Special Gathering’s 

Camp Agape 2011


Friday, May 27 to Monday, May 30

For information, contact

Linda G. Howard at

Richard O. Stimson at

Costs are from $160 to $230, depending on level of supervision.

Retreat/Camp Agape is a held at Life for Youth Camp in Vero Beach, Florida

1462 82nd Avenue

Activities for the weekend include chapel twice a day, paddle boat, speed boat, pontoon boat, go-carts, putt-putt golf, basketball, crafts, game room, water slide, swimming and snack bar.

All cabins are air-conditioned.  Chapel attendance is required.  Registered nurse on the camp grounds and on-duty 24-hours a day.  All med administered by nurse for Camp Agape attendees.  People attending Retreat Agape must be able to administer their own meds. 

To volunteer, you must have a reference letter from your pastor and attend our training seminar.

There is so much to write about the Camp Agape.  However, the last thing that happened sticks in my mind.  I’d like your response regarding the wisdom of my decision.

We transport most of our campers from Vero Beach back to Melbourne (or Cocoa, Titusville, DeLand, Daytona and Jacksonville).  We meet parents and support staff at a church that is centrally located.  While things happen each year that make us a few minutes late, parents, of course, understand and most support staff also do.  However, there always seem to be a few support staff that get irritated at us because of something that happens. 

Our members were told to stay on the bus until I released them because I’ve learned over the years that I need to keep a handle on who gets off the bus so that members aren’t left behind or taken by people who aren’t the responsbile person.  These restrictions may seem unrealistic.  However, my first year of being the primary responsible people after camp, Suzanne, a helpful and concerned parent decided on her own to take her son’s good friend home with her because she didn’t see the other parent.  Unfortunately, Mark, the other parent came a few minutes late.  He didn’t even know Suzanne or her address.  He was most upset that his son was taken away.  Of course, I was able to get his son home safely within a few minutes.  Yet, this was a good lesson learned.   

After preparation for weeks and four days of camp, I am sometimes less than patient with folks who are paid to pick up people from the bus.  Therefore, when one support person pushed her way to the front of the line to get medications, I found her interesting.  “Give me Mel’s meds.” 

“Mel has no meds.  He was a retreat person and he administered his own meds.”

“Fine.  I’m getting him off the bus and taking him.”

“No, maam, I’ll get him off the bus.”

“I said that I’m taking him.”

“I have his permission for him to stay on the bus until I release him.  No.  You aren’t taking him. He is my responsiblity until I release him.”

“I have people on vacation at my house getting ready to leave and I MUST leave NOW.”

“I’m sorry but you can’t have him yet.  When I give everyone their meds, then I’ll get him off the bus.”  Handing out meds has also been an interesting process.  In past years, I would get people off the bus and then give out the meds.  But someone always would leave the meds with me and I had to take the medication to the person’s home.  Again, parents seem to understand and even appreciate the process.  Yet, this support staff person was pretty huffy by this time.

After meds were handed out, I let Mel off the bus first.  He was quickly whisked away without a thank you or good-bye. 

At the time of camp with 40 people on a bus and parents waiting, I have no time to explain our processes.  Nevertheless, I also understand that I must have a working relationship with support staff because of the tremendous influence they can have over our members.  Yet, support staff is not my primary focus when there is a question about safety. 

What do you think?  Who was out of line, me or support staff?

“This is a sub-culture!”  the Family-Life Pastor, Milton Mazariogos, from Zion Christian Church in Palm Bay said to me.  “I had no idea that there are so many different kinds of disabilities, just within the mentally challenged community.” 

This is usually the reaction of an outsider who attends our weekly Special Gathering program, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  However, when there are 200 people gathered from Jacksonville to Port St. Lucie, you receive a substantially harder jolt of reality regarding the disabilities community. 

Pastor Milton had come to take care of one of our campers.  He and Mark had a wonderful time playing and laughing.  But the work was hard.  The pastor spared no energy, lifting and pushing from Friday afternoon to Monday morning. 

Mark and I are deeply grateful for his labor.  Once again my mind zoomed to a familiar place–educating the church to the the great spiritual need of mentally challenged people.  We bring our choir into churches but many of the people think we are only a choir.  We sometimes have people come to our program but they often think that we draw our members from a large institution somewhere in La La Land. 

Even though Camp Agape is only a small portion of what we do, it gives a great overview of the population that we serve.  Christie makes her bed and puts her teddy bear on top of the pillow.  Helen became the “unofficial” counselor for some of our younger women who were having boyfriend problems.  Eric came to camp to be a one-on-one attendant for Chris.  LeeAnne took it on herself to oversee the activities of Laura, who is an extremely capable young woman but exceptionally shy. 

