By Stan Friedman
IRON RIVER, MI (August 13, 2013) – The first-ever Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Family Camp at Covenant Point Bible Camp was “such a magical time,” said Kristi Barker, a parent who helped develop the experience held August 6-10.
“I think the camp gave people an opportunity to experience something that they wouldn’t otherwise have and to celebrate the gifts that we all are,” Barker said.
“A lot of the kids who were there would not have done well at a regular camp,” said Barker, who has a child with ASD. “They just would have needed so much of their parents’ support.”
Erik Strom, Covenant Point’s executive director, said, “One father told me he was grateful for a place where he could come and worship and have conversation but didn’t have to explain himself or his child or what he had to do to care for his child.”
Seven families from across the Midwest Conference participated. Some attend Covenant churches and others were friends of Covenanters, Strom said.
“Each child was so different,” Strom added. “That’s why it’s called Autism Spectrum Disorder – it really is a spectrum. So we had people with all kinds of different needs.”
Despite the differences, “Steve Burger did a fantastic job of leading worship that connected with everybody,” Strom said. Burger is the director of adult, children, family, and intergenerational ministries with the Department of Christian Formation.
“Oh my goodness!” Kristi exclaimed. “He used a puppet that was a bird called Beaker and shared with us how God is always with us and what gifts we all are. He was so funny. Afterwards, my son said, ‘He’s the craziest pastor I’ve ever seen.’”
All of the worship was intergenerational and had activities built in. After one of the services, the parents shared their journeys and prayed for each other, Strom said.
Each family was connected with two staff members who served as hosts throughout the week, providing support and any guidance. “It was great to see the connections that were made,” said Strom. “I’m really proud of my staff.”
The Barkers trained the staff and admitted everyone was nervous. “We told them this could be a really wonderful thing, or it could be a disaster,” said Kristi, who will complete her studies for a master of divinity degree at North Park Theological Seminary in December.
“As the families arrived, you could see some of the parents were thinking, ‘Why are we doing this?’” she recalled. “By the end of the week, there was just so much joy. Afterward, some of the parents said if the camp is held next year, ‘We are definitely coming back.’”
The camp raised more than $8,000 during its annual triathlon fundraiser on August 4. Money raised this year enabled the camp to keep the cost for last week’s event at just $150 per family.
The event has always supported camps for children and adults with special needs. The first was held in 1999, said Bill Fish, associate director.
Fifteen individuals and six teams participated. The winner for the third year in a row was David Haller, who conquered the course in 2:17:08. Jack Hudson became the oldest to complete the full triathlon at age 63, finishing in three hours and twenty-five minutes.
“It was a perfect day for racing,” said Fish. “It was a chilly start and a high of 65 degrees, with beautiful sunshine.”
To see more photos, click here.