September 10, 2009

Joni and Friends 09 - lots of pictures

Well, I'm a month late, but better late than never! I didn't want to miss my chance to share about my time at Joni and Friends this year. I thought I'd try and tell you a bit of how we do things at camp with my pics.

The STMs (Short Term Missionaries) get there a day before the campers. We spend some time in worship and training and doing things around the camp to prepare it for the campers. We decorate for our theme (this year was western/cowboy stuff), put sheets on beds, get acquainted with the layout of the facilities, etc.

We also make signs for every camper coming to camp...

...and use them to welcome our campers! Every camper gets a cheering welcome as they arrive. (I love this part!)

This is my camper from this year, Jenny.

Once the campers arrive we are on the go! STMs are assigned to be with our camper from 8 AM until 9:30 PM or so, with the exception of an afternoon break from 3-5. Our entire goal of camp is to help our camper (and their family) have the best time they can have.

Our (simplified) daily schedule looks something like this:

7:30 STM devotions
Morning break out groups (divided by ages or interest level)
Afternoon break out groups
Free time
Evening activities
10:00 Bedtime!!

During our break out groups we do age appropriate activities. The adult groups have times of sharing and encouragement as well as fun! They are anything you could possibly imagine!

Good old fashioned Musical Chairs! I haven't played this game in twenty years or more, but it's still fun.

Tie dying t-shirts (I'd never done this before. Jenny's t-shirt turned out great!)

We have a pampering session with fancy refreshments and lemonade for the ladies. Katie loved her glass that was made for her and she got to take it home!

I started a manicure for Jenny, but after we filed her nails she heard that the pool was open and she wanted to go swimming.

Everyone participates in everything if they want to! Ewwwww.

Horse riding is always a hit!

Before we split off into our break-out groups, we all start together with worship, skits, and a sermon.

I think Jenny's favorite part of camp was helping everyone clear their trays. She was so excited to be able to help!

The t-shirt triplets! (Jessica -in the middle- is in my Sunday School class)

Our children's group. This group is made up of kids with disabilities, their siblings and STM's children.

Sometimes we just do random things like color our hair with crazy colors. (Not many moms will give a can of purple hairspray to their 8 year old and tell them to go to town!) If you've never had the privilege of coloring your hair this way, be prepared... it stinks! I was very glad to get it rinsed out!

One of the neat things about camp this year was that they had a water slide! The campers LOVED it! Jenny talked about it incessantly and spent every possible minute on it.

But there is one unique thing about Joni and Friends camp...

No one misses an opportunity because of a disability.

Gwendy (who uses a wheelchair) got to go down the waterslide for the first time ever! She started a trend and 5 of our friends who use wheelchairs followed suit! We gave a new meaning to "pool party" that afternoon!

Megan (one of my Sunday School kids) got to fly down with her daddy!

And I got to go with Levi (another SS kiddo) a bunch!

There is a talent show each year as well. This is a talent show unlike any you have ever seen anywhere else. Everyone is encouraged to share some
thing, regardless of how well they do (based on typical standards). Everyone is whooped and hollered for, cheered on and celebrated!

And all inhibitions go out the window!

It doesn't come without its struggles, though...
I was assigned to Jenny, an adult. She was in the youth program for all of our break-out groups. There were also three kids from my Sunday School class at camp this year, who of course were all in the children's program. Because I was with the youth, I almost never saw any of "my" kids! One of the reasons we all went to camp together was to build relationships in a way we can't do on Sunday mornings. I was looking soooooo forward to this time, but didn't really get it because of our schedules. Even at mealtimes I needed to let Jenny choose where to sit. And because she had a bunch of friends there, she always wanted to sit with them. I struggled with being available to be where the Lord led the leaders to put me and really wanting to be with "my" kids so I could get to know their families better! So that was a bit frustrating. But it's not about me now, is it?

I have to say, I love, love, love every minute of camp. It is exhausting, tiring, challenging, and stretching, but I feel so at home there it's remarkable. It is a rest for me, because it's where the Lord has placed my heart's desire.

A big thank you to Robert and my friend, Jessica, who kept the kids so I could go! I appreciate the time so much!


Linda said...

So amazing! It looks like you really had a blast; not a surprise since you started babysitting with Lesley (Downs) when you were 11, and took it in stride. We knew pretty confidently then that God had placed a specially tender heart in you for the ones who are so often set aside by the rest of the world - even me, at times. I'm SO proud of you, and thankful to God that He's matured you into a beautiful young woman.


Lora said...

What a beautiful post Melissa. To hear your servant heart of letting Jenny pick where to sit and to see her smile on the slide (helped me understand why she'd leave a pedicure!) We had the opportunity to visit talent night one night a few years back - it ranks as one of the sweetest worship experiences I've ever been a part of. I loved seeing Megan and her dad on the slide too - sweet, sweet times.

Leslie said...

I love your heart friend and you bless me with your willingness to serve and love others. ((((Melissa)))

I hope we'll be able to go one day. Maybe you could be Eliana's buddy. :-)