Faith Harlin’s four years as Camp Barnabas volunteer have been rewarding, meaningful
Faith Harlin first volunteered at Camp Barnabas the summer after her freshman year at Gainesville High School. The week-long Christian camp at Table Rock Lake serves campers with special needs or chronic illnesses. During her junior high years, Faith had spent some time volunteering at Special Olympics and at the Exceptional Abilities Pageant in Batesville, Arkansas. "I fell in love with that and wanted to get more involved in helping people with special needs," Faith said. "I really wanted to get engrossed in it, and Camp Barnabas was a way to do that."
Barnabas camp counselors must be at least 16 years old. During Faith’s first summer there, she served with the younger volunteers, who are called Barnstormers. Her duties that year included waiting tables, washing dishes, keeping the kitchen clean and cleaning toilets and bathrooms around the camp. "It was a hard week," Faith said with a smile. "I wasn't sure I wanted to go back, but the next summer I did, and I had a great week. It's always a hard week, but it's a great week every year."
The first day volunteers arrive is spent in doing intense training, Faith said. "Every type of training. Crisis training. How to give a shot. How to change a diaper. They do their best to prepare you for any situation you might have," she explained. "The campers arrive the next day, and it's so much fun! They run across the stage, and the counselors get to go up and meet them. It's a happy time."
Volunteers give up their phones for the week of camp. "The idea is to make sure the campers have the best week of their lives," Faith said. "The whole week is completely dedicated to this person and making sure they have a wonderful time. Some of them don't have the best home life, so you want them to have some great memories to take with them."
The complete dedication to the camper assigned to each volunteer is part of what Faith loves most about camp. "You're so entirely focused on another person that there's no time to think about yourself," she said. "I like that it's not about me – that my time there is all about making sure my camper is happy and having a good time."
Faith has volunteered at Camp Barnabas for four consecutive summers. This year, she was paired with Theresa, a 29-year-old woman with Down syndrome. "Campers can start attending at age 7, and they never age out," she said. "You'd be surprised – there are more older people than kids. There have been summers that I had two campers, but they were high-functioning. There's usually a waiting list. Many of the campers are there on scholarships."
Businesses and families often sponsor campers, and donations are always needed, Faith added.
Volunteers live in the cabins with their campers and are responsible for assisting their campers in any way needed in order for the camper to have a successful week of camp, Faith explained. Campers and counselors experience all of the activities at camp together for 23 hours a day. "It's a huge responsibility, but the camp administrators do their best to give you an hour of personal time every day," she added.
A wide range of activities is available to entertain the campers: paintball, fishing, canoes, archery, lake activities, pool, waterslides, sand volleyball, barn swings, organized games and more. "This year, we spent a lot of time at the pool because that's what Theresa wanted to do," Faith said.
The camp's mission statement is "Changing lives through disability ministry." Faith said It's been life-changing for her. "I've learned so much from my time spent there. My experiences at Camp Barnabas have helped me with patience and knowing that it's not all about me, that helping others is rewarding and meaningful."
This fall, Faith will attend University of Arkansas, where she plans to major in communication disorders and hopes to work with children with disabilities one day. She is the daughter of Chris and Missy Harlin of Gainesville.
To learn more about Camp Barnabas or to donate to the camp, go to www.campbarnabas.org.