Camp testimonial

In 2008, Linda Chandler and her students gave the following presentation to their congregation on their Youth Group Mission Trip.

The first Horizon Summer Camp took place in 1992 as a direct response to funding cuts by the Muscular Dystrophy Association which restricted the opportunity for adults with disabilities to attend camp. A grassroots effort, by the current Association of Horizon organization was able to plan, organize AND raise enough money in nine months to sponsor another camp that year. 17 years later, Horizon has grown and successfully produced yearly Summer Camp Programs for adults with a wide range of physical disabilities including Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy and Multiple Sclerosis. This year they hosted their largest camp to date, approximately 200. The camp took place in Hudson, IL at the wonderful Timber Pointe Outdoor Center on Lake Bloomington. Camp is free to both campers and attendants, funded completely by donations and yearly fundraisers – and it provides a much needed and often times, the only vacation for a camper — and a necessary and well deserved break for their individual caregivers at home.

Their mission statement is this: An organization of people with and without physical disabilities that provides opportunities for individuals to challenge themselves, develop responsibility and grow through interacting and working together.

Their vision statement: A community where barriers between people with and without physical disabilities are transcended, limitations are overcome, new abilities are discovered and an increased awareness of self and others is developed.

Prior to attending camp, I thought to myself what wonderful mission and vision statements, but on that first day, when campers started arriving… I honestly could not imagine how on earth it could happen. How do you ever get past the twisted bodies, the scars, the wheelchairs, the crutches and equipment and work that accompany an individual with these types of disabilities? How can that truly be transcended? But after spending a week with this incredible organization, the wonderful team leaders, caring attendants, and the amazing campers… I realize how well-named this organization is – Horizon, the line at which the earth and sky appear to meet – abled bodies and disabled bodies coming together for a beautiful, unobstructed view of one another. I would like to personally thank Geri Skudney and Kathy Colunto, who are here with us in church today, for recruiting us for this trip. They promised us a life changing experience, and my goodness, they certainly delivered.

The kids will be sharing their thoughts with you, each using a letter from the word Horizon.

H – Lisa
My name is Lisa Rodriguez and I am 16 years old and a junior at Lake Central High School. The two “H” words I have chosen to describe my camp experience are humbling and honored.

When I first heard about Camp Horizon, the first thing that came to mind was what a great experience this would be. The week at camp was very humbling. It seemed like at first it would be hard for our church group to fit in because most of the people have been coming to this camp for years. There were many inside jokes, stories, and relationships we weren’t fully aware of, but everyone was very open and nice which helped us fit in more.

In the beginning, I didn’t think my camper and I would get along which would make times tough and sometimes hard to deal with. She was very independent and I didn’t always know what exactly she needed help with. Mostly, all she needed was someone to be there and talk to.

Since she was able to do everything pretty much herself, all she wanted was a friend. In the end, we developed a nice friendship and made the rest of the week enjoyable. We would enjoy activities like arts and crafts making bracelets, going to the pool with Brittany and her camper, and the nighttime campfires.

In this one week, it really made me appreciate my life more than I already do. I felt honored to have the opportunity to help other people who are less fortunate than I am. You don’t fully understand how hard it is taking care of someone with a disability until you actually experience it. That week at Camp Horizon is one I will never forget and have great memories to remember it by.

O – Tim
Hi, my name is Tim Hosty. I am 15 years old and a junior at Lincoln Way East High school in Frankfort IL.

My letter was the second O in Horizon, and I have chosen Open-minded as my word to describe my camp experience. I’ve always considered myself an open-minded person, because I was taught to look at the inside of a person not their outside. But it’s hard not to judge someone based on appearance and first impressions. I went to camp thinking I’ll have to take care of my camper and treat him like I would anyone else. That is exactly what I did, but for some reason he didn’t seem to like me. It wasn’t until Tuesday night, when I read his book of poetry, that I really started to try to get to know Chris. Along with meeting Chris, I also wanted to meet a lot more of the campers. Now I can’t even look at someone in a wheelchair without wondering their background. For instance Dan Schmidt, a camper in my cabin, is a writer and may be moving to Los Angeles to write for a spin-off of Smallville. Bobby and Kushal Parikh are both in college at University of Illinois. My camper, Chris Viau, writes Poetry and is in the middle of writing his second book. These campers have changed how I view people because I always strived to be open-minded, but not until I went to camp did I realize how much you really miss being close-minded.

