The multigenerational group of people gathered, evenly split and facing one another with a dirt pathway between them. Cheering filled the air as the group began to clap and holler, ushering in the week’s new campers who began to run down the path giving out high fives and smiles along the way. Campers are welcomed with joyful celebration. They are the most important people ever; they matter.
Special Friends Camp at Warm Beach Camp in Stanwood, Washington, is fun, exciting and impactful. It’s a time for adults with developmental disabilities to fully experience everything summer camp has to offer in a loving, uplifting environment. It’s a safe place where they can be themselves. It’s a place where campers are participants (not observers) in activities like swimming, mini-golf, climbing tower, crafts, and chapel time. This life-changing experience — often an annual tradition campers look forward to all year — is filled with community, friendship and fun.
Warm Beach Camp & Conference Center is located in Snohomish County, Washington, 40 miles north of Seattle where thousands of adults with development disabilities reside. Since 2010, Warm Beach Camp has held Special Friends Camp, specifically focused upon those 15 years and older who have developmental disabilities. Once campers reach high school and beyond, the range of social service options in the community dramatically decrease. Very often, society sends messages that tell the campers “no” to things that might cause a disruption or take more work to accommodate. But at Special Friends Camp, the overwhelming message is: “Yes, you can!” In society, often those who are marked “different” are viewed as unworthy with the consensus that they have nothing to offer society. This couldn’t be more untrue. Every Special Friends staff member and volunteer can attest to this after serving 211 of these adults in 2019.
Margret, also known by the campers as Sparkles, has been a longtime volunteer of Special Friends Camp.
“I’ve never been accused of being quiet or shy. My natural gift of gab landed me in trouble, especially as a youngster. Celebrating this quality was a concept that was laughable to me until I came to Special Friends Camp,” Margret said. “At camp, I show up, and I’m 100 percent me, and everyone loves me for it. We celebrate each other.”
This is one of many stories of volunteers feeling valued and changed through their time at Special Friends Camp, because when you work in this program, you are ushered into an incredibly uplifting community made up of loving and encouraging staff, volunteers and campers. Whether helping a camper navigate the climbing wall for the first time, praying with them during worship, or assisting them with their daily needs, volunteers have the opportunity for personal growth. Often, volunteers come with the intention of positively effecting the lives of campers, but leave having been impacted themselves.
Romans 12:15–16 reads, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”
It can be easy to judge others in the way the world would have us see them. But when the heart is open to understanding and humility, incredible gifts can be discovered. At Special Friends Camp, the campers are the gift, the community is the gift, the volunteers like you are the gift, and through the experiences at Special Friends Camp, a glimpse of what heaven may look like is uncovered — harmony among people.
Special Friends Camp is open to those 15 years and older who have developmental disabilities, and they can come from anywhere in the country. Summer camp sessions run Monday through Friday. Campers can choose a day option or overnight. Caregivers are usually not required unless unique camper support is necessary.
Volunteers come from all over the region. Some live locally and commute each day to help. Others come from a distance and consider this time of service to be their mission trip of the summer season. The goal is to pair up each camper with a buddy who helps the camper engage fully in the camp experience. Truly, Special Friends Camp could not exist without volunteers who love and serve.
Visit warmbeach.com/specialfriends for volunteer and camper applications. Come join the fun at Special Friends Camp in Stanwood, Washington, for a life-changing summer.
Kayla Stikeleather works in marketing at Warm Beach Camp & Conference Center and as a freelance communication specialist in the nonprofit sector. She is an alumna of Liberty University where she earned a Master of Interdisciplinary Studies degree in communication and global studies. Visit her LinkedIn page at fmchr.ch/stikeleather for more of her writing.