Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

Zipping through the Arkansas forest

I’m wrapping up two days of shooting in Arkansas, where the heat and humidity makes me wonder if people willingly choose to live here, or if they are forced to remain here by some ominous sub-plot of the infamous Whitewater conspiracy, serving as drones for the evil rulers of our dark age. I have no answer to that, but in a few hours I’ll be back in Oregon, where you can move freely outdoors without sweating profusely. Of course, you’ll get wet anyway from the rain, which itself is probably a neo-Malthusian plot by the environmental wackos. (I’ve been watching Glenn Beck.)

While sweating in Arkansas, I was capturing images at Camp Aldersgate, a camp for children with disabilities. This work will become an article for Response, the magazine of United Methodist Women, which owns the camp property.

Counselor Madison Nix walks with camper Jalei Mannis along a path through the quiet woods at Camp Aldersgate

It was fascinating, humbling, and inspiring all at once.

Barriers be gone. The camp tries to make summer camp for these kids as close to the summer camp experience of “normal” children as possible. So they get to do all the cool stuff, from canoeing to shooting arrows to riding a zip line that have become the staple of summer camp culture across the United States. But for kids with serious disabilities, this “normal” activity has huge implications.

Counselor Morgan Butler helps camper Gavin Carney on the archery range at Camp Aldersgate

The camp’s program director, Bill Faggard, told me: “They may be only kid in their school with spina bifida or in a wheel chair, so they’ve always been ‘that kid.’ But when they come to camp here and they’re with 40 other kids just like them, they’re no longer ‘that kid,’ they’re just one of many. And the barriers drop down. You see them flourish, being kids, having fun, joking, playing pranks. That’s our goal here. With our staff it’s important that they’re always aware of the challenges and needs these kids have, but we do it in a unobtrusive way. It’s not about the disability. It’s no big deal. When the kids come here they come out of their shell. It’s a magical place.”

To see a child whose body has been broken by disease be helped into a specially designed seat and hoisted into the forest canopy, and then slide screaming down a zip line through the trees . . . well, it’s magic indeed. I’m tempted to suggest it has a lot to do with faith–resurrection comes to mind–but I’m sweating too much and in a hurry to find some air conditioning.

Camper Audrey Crosson celebrates as she rides a zip line through the forest canopy at Camp Aldersgate in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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