R – Brittany
Hi, my name is Brittany Pfister and I am 17 years old and a senior at Highland High School. My letter is R.

When I arrived at camp Horizon I experienced the reality of what my week would soon be like. I soon met my camper Simmie. It took us a few days to adjust to each other’s needs and sort out our misunderstandings, but we soon began to work well together. I soon realized my responsibility. Although the week was a lot of work, we always found time for fun and relaxation.

After breakfast, most days I would roll Simmie to arts and crafts. We made many friendship bracelets as well as friends. By then it was time for lunch and following that we would head off to refresh ourselves at the pool. Other activities we enjoyed were the nightly festivities and barbeque. Karaoke was a lot of fun. Simmie brought up a group of us to sing I’m Just a Girl and our Immanuel UCC youth group sang A Thousand Miles.

Camp Horizon has changed my view of how we should all see people that are different than us. I reached a new level of respect and understanding. This experience gave me a new appreciation of my own physical abilities. Camp showed me that people who may look different aren’t really all that different, just differently-abled. By the end of camp I felt rewarded and had no regrets.

I – Dylan
Hi I’m Dylan Chandler. I am 16 years old and a junior at Lincoln Way East High School in Frankfort, IL. My letter in “HORIZON” is “I”.

My time at camp horizon was one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences of my life. When I first arrived at camp I felt a sense of intimidation. The realization that I would have to take care of myself and another person for an entire week hit me as one of the largest responsibilities I would take on. This sense of intimidation and fear quickly disappeared as I began to get to know and create friendships with these amazing people. At camp there were no differences between campers or attendants. There were no such things as limitations or restrictions. Everyone was an equal. This especially made camp incredible. Once I realized that I could treat the campers like the regular people they are and not worry about what would offend or hurt them, camp became something special. Whether it was sitting by camp fires all night, making friendship bracelets in arts & crafts, fishing at the waterfront, or swimming at the pool; every moment became something to cherish and remember forever. Every camper was an inspiration. The fact that someone can accept a disability but not accept its limitations made me rethink how I live my life. I can never again take what I have for granted.

Z – Aimee
Good morning!! My name is Aimee Elias and I am 19 years old and will be starting my 2nd year at Purdue University Calumet as a Biology Pre-Med major.  Linda had this super idea for our presentation… “hey since Horizon has 7 letters and there were 7 of you volunteering I would like each of you to take a letter.  For whoever gets the letter Z — I’m sorry. And WHO gets stuck with the letter Z…I do.

The two words I chose from the limited amount of Z words I could use are as follows: Zonked- After extremely long, hard working, exciting, fun filled days, I was so zonked (exhausted) that when Peggy would call for Christie and me in the middle of night we couldn’t hear her, even though her bed was directly across from ours! Thankfully lovely Mrs. Chandler, being zonked as well, was able to hear her every night from the opposite end of the room and tip toe over to us as our gentle alarm family. Zigzag- Camp Horizon was Located at Beautiful Timber Point, but had paths that were, according to Peggy and her electric wheelchair, BUMPY BUMPY BUMPY. We had to Zigzag our way from our cabin, the amazingly beautiful Sterns, to the mess hall, the water front, the pool, the pavilion, and back to our cabin.  Peggy was right, Bumpy Bumpy Bumpy!!

