- by Pamela Caviness, Circle of Friends, Mom
It started the moment I hit the winding road, flanked with dense woods. The scenery was sloughing my worries and cares away. It felt good to be back. This place has a history of caring for and loving on the broken. The volunteers always tug on my heartstrings with their joy and desire to help. I couldn’t wait to meet them.
My children were greeted the moment we hit the door. Not only were they greeted, they got to call the shots! Some wanted lunch and one wanted to walk and explore. Cal took his sweet volunteer everywhere within the first hour. If she were counting steps, I feel certain she would’ve racked up a nice number!Circle of Friends has a schedule that works like a well oiled machine. Getting settled, swimming, a parent mixer and a movie screening are the big to do’s on the first day. If you’re a pro, you’ve taken a nap, read or fished, on top of the above mentioned. The first day feels a little like an ice breaker day. For many, it’s the only weekend each year that we all see one another. James knows how to get us out of our shells. He loves ridiculous games that make us look and act like fools. Laughter fills the halls of the Crain Center on Saturday nights at Circle of Friends. From jiggling like a bowl of jello, to designing and drawing the perfect prom dress, he pulls out all the stops.
As day one was winding down, I gathered my children and headed for the cabin. Oh, how I love time there. It is rustic in appearance, and has everything a family would need for a weekend away from home. The beds were made with fresh linens and adorned with towels for each camper. That is such a huge detail. With all the medical supplies that many must lug on a trip, not needing to pack those necessary items was a relief. Hours passed as my husband, children and I spent time reading and relaxing in the cabin. It was nothing short of glorious.
Sunday was filled to the brim with activities. Some of my favorite moments were visiting with a couple of the volunteers. Two of the young men were so transparent in their love for Christ and desire to serve. It was awe inspiring to hear how our precious volunteer, an engineering student, is working to create water purification for places in need. He was so gentle and positive with my youngest son. That is no small feat, as Connor becomes irritated easily. Our volunteer’s kind face and voice made it easy to redirect my little one. His boundless energy caused the days to fly! I was especially moved by his desire to see us off when it was time to depart.
Joe was one of the highlights of our weekend. What an exceptional young man to pour his time and energy out for us. Other volunteers were just as unique in their desire to give all they had while in attendance. One young man, Julian, shared with me that he was exhausted the first night. His heart was burdened with the truth that parents like myself are that tired 365 days a year. Joy was oozing from him as he spoke about being able to be a relief that weekend. He could not wait to return for another camp, and was eagerly awaiting more opportunities to serve Christ. It was refreshing to see such a young person be all in on that level. Not only did he encourage me, he stoked my own fire for staying in the center of God’s Will.
While I share stories of the two young men above, they are not the only ones that made an impression. Over and over I found myself moved by the love and attention I would observe the campers receiving. One of my favorite stories is of our fearless leader, James. It was zip line time and he had a nice sized crowd wanting to participate. He and several volunteers manned the various stations needed to fulfill such an adventure. I had been really psyched to go until I saw the pole I had to climb. Fear bordered on creeping in, but I pushed it out. For I’ve faced far worse on the exam table with my sweet son than climbing a silly pole. I told myself this and watched as others took their turn climbing, then flying away down the cable.
One sweet child captured my attention. She was excited, then nervous, then unsure. It was evident that those feelings were coming and going as she awaited her time to climb. Right as it was time to step up she decided she did not want to go. With the encouragement of the small group, her helper and James, she took her first step. Then another and another. Every step or so she would proclaim that she had changed her mind, but we all kept encouraging her, so she kept climbing. I should back up a bit and say that her dad was watching in the wings. He stayed far enough away, as to not influence the process. The sweet girl had finally reached the point that she would have to climb a little more gingerly to get to James. A spot that had caused me to rethink what I had gotten myself into when I was up there minutes before her. At this point fear was settling in and she was bordering on panic. James swiftly pulled her up to the platform. She was crying and wanting down to get to her father. He had looked to the father earlier and received the thumbs up to help her push through her fear.
To hear James speak to this precious child was indescribable. Tears fill my eyes as I write this. It was a mix of fatherly instruction and Christ’s overflowing love. He promised her that he would help her get to her daddy and that she needed to do one thing to get there. Then he helped her begin the joyous ride down the zip line. The number of tear filled eyes on the ground could not be counted. The beauty of watching her overcome something hard and scary, was beautiful. James’ Christlike love for her and all of the campers is crystal clear in every movement; every word uttered.
