Just Past The Front Doors

By Donna Robertson

When faced with the need for a larger medical facility to accommodate the population served by Camp Barnabas, Cyndy Teas knew the camp had to construct more than a building; the camp needed to construct a partnership with the community.

Founded in 1994 by Teas and her husband, Paul, Camp Barnabas focuses on children and young adults with special needs and chronic diseases and their siblings.

“Almost every camper who comes through our gates has some type of medical need,” she says.

Teas, a registered nurse, now serves as the medical-services director as well as the director of development.

With more than 1,300 campers in 2011, many individuals come through the healthcare center--some of them multiple times a day.

“Many of our campers have to be catheterized or need blood sugars monitored or have tube feedings,” she says.

And with the challenge of a significant and continuing increase in camper population following the camp’s inclusion in an episode of a national television program, Teas saw the need for a much larger facility.

Plans were drawn for an 8,000-square-foot building, to be known as Lauren’s WellHouse, honoring the young girl who inspired the couple to begin the camp. But Teas struggled with the magnitude of the project.

“I couldn’t justify, in my mind, building something that size and using it only three months of the year. Even though--through diligent fundraising efforts the construction was fully funded--I had to know there was a way to use it more.”

After much discussion, it was decided the best use was to offer it as a community health clinic, run by an area organization.

“We began working on a partnership with a federally subsidized community clinic in our area that serves people who are uninsured or underinsured,” Teas explains.

This organization would use the facility several days a week outside the camp season and then on the gap days between sessions in the summer.

She believed this would be the perfect solution for their rural location.

“The population in our area is often seasonally employed--small family farmers or immigrants working in farm-based industries in the area, such as chicken-processing plants.”

However, this organization’s use of the building did not come at the perfect time. Due to federal funding cuts, expansion of the program was not possible.

Expanding Usage
Teas believed that community connection is important, especially for camps.

“By the nature of our business, camps are usually located in isolated areas. Most of the time, they only operate three months out of the year. So building the relationships needed with your neighbors isn’t always easy.

"But, by thinking creatively, uses can be found year-round for facilities. Uses which result in opportunities to be a better, more present neighbor.

"In the past, we’ve opened our camp up for retreats in the off-season. But, because we are over an hour from a larger population area, it’s never been a consistent use of our grounds.”

Last fall, the camp added Barnabas Prep, an academic-year program for young adults with special needs.

“We know this will grow into a larger use of our site but right now, with it still in its early stages, we’re only utilizing a small portion of what’s available,” she admits.

“And those activities don’t offer the interaction with our neighbors we were hoping for. The health center offers the best potential of being a part of and serving more people in our community.”

Help Your Neighbors
And it is the serving part that means the most to Teas.

“We are a Christian camp and because of who we are and who our campers are, we believe it is important that everyone understand they are uniquely created by God to live a life of ability,” she explains.

“For our campers, that means understanding if they want to climb a rock wall--even if they don’t have use of their arms or legs--they are able to do that. Through our adaptive activities, we allow them to be participants, not observers, in the world around them.

“We want to transfer those principles to our community, to be the good neighbors Christ asked us to be. So, in our segment of society, if that means helping someone who struggles to meet the financial needs of their family understand they are able to access quality healthcare, then offering our facility to make that possible is the way we live out what we practice with our campers, the way we serve our community.”

Teas continued to search for someone in the medical community to put boots on the ground for these ideas. And she found a partner in an unexpected place.

Unbeknownst to Teas, a local church had been trying for some time to organize a community health clinic in order to be more responsive in reaching out and serving others. Now that group is working with Teas to find the best ways to make this possible through using Lauren’s WellHouse.

“I believe we’ll soon be able to see this vision realized,” she says.

And she emphasized the importance of creating a community with the camp, and of not giving up on seeing the vision realized, even in ways one may not expect.

Donna Robertson lives in Springfield, Mo., and is the storyteller for Camp Barnabas. In her role, she ensures that the story of Camp Barnabas is told efficiently and effectively through all communication opportunities. For more information, visit www.campbarnabas.org.