Recently new campers, Caleb and Jaxon Hansel returned from the “Hearts on Fire” Summer Camp week with big smiles and full hearts. These boys continued the tradition of attending Camp Gilmont started by their great grandmother, Mary Fields, over 40 years ago. Mary served as Administrative Assistant and member of Eastminster Presbyterian Church in those days. Harry Meissner, her pastor, recruited Mary to be part of the team of volunteer counselors who spent a week each summer making sure Grace Presbytery kids could enjoy God’s creation in a Christian Camping setting. In those days, campers and counselors slept in the unairconditioned hogans and cooked two meals over a fire each day, including peach cobbler buried in the ashes in a dutch oven.
In the early 2000’s Mary made sure her granddaughter, Kristen Hansel went to Kidquakes, YouthQuakes, and Summer camp. Kristen has fond memories of camp and Co-Executive Director, Kenny Rigoulot was even her counselor one summer when she participated in Prairie Valley Canoe Camp. Kristen developed a love for being on the water that summer. She kayaks as often as possible and now her whole family kayaks together too.
This summer Kristen signed up her sons for their first camp experience at Gilmont. At the end of the week, Mary rode with Kristen to pick up her great-grandsons. Mary brought along her 40+ year old Gilmont Program Center T-shirt, and the family posed for a photo in front of the Gilmont sign before heading home. The boys talked about swimming, winning at GaGa Ball, doing sling shots, and making friends. Jaxon learned from Mary that his counselor Rose Rogers is the niece of Steve Heizer. Rose’s Uncle Steve was a camper when Mary first started volunteering as a counselor. When he was old enough, he became Mary’s co-counselor in 1982!
Now, Jaxon and Caleb are already making plans to return. Time in God’s creation, living in community, learning and playing, and sharing common experiences around faith is one way for “Hearts on Fire.”
What stories do you have to share about connections through the generations to Gilmont?
Submitted by Miatta Wilson – Gilmont Energizer, Friend of Mary Fields, and Christian Educator at Eastminster Presbyterian while Kristen was growing up.
As the Spiritual Advisor, who is an ordained minister, talks about Moses recognizing he was on Holy Ground in front of a bush that was on fire but not burning, Rufus realizes he too is on Holy Ground at Gilmont and that this is a safe, sacred place. In the evening, Rufus thinks about his first day at camp and realizes it was good.
On Monday, Rufus starts to feel homesick. His counselors tell him that it is normal to miss home, listen to what he loves about his family, and encourage him to write a letter to his loved ones. He also receives mail from home - even his pet beaver writes to him! In Bible Study, the Spiritual Advisor and counselors talk about how God heard the misery of the Israelites in Egypt, was concerned about their suffering, and sent Moses to help. Rufus agrees that God continues to notice when he is sad, cares about him, and sends people to love and support him. In the evening, Rufus thinks about his day and realizes it was good.
On Tuesday, Rufus’ family group goes to Prayer Stations and spends quiet time with God. Rufus walks the labyrinth, writes a few poetry prayers, and enjoys the sand tray meditation. He even learned a few practices that he can do at home to continue to build his relationship with God. The Spiritual Advisor and counselors talk about Exodus 3:11-17 when God reminded Moses about how God has always been by his side, is currently with him, and will continue to be with him. Rufus knows that God is always with him too and that God loves Rufus for who he is. In the evening, Rufus thinks about his day and realizes it was good.
On Wednesday, Rufus canoes Lake Kilgore with his family group, hits the target at Archery, and even throws his discs into the basket at Disc Golf. He feels accomplished in his newfound skills. In Bible Study, the group talks about how Moses was uniquely qualified and skilled to be the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt, even though he doubted himself. Rufus became even more excited about the talent show so he can show off how skilled he is too! Everyone laughs and cheers him on during his stand up comedy routine on aquatic life, which makes Rufus proud. In the evening, Rufus thinks about his day and realizes it was good.
By Thursday, Rufus has bonded with his family group and cabin mates. He makes them all friendship bracelets (and, of course, a melty-bead octopus for himself) during Arts and Crafts. During Bible Study, the Spiritual Advisor and Counselors talk about how God sent Aaron to be by Moses’ side to support him when he was worried. Rufus thinks about all the loved ones in his life, both at home and at camp, who loved and cared for him. In the evening, Rufus thinks about his day and realizes it was good.
On Friday, Rufus can’t believe it is already the last day of camp. He is excited to see his family, but is sad to leave his friends and counselors. The Spiritual Advisor and counselors talk about all the good things Moses and Aaron did when they left the mountain top. Rufus realizes that he can’t stay at camp forever and that God is sending him back home to show love, encouragement, and care to others. He knows he was brave this week at camp as he tried new things and he feels inspired to go home to do more big, brave things. His counselors also help him remember that God is present everywhere he goes and that Camp Gilmont is not the only Holy Ground in his life. As Rufus leaves camp, he thinks about the week he had and realizes it was good. He can’t wait to rest tomorrow!
Details of this story were captured by Gilmont staff during an interview with Mickey in 2008.
Following a fire that had demolished most of the Gilmont dining hall in the late 1980s, a volunteer mission work crew out of Angleton, Texas came to rebuild. At that time, Mickey Melton served on the Board for Gilmont and he visited with the men about their commitment to take time away from work and home to rebuild - and on top of that, their work was during an East Texas torrential rain storm that lasted for days!
Years later, Mickey recalled their response, “We are working on a wheelchair ramp and a building that is handicap accessible! We can just imagine the special needs children who will one day need a place like Gilmont, so we are committed to completing the construction of this building before we go home!”
Mickey explained that at the time, he knew Gilmont had no camp for special needs children, no programmer to plan such a camp, and no experience doing anything like this. He was left wondering and praying about what might happen at Gilmont one day for these children. Sometime later, Mickey felt a call on his heart to visit with Margo Dewkett, then Executive Director of Windridge Therapeutic Equestrian Center, a local nonprofit facility for children with developmental disabilities asking if they were aware of unmet needs. Immediately, Margo and Laura Buckner, a parent and community resource for special needs families, identified the need for a safe place for families to gather. The parents needed respite care, children with special needs and their siblings needed a place to just be kids, be accepted and have fun together. And, in 1997 the idea of Circle of Friends Camps was born!
The hearts of the Gilmont board members had been prepared by God through the work of those volunteers from Angleton years before to say YES to the concept immediately! Money was donated by the individual board members and the Trull Foundation to cover expenses for the first camp. And the rest is history!
Over the years, the camp has grown to be a Gilmont anchor ministry - with four camps per year. Gilmont funds the camps in a variety of ways - individuals, foundations, contracts for respite services and special events like the Mickey Melton Memorial Golf Tournament. No family has ever been asked to pay to attend, although some with the means have donated. We continue to be amazed at what this retreat means to those engaged in the ministry!
We thank God for the vision of Circle of Friends that was planted in these individuals and the commitment that Mickey had to seeing the vision take shape into a reality that continues to serve so many!
Go to www.mickeymelton.com to learn more about the 12th Annual Mickey Melton Memorial Golf Tournament!