That zip line experience hit me at my core. Not just the precious young girl’s turn, but all of them. Again and again, he would reach his hand out and pull the climber to safety. Never wavering and always encouraging. The weekend ended for my little family a few hours later. My cabin mates and my crew took one last hike to the Chapel in the sky, then packed and loaded up to go home. My children and I left with sunburns, scrapes, bug bites and bruises. Proof of a weekend well spent living. Life looks different at home. More cautious movements are made, and time is not always kind when it comes to planning for fun. I have pride for the many marks left behind from the weekend. My favorite mark being the one imprinted on my heart.
Tara Phillips shares at the end of the week of the 2017 Great Gluten Escape Summer Camp at Gilmont. She is one of two Girl Scouts who worked with Dallas ROCK (Raising Our Celiac Kids) to start this week long camp for kids at Gilmont that is completely Gluten Free. 14 years later she is committed to a week of volunteering at Gilmont as part of this special ministry.
"This past week… where do I even begin? The campers, Camp Gilmont, the counselors, the theme…
It’s hard to believe that 14 years ago this camp was just a tiny dream in the heads of a couple Girl Scouts and a couple moms of Celiacs. 14 years later here sit 55 campers, 9 jr counselors, 17 counselors, and 11 staff.
To the counselors: Your energy and patience amazed me daily. Every one of you showed so much maturity but knew how to bring the fun and keep everyone smiling all week long. I had so much fun with you all this week. Thank you.
To the campers: You are the reason I come back year after year. Your smiles as you experience camp as a “normal” camper; participating in canoeing, zipline, crafts, games, swimming and then going through the lunch line where EVERYTHING you see is something you can eat is priceless. Thank you.
To the kitchen staff/volunteers: Cooking for this many is never an easy task, but add in dietary restrictions and it is so much harder. Because of the nature of cooking Gluten Free almost every thing is made from scratch and from fresh ingredients so it takes much longer than preparing a normal camp meal. The extra love put into this week’s meals did not go unnoticed. Thank you.
To the donors: The cost of this camp would be astronomical without you. With your donations Camp Gilmont offers this camp at the SAME price as any of their other summer camps. Thank you.
To Camp Gilmont: You are one special place. One camper evaluation said, “Camp Gilmont made them forget that they had Celiac disease”. That right there. Its everything. Many other evaluations said that Camp Gilmont is “Home”. Considering these kids have a life altering disease, and camp makes them comfortable enough to call it home, means we are doing something right. Thank you.
To my amazing husband and family: You kept things running smoothly in my absence and I did not have to worry for a second if my babies were missing me. Thank you.
To my awesome roommate: Thanks for the laughs, and being just as big (if not more) of a Harry Potter nerd as I am. I had a blast.
As a wise Professor Dumbledore once said “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” I hope that this last week was a light for many, it definitely was for me."
(visit our Great Gluten Escape Facebook Page by clicking the link below!)
“Community” is a word we often use at camp to describe what we are about – growing, sharing and learning in community means we are here with something bigger than ourselves in mind. When a member of our community has a life burden, a developmental disability, a limitation that requires some adaptation, or other special circumstances, we all do our part to carry this need as a member of one larger body.
As community builders, the folks at Gilmont consider meeting the dietary needs of our guests as an important part of our ministry. In the wake of 11 years of hosting a full week of The Great Gluten Escape Summer Camp, and meeting individual GF requests year-round, we committed to taking the necessary steps to become a Certified Gluten-Free Food Service facility. Check this out! Gilmont is highlighted this month by The Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), the national organization that sets standards for food service facilities who voluntarily step up to ensure the food safety of gluten intolerant guests. This process required submitting Standard Operating Procedures which outline how we go about purchasing, preparing, and serving our guests. Next, we were required to pass an on-site visit and audit of our facilities conducted by a GFFS Quality Control Manager.
As a staff, we are committed to learning, training, reminding, checking and re-checking to operate with the lowest risk to our guests. We celebrate the GFFS certification and how the process has helped make us a better camp over all, and an even more welcoming place to grow in community!
