Hannah didn’t fit in anywhere. Beyond grade school, public school was not a good fit. Homeschooling wasn’t the right answer. Her congregation’s youth group was welcoming, but the kids there were not her peers. A Life Skills class in a neighboring district was about the closest thing to a “good fit” as Hannah and her parents could find.
Hannah’s mother called me several months before summer camp asking if Hannah could participate in Nawakwa’s Fine Arts Camp as a day camper. She explained to me that Hannah was not a discipline problem, but that she did have some developmental challenges. Sleeping overnight at camp was not at all of interest to her, so we planned that Hannah would attend camp Monday – Friday, from 9-4.
On the first day of that week, Hannah showed up looking a bit unsure of what she had gotten herself into… but her mother asked if 4:00 was a good time for her to pick Hannah up, or if there was a better time. We discussed the evening schedules, and Hannah’s mom thought that picking her up after the evening activities had concluded might be a better idea.
On Tuesday, Hannah returned to camp with a huge smile. She greeted Norbert, the camp dog, and then greeted her counselor just as enthusiastically. At the end of the day, Hannah’s cabin mates all yelled good-bye and waved as Hannah got in the car to leave.
On Wednesday, Hannah’s mother pulled me aside after dropping Hannah off. She told me that, on the way home the evening before, Hannah talked non-stop about how much she was enjoying her week. She told her mother that Nawakwa was “so peaceful,” and that this was a place where there was time and space for Hannah to be herself. She excitedly told her mother that she had spoken during Bible Study – a big step for Hannah! Then Hannah’s mother said that Hannah had even asked if it would be possible for her to return next year to help for a week or two in the Craft Hall.
Camp is a place where Hannah fits, where she can just be Hannah the Camper. It doesn’t matter that she might think differently or process things differently than other people. In fact, at camp, Hannah isn’t any more or less special than anyone else. The other campers welcomed her as a full member of their group; it didn’t matter whether she slept at camp or at home. Hannah was given sufficient space and opportunity to be the beautiful child of God she had been created to be.
One of the gifts that summer church camp provides is an environment of acceptance. Nawakwa staff has a goal to ensure that every camper leaves knowing that he or she is a beloved Child of God. As Children of God, we are all family – and in this family, there is room for everyone. Everyone fits.