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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Camp Barnabas still going strong

Monday, August 3, 2009

It has been four years since Extreme Makeover: Home Edition surprised the Teas family with a new home and other buildings for the camp they established 14 years ago for special needs children. Co-founders Paul and Cyndy Teas use the buildings supplied by Extreme Makeover every day and continue to build and plan for the future.

Every summer, beginning June 1 and ending Aug. 14, Camp Barnabas, near Purdy, holds nine sessions of summer camp, each targeted toward a specific special need. This past week, most of the campers had autism. According to Paul, the most recent term included 152 campers, ages 7 to 17, as well as 30 sibling campers.

"These are precious children of God, and we are pleased to have them at camp," said Cyndy.

One of the buildings created by Extreme Makeover in 2005 is mainly a large meeting room that was Ty Pennington's "secret project," Paul said. Initially they wondered exactly what they would do with the space but have since discovered that they use it "all day, every day."

According to Paul, the meeting room is used for activities, staff training and for the initial checking in of campers with the staff nurses. "It has been a phenomenally useful building; it has been even more of a blessing than even he (Ty) thought it would be," Paul said.

The quality of the Extreme Makeover work is just outstanding, Paul stated. The exposure received from the show has increased interest in the camp, and one challenge they have discovered is a "bottleneck" at their medical facility.

A new 7,000-square-foot health center is planned to help relieve the congestion. Fund-raising for the health center will continue through the end of this year with construction expected to begin early in 2010 and to continue most of the year, Paul said. The health center opening is targeted for 2011.

In the off-season, when camp is not in session, the building will be open as a primary care health center for the surrounding community. Primary level care will be available for a flat fee, Paul said. Camp Barnabas has a full medical staff, including doctors and nurses, and they are all volunteers. One volunteer nurse was previously a camp counselor at Barnabas.

Some of the features of Camp Barnabas include horseback riding, overnight camping, canoeing, swimming and a high ropes course. Farm animals are donated to the camp for the summer, making chickens, ducks, a llama, pigs and goats available for the kids to encounter.

Many of the kids come out of a city environment, Paul said, and being able to pet and hold a farm animal is a real treat. Horseback riding is offered with three wranglers to each camper, one on each side of the horse and another to lead the way. There are about 10 horses available for riding. Some campers don't care to ride the horses, and no one is forced to do any activity they don't wish to do at Camp Barnabas.

The "water works," including a large swimming pool, is especially popular with the campers. Swimming is part of the regular activity schedule but each day also includes an open activity period where the campers can choose which activity they would like to do. Ninety-nine percent of the kids choose to go back to water works and splash and swim.

"They can't get enough of the pool," Paul said.

Several specially built PVC wheelchairs are provided so that wheelchair-bound campers can wheel straight into the pool if they wish to. Lifeguards oversee the swimmers while camp counselors accompany each child into the pool.

Two campsites, one for boys and another for girls, are set up beyond the riding arena. The kids take a turn, with their cabin mates, camping out under the stars from after breakfast one day to the following morning.

Camp Barnabas tries to make every activity accessible to all the campers if they with to participate. Paddling canoes from the canoe dock is a popular activity, and the dock was made wheelchair accessible when a large elevator was built into the cliff side.

"They usually take two wheelchairs at a time, but it is engineered to where it could handle a large truck such as a Suburban. Whatever we can do to accommodate the kids, that is the whole focus," Paul said.

Paddling canoes, floating and fishing are all done along Shoal Creek, which runs through the 123-acre campground.

Another "feature" at Camp Barnabas is an 11-week-old Great Dane puppy named Augustus, aka "Gus." Gus came to live at Camp Barnabas around the end of June, and is getting settled in and used to kids coming out of the dining hall and petting him, Paul said.

A lot of the returning campers are missing Tank, the 228-pound Great Dane who was part of Teas family and had to put to sleep last Halloween after being diagnosed with cancer. Tank was a fixture outside the dining hall, and the Teas family jokingly wondered how the dog had any hair left on him at the end of each summer because he was petted so much by the campers. Along with medical staff and others, Camp Barnabas has two varieties of camp counselors: 109 paid staff and 1,800 volunteers. The volunteers are called "CIAs," which stands for Christians in Action. The CIAs are mainly from youth groups around the country who come to volunteer their time. Youth from as far north as Anchorage, Alaska, and as far south as Satellite Beach, Fla., are CIAs at the camp this summer. The youngest CIAs are 14 years old and are called "barn stormers." They work only in the dining hall. "We are teaching them to be servants," Paul said. "All senior leadership staff started out as barn stormers and worked their way up."
There is at least one counselor assigned to every camper. The CIA spends all but one hour every day with the camper. Cabins have nine sets of bunk beds. Campers sleep in the lower bunks with their CIAs in the upper bunks.

Each cabin is equipped with air conditioning and three fully accessible showers as well as a bath tub. The air conditioning is necessary for the health of many of the campers, and some of the kids don't like the spray water from a shower so they can use the tub instead.

Some campers need more attention than one counselor can provide, so they may be assigned two or even three counselors.

"Whatever it takes to serve that camper," Paul said.

The camp is not attached to any particular denomination.

"We are a Christian summer camp," Paul said. "The camp is for children with special needs that preclude them from going to a regular camp. What church they do or don't go to is irrelevant.

"We are presenting a Christian lifestyle, showing kids there is a right way to treat other people," Paul added. "We also try to teach the kids manners and being polite which are social lessons that sometimes get forgotten."

The cost for Camp Barnabas is $600 plus a $50 registration fee. The parents pay for it, but scholarship help is available.

"You can't put that dollar sign between a camper and God. When it comes down to it, we would never turn a child away," Paul said.

For more information about Camp Barnabas call the camp office at 417-476-2565, e-mail the camp at info@campbarnabas.org or visit the camp's web site at www.campbarnabas.org.

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