In addition to offering programs for adults and children, Gilmont also hosts rental groups year-round for trainings, meetings, and gatherings for a variety of organizations, family groups, as well as corporate and nonprofit entities.
3 Reasons to Choose a Job at Camp Instead of a Summer Internship
Read more in this article from American Camping Association. Gilmont is accredited by the ACA.
Something you’ll hear me talk about quite a bit is how life-changing going to or working at a summer camp is. It’s my favorite conversation topic. “So this one time at camp…” I know a lot of you will probably roll your eyes at me and say “Mary, all you ever talk about is camp, can you find a new topic?” Well the answer is no, and I’m going to tell you why.
When you send your kids to camp for a week (or two, or the whole summer depending on where you send them), you’re not only sending them to a place where they will have fun, you’re sending them to a place where they will branch out and meet new people. You’re sending them to a place where they will learn to be an independent person, where they will grow as a person. And I’m not saying this because I was a camp counselor for 2 years, I’m saying this because I was a camper for almost 9 years.
Camp was where I was able to get away from mom, dad, and my “annoying” brothers for a week and be free to ask questions that maybe I didn’t feel comfortable asking my parents. It was a week where I got to stay in a cabin with a gaggle of girls and giggle every night about which boy was the cutest, or talk about something that we were struggling with at home and still be loved and supported no matter what. We were all in it together, whether that mean’t taking a buddy to go to the bathroom in the woods during camp-out night and then proceeding to have that buddy run back to tell a counselor you had fire ants crawling all up your legs and in your pants (true story my friends), or hiking to the top of elephant graveyard during the heat of the day and banding together to share what water we had left in our water bottles so nobody got dehydrated. Shoot, I met people at camp as a camper that I still talk to!
Sure I made really great friends and grew a whole lot when I was a camper, but when you work as a counselor it’s a whole different ballgame. I always wanted to be a counselor when I was a camper so when I was finally able to be one I was absolutely ecstatic! YES! I was going to be one of the people that kids looked up to! I would get to help kids grow in their faith! I was going to get to spend basically my entire summer outdoors and in nature! SCORE! While all those things are great, what I didn’t realize is how much I would grow in my faith those summers I worked. I didn’t realize that I would gain some of my absolute favorite memories, or that the people I would work with would become people I couldn’t even imagine doing life without. I didn’t realize that camp would change me even as a 19 year old. Obviously I was wrong.
While working at camp, kids would ask questions in bible study that I never would have thought about. The spiritual advisers who came to be more in depth at bible study and lead vespers in the evenings not only helped kids be more in touch with God, but also me. Who would’ve thought that something meant for kids would change my life too? God works in mysterious ways my friends and the Holy Spirit is ever present at camps like Camp Gilmont.
Like I said previously, I met some of my absolute best friends while working at camp. Friends that I honestly don’t know how I handled life before that without. When you work at camp, you gain a second family. Your co-counselors are the people who at the end of the day are going to support you no matter what. They are the people who know what you’re like when you’re at your worst; sweaty, exhausted, and usually pretty irritable because of the first two. They are the people who when kids do or say something that just knocks you off your feet, or makes you want to die of laughter, you tell. They are people who genuinely care about how you’re doing even though you probably hadn’t even met them until you started staff training. They know you. Like, actually know you. Your co-counselors are people you share your life goals and ambitions with. You create memories that last you a lifetime. Memories like: sitting in your hammock talking to each other because one of you heard an animal/felt an animal run under your hammock and is terrified to sleep, or mattress surfing down the stairs of a church while there for a traveling camp (sorry Liz!), or having to keep 15 5 yr olds interested in an activity for an hour and a half and taking them on a special “hunt” through the church to find the secret tunnel before the weebles get to you.
Your co-counselors keep you sane 90% of the time and drive you to insanity the other 10%. But it’s 100% worth it because at the end of the day you can laugh about it and spend the afternoon you have off eating good food and playing super mario party in the staff lounge or even better: sleeping.
Moral of this post is that camp is life-changing for all ages. I highly recommend you send your kids for a week this summer, or work as a counselor at least once. If you don’t know where to send your kids/where to work as a counselor, I highly recommend Camp Gilmont. Applications for camp staff close February 31 so be sure to apply soon!!