Special needs adults and their families bring magic to Headwaters.
More than 20,000 campers from church and community organizations camp for no charge through the H. E. Butt Foundation Camp program each year, but only one group enthusiastically sings its thanks before each meal:
Oh, the Lord is good to me and so I thank the Lord
for giving me the things I need
the sun and the rain and the apple seed
The Lord is good to me! Uh-huh!
From start to finish, the Austin Adventurers is no ordinary group of campers.
Described by one parent as “a day program on steroids” for special needs students who have aged out of public school, Austin Adventurers has participated in Foundation camping since 2012. The experience-rich, confidence-building outings are anticipated as much by camp volunteers and staff as by the campers themselves.
Through the leadership of Adventurers Program Director Diane Mackey (and her longtime association with Foundation Camp Registrar Ann Jack), the Adventurers began using Linnet’s Wings for a week-long camp each spring and quickly became one of Director John Kerr’s favorite groups.
“Whenever I see Austin Adventurers on the calendar,” says Kerr, “I smile in anticipation of this wonderful bunch of fun-loving adults. Their enthusiasm for life and the camping experience keeps me motivated, and I’m inspired by Diane and her staff of chaperones. Plus, they always treat me like a rock star. How fun is that?”
In 2015, the Adventurers added a second camp date at Headwaters and invited families to camp with their adult children.
“It’s unusual for a group with disabilities to camp,” explains Ann Jack, the mother of an adult son with special needs. “I don’t know of any provider that does this. It is a huge undertaking. The Adventurers succeed because they all pitch in to make it happen.”
Recent Adventurers’ trips have utilized Outdoor School’s adventure recreation services so that campers can experience kayaking, the ropes course, and the climbing wall. “This will be our fifth year coming to the Foundation Camps,” says Mackey.
One parent expressed delight in discovering the experiences offered to her special needs child. “I had no idea this was available to families,” she said. “It was really wonderful to be with others who don’t ask questions about your child, and if they do, it is with an understanding that few parents experience.”
Serendipities seem to occur when the Adventurers are around. On one trip musician-in-residence Jeff Johnson treated campers to an impromptu concert in the Cody Center and presented each one with a signed copy of his music. “It was magic,” says Jack.
The mother of a camper explained in a letter just what camp means to her disabled daughter:
“Headwaters is such a calm place. Katy was able to be with her peers swimming, canoeing, and her favorite, sliding down the big slide!
“We had such a relaxing weekend, and my daughter was able to experience new things she would never have been able to experience anywhere else. [The H. E. Butt Foundation] has gone above and beyond for special needs families … We are all looking forward to Family Camp next year!”