needs.                           

Grant Shewey has been dreaming about getting back to Camp Barnabas since he volunteered there as a 17-year-old.

“I went and I didn’t know a single person there. The only way I really even got connected was my cousin had gone the year before and for whatever reason, I said yes to going. I was in a really tough spot of life at that point, just really prideful and selfish and just had a lot of that getting revealed in me,” he said. “But going that one week of my life, the 17-year-old to now has been the most transformational week in my life just because of where I was at before then and then experiencing just total selflessness to now has been the one week that’s changed me the most.”

12 years later Shewey got to go back as the youth pastor at Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church and he took a team with him.

Camp Barnabas is located a little over four hours from Hillsboro in Purdy, Missouri between Joplin and Branson. It was started in 1994.

“It was an old campground that had just been kind of run down and it was purchased by some people that had had camping experience and basically wanted kids with disabilities that couldn’t participate at sports camp and other summer camps without wheelchair accessibility,” said Shewey. “One of their slogans is they say these kids that are told no most days of their life are told yes all week because they can go down the zip line and the water slide and they’ve got people to support them.

The campers at Camp Barnabas typically need assistance with all activities of daily living. The ranges in age are from children aged seven to adults.

“Showering, bathing, wheelchair accessibility, all the stuff that basically if you send a kid to junior high camp or high school camp no one’s really gonna accommodate most of those things. And so they are actually assigned what’s called a missionary, it’s a one-on-one counselor to basically be with them 15 hours a day to do all of those tasks,” said Shewey.

The group had nine youth volunteers and two of them, Chloe Dirks and Austyn Driggers, worked as barnstormers who worked in the kitchen.

“Barnstormers are ages 13-14. They do all the mealtime, cleaning, set up and tear down of all things at camps that make things happen,” said Shewey.

Driggers enjoyed the time but also found it challenging.

“During Camp Barnabas, I cleaned up after meals and cleaned toilets, but my favorite part was spending time with campers during meals. The Barnstormers would watch over certain tables and help them with whatever they needed. It was such an amazing, joyful place,” said Driggers. “The biggest challenge was serving for many hours a day with a happy heart. Setting up meals and cleaning them up becomes easier when you remember who you’re doing it for. Camp Barnabas taught me a lot about people with disabilities. They taught me more than I could teach them. Camp Barnabas is an awesome experience I think everyone should have.”

The other seven youth, Colton Rempel, Teagyn Miller, Jayden Franz, Quinlyn Funk, Talia Jost, Bailee Gawith and Katie Rempel were missionaries. Missionaries can be from ages 15-29.

Talia Jost, who is familiar with Camp Barnabas due to having an older sister who attends each year, enjoyed her time serving.

“Camp Barnabas was such a great experience. I was a missionary to a woman with multiple intellectual disabilities for one week. We did all the normal church camp things like swimming, devotions, dance parties and hanging out. It was so fun to celebrate all the campers,” Jost said. “The hardest part was encouraging my camper to make good choices like being kind to others, getting her to drink enough water and explaining all the activities at her level so she could understand and participate.”

Shewey, Janet Whisenhunt and Sara Rempel served as cabin parents. Cabin parents can be aged 30 on up.

“We led from behind where we’re there encouraging all the counselors in the cabin. So we’re over one cabin, so you got the 10 campers that have their 10 counselors. We got to provide snacks for the kind of debrief time that we had at night, we did laundry, we wrote encouraging notes to the families as well as the missionaries and more,” said Shewey. “It was really cool to get to float around and get to assist however I was needed like a third person to help with showering, changing, getting in and out of wheelchairs, getting in and out of bed. A common phrase there is ‘Can we get a third?’ And so for me, that was a lot of what my role was.”

Whisenhunt agreed that it was a great experience.

“In my opinion, everyone should have the opportunity to be a part of Camp Barnabas whether as a missionary, support staff or camper. I can’t thank Grant enough for this opportunity to serve others,” she said.

Shewey has a young daughter who has autism and he hopes that she can one day attend Camp Barnabas as a camper to experience all that the camp has to offer.

“I think just the inclusion of it where these kids that are excluded because of physical or social skills or whatever it may be. And they’re told no and they’re not able to be a part of stuff that they actually are around 200 other campers that are unique and have disabilities and are able to do things in their daily life that here they’ve got someone one-on-one to care for them and make it happen. It’s a pretty powerful experience,” he said. “We’d love for her to be able to go and for our family to get connected to it.”

One of the biggest challenges that the group faced is that they expected to have a group of children as campers but they ended up getting ages 18 plus including some with severe behaviors.

“And so what was really interesting about that was we didn’t know that until literally like the night that we show up when we’re getting paired with a camper. So the students actually don’t know who their camper is until they show up at camp. It was kind of a bummer at first just to process it and be like, ‘Okay, this is a lot different than what we’ve been preparing for’, but at the same time they just stretched with it and adjusted. They were amazing,” said Grant.

One example of how the missionaries adjusted was seen in Quinlyn Funk who had a camper that was around 50 and wanted to be outside all day long. She wanted to go on walks and rarely sit. Funk just rolled with it and followed her everywhere she went.

“They do an awards night the last night before we leave, and they recognize one person who went above and beyond. Someone who was exemplary. The award is called Honor Missionary and Quinlyn Funk received it for her work,” said Shewey.

Funk did not expect the award.

“I was pretty shocked when I won the missionary award because I knew it had been a really tough week for me, but I didn’t realize everyone had noticed how different of an experience that I had compared to all the other missionaries. What really kept me going throughout the week was how supportive and encouraging the rest of my cabin was,” she said.

While Funk found her role challenging, she also found much to enjoy in it.

“The biggest challenge for me personally was having to do what my camper wanted. She wasn’t interested in doing lots of activities. She was also non-verbal which made it even harder to communicate. Luckily she was very smart and could sign as well as write words down, so that was super helpful. I even got to learn some sign language,” Funk said. “My favorite part was watching my camper start to relax and trust me more. I also liked to watch her do things she enjoyed, even if it’s not what I wanted to do or what everyone else was doing.”

Shewey and many of his campers all seemed to love it and want to go back. Funk summed it up well.

“I would tell people who are thinking about giving Camp Barnabas a try that you have to go into it with the right mindset. Your primary goal is to give your camper the best camp experience possible, even if that means you have to do hard things. All the staff are super helpful and you will never have to do something you aren’t comfortable doing. My biggest takeaway is even if things don’t go as planned, it’s still what God had planned the whole time, and He will always do what’s best for me. By the end of the week, I felt very accomplished and I would do it again,” Funk said.

The group will be presenting about their trip at HMBC at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 20 if you would like to hear more. If you are interested in serving in the next trip, the process begins this fall for next summer. Email Shewey for more information at grantshewey@gmail.com. The ages for volunteers are from 13 on up.






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