My camper was a 71 year old women named Peggy Noble-Ryan and she had cerebral palsy therefore she was unable to use her arms very well, walk (she used to be able to in the 80s before an accident), and her speech was very hard to understand. Ironically, she called me Mumbles… because I guess at three o’clock in the morning and she could not understand me and said I mumbled! She was so hard to understand at times, but Christie and I (the other attendant) got used to it quickly. Peggy has been married for 4 years to Mike Ryan, and he too has cerebral palsy, and he has even less motor skills than she.  Due to an Illinois State Insurance policy they are not allowed to live together.  If they did according to Illinois State Government they would not receive the same amount of care as living alone.  She told me she looked forward to Camp, so she can see Mike every day instead of just a few times a week.  They went on the boat rides together, had breakfast, lunch and dinner together, went to the pool together, rolled around the campsite together, anything and everything you could possibly do at camp together.  Her face and eyes lit up every time she saw him rolling towards her.

The cutest couple at camp loved to write, so Christie and I would sit with them after lunch or before the evening activities and write about our adventures of the day for the whole week.  It took some time guessing the right words and it got a little frustrating for the four of us at times, but the outcome would always be quite entertaining.  Peggy and Mike promised us when they publish their book of their adventures together, they will include mine and Christie’s bio.

Camp Horizon was a heartwarming experience.  It was a week everyone was treated as equals and no one felt sorry for anyone.  I did not think I would get teary eyed when we said good bye to all the campers in our cabin, but I did because I knew this was what they look forward to every summer.  It’s the one place they are treated as normal people because they are. So if you see a disabled person, anywhere, do not feel sorry or pity them, just smile, look them in the eye, and say hello like you would any other person.

O – Aly
Hi, my name is Alyson Austin. I am 16 years old and a Junior at Merrillville High School. And the letter O for me… is for Overwhelming.

My experience at Horizon camp started off a little rocky. I went with an open mind and was ready to help, but I definitely wasn’t prepared for what was to come that week at camp. My camper’s name was Jackie, and she has cerebral palsy. She is non-verbal, but has a big heart and the same sense of humor as me! Having to push her big, heavy wheelchair up and down hills and across bumpy terrain everyday tested me physically. But being placed in a new environment with these new responsibilities and having no previous idea what to expect, really tested me emotionally. I was drained, and to make things worse, I felt like Jackie didn’t even like me, even though I was trying my hardest to communicate with her. I’m not going to lie; I completely broke down one night. But later that night when Jackie was sleeping, I remembered the reason I came to Horizon camp in the first place. I feel very blessed with everything God has given me, and I know that it’s my calling to give back. With the help of Nico and Maeghan (our cabin leaders), my friends, and Linda, especially, I found my strength and continued to do the best I could to make sure Jackie had a great time at camp. And by the end of the week, I really think she did. Volunteering at Horizon camp was life-changing. We had some jokes, many laughs, and got to meet tons of really amazing people. This mission trip brought our group closer together. It was difficult, but getting to see the smile on Jackie’s face at 3am every morning in her fits of giggles, even though we were exhausted and drained, made everything worth it in the end.

N – Chris
Hi, my name is Chris Wilkie. I am 14 years old and a Freshman at Lake Central High School.

My camp experience was, for lack of a better word, nifty. Before camp I was, sadly, rather ignorant, and listened to stereotypes regarding a lot of things. However, in that short week at Horizon I met some of the kindest, smartest, most sincere people in the world, and I’m glad to call them friends. We had a lot of good times at camp, from karaoke night, carnival night, hanging out around the campfire, or aiding in pranks at the cabin. No matter what, there was never a dull moment at that camp, and everyone had a great time. Not everything was fun and games though. I remember a camper named Chris. Chris was unable to walk, use his hands properly or speak, but he went up in front of the camp and gave a speech about how he is no different than anyone else, and it was the most touching most inspiring thing I ever heard. It hit harder for me than any speech given by Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, or any famous speaker; it taught me not to let anything anyone says bother me because we are all the same and I thank Chris for that. I’m probably out of time, but I had the time of my life at camp, it was the most rewarding thing I have ever done and I want to spend the rest of my life helping people, no matter what, because it made me feel better than anything else ever has.

In conclusion, Zero — Was the number of us that had a clue what we were getting ourselves into when we committed to going to camp this year. And nine, is the number of us that were changed forever by the experience, and can’t wait to do it all again next year.