Covenant Life Christian Reformed Church in Grand Haven, Mich., offers Kids Kamp vacation Bible school (VBS) for about 150 kids every summer. This year, they hosted an additional camp for older students with special needs.
For three fun-filled days, students ages 10-23 attended Treasure Camp, held this year for the first time.
“Many of our campers had never attended anything like this before,” said Lyn
VanTol, director of family ministries at Covenant Life. “My colleagues and I felt there was a need in our community for older students who have special needs.” VanTol has a 19-year-old daughter with cerebellar hypoplasia. “There is really nothing in our area for these students that is free. There are some wonderful camps, but we wanted to offer something at no cost,” she said. “There are a multitude of churches in our area who offer great VBS programs, but none offered one directed toward individuals with special needs.”
Campers gathered with their ‘sidekicks,’ volunteers who served as mentors and friends, for lunch and worship each day. Then they split up for crafts and Bible stories, concluding the day with a group game and goodbye song.
Many students from the community attended, including a 14-year-old boy with autism who was invited just three days before camp began. The family has since begun attending Sunday morning services. Another student with no faith background posted every Treasure Camp song on his Facebook page.
On the Sunday morning following camp, campers and sidekicks helped lead worship for the congregation. “It was a joy to see the congregation’s faces as we sang. Quite a few people were wiping tears,” said VanTol.
As a result of Treasure Camp, the church is planning an after-school hang out time for students with special needs in the fall.
“Our desire is to create a godly environment where relationships will grow and flourish. We hope to have volunteers from our church and throughout the community,” said Shannon Mulder, coordinator of special treasures ministry at the church.