Each person has a distinctive personality and their disability effects them in multiple different ways.  Yet, there is a common thread that binds them with all humankind.  They need a Savior.  Leading them to Jesus’ love is the easiest thing we do.  With the rejection and misunderstanding they have endured most of their lives, they leap at a forgiving and loving God who accepts us just as we are. 

Each of us are incomplete without the love of God.  Unlike many normal people, the mentally challenged community–by and large–understand that deficit.  During our Sunday evening chapel several people prayed for salvation. 

Would you commit to pray for them and for their faith journey?

At least, I don’t sleep during my own sermons.

Linday Howard Sleeping

Linda Howard Sleeping

Better angle but still sleeping

Better angle but still sleeping

Okay, I wouldn’t call what I’m feeling after camp a glow.  Perhaps a slow seep.  Tired isn’t the word for what I’m feeling.  Yet, after coming home there was still a lot of work to do.  Last year I learned to put away all my supplies and equipment as soon as I get home.  That means cleaning, organizing and reorganizing.  However,  next year, most of the work will be done in preparing the small things that are needed for camp. 

  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • rubber gloves
  • spray containers for bleach water
  • sleeves for the cabin numbers
  • magic markers/writing pens
  • tacks
  • walkie-talkies, with the batteries removed
  • batteries
  • paper towels
  • medication containers for each person attending who takes meds
  • Baggage labels (obtained from the Grayhound Bus Station)
  • 5 gallon water jugs

Because we don’t do our own cooking, we don’t have to deal with food prep.  Therefore, we are able to keep down the things we must bring to camp. 

For the past 25 years we have rented a wonderful camp ground called Life for Youth Camp in Vero Beach.  They have boat rides, go-carts, putt-putt golf, game room, canteen, gift shop, super slide, swimming.  Robbie and Sherry Stevens have blessed us all these years.

First, if at all possible, DON’T do it.  However, if God has called you to minister within the mentally challenged community then you probably have no choice.  Then you should understand that it’s impossible unless you are surrounded by lots and lots of Hurs. 

You remember the story taken from Exodus.  Moses was to hold his arms in air as the children of Israel fought the enemy.  However, when he became so tired that he could no longer hold up his arms, Hur held them up for him. 

This Friday, as camp began I was surrounded by 24 amazing Hurs.  They toated and fetched and carried and struggled, pushed and pulled from 8:00 in the morning until about midnight.  Slowly they wandered into the top of a hard bunk bed and slept for five or six hours only to get up and do it again the next day.

How do you thank people who are more gracious than you could ever imagine?  Can you ever show enough appreciation for people who give until there is nothing to give and then give some more? 

Of course, not.  Only God can reward and thank them properly.

Before I became involved with the mentally challenged community, I had two ideas about camp.  First, this was something that children and teenagers did in the summer or during winter or spring break.  Adults went on retreats but they didn’t go to camp.  Second, some adults (who haven’t discovered the Ramada)  go camping, which means a tent, sleeping bag, a propane stove or a campfire and an inflatible mattress.

One of my first introductions to the special needs community was being invited to go to camp for a four-day weekend.  That seemed a bit bizarre to me.  I had met most of the members of the program that was involved and I knew that they were all adults.  My children went to camp.  As adults, we went on retreats.  Soon, I found that there is a entire national network of camps for people with disabilities.  These camps are populated with people who are mostly 21 years old and older. 

I have a confession.  This is my 20th camp and I still bristle when we speak about camp for our members, who are adults.  It seems so junior high to me.  I was thrilled when Special Gathering changed a portion of our name from Camp Agape to Retreat Agape.  The camp side is for people who need more supervision and more care.  The retreat side is for people who live in their own apartments or homes and are higher functioning.  They receive minimal supervision and no care.  Special Touch, founded by Charlie and Debbie Chivers, still use the term camp loosely but they officially call their annual “camping -type experiences” Get-Aways.

 I personally believe that we could all come up with a more appropriate name for what we all do, than camp.  However, no one else (except the Chiver’s)  seems to be bothered by the term.  Or maybe everyone dislikes the term but no one has seen the need to balk.  As we all recognize, blogs are the forum for spitting and balking.  Everyone does it on the internet, from left wing bigots to right wing bigots. 

What do you think?  Is the term camp outdated, or worse, inappropriate for adults?  What would you prefer to call this national phenonenom in which most of our adults members participate?  Retreat?  Get-Aways?

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