by Brian Gay
Camp Courageous, in Monticello, Iowa, is an amazing place. I volunteer for Camp Courageous as a member of the board of directors, and was visiting the camp one day in 2000 when I saw something I will always remember.
Mary, a six-year-old girl, was wearing climbing gear and had a safety rope securely fastened. The conditions were such that she could not see, but she started climbing, searching for safe handholds and footholds as she felt her way upward. Down below, her partner held the rope tight in case Mary fell.
Up above, Mary realized she was farther above the ground than she had ever been before — but still she kept climbing. “I can go higher,” she shouted to her partner as she groped for another hold. By this time, her partner couldn’t see Mary clearly; her vision was blurred by tears.
“Mary, do you want to come down?” her partner asked.
From up high, Mary called back down. “No!” Then, moments later, she shouted “I made it! All the way to the top!”
Mary was not an experienced climber. She had not scaled a mountain, or even one of the limestone cliffs along the Mississippi River. But her achievement was still something great. She climbed a tree. Blind since birth, Mary had never climbed anything taller than a kitchen chair until that day.
Camp Courageous has grown from serving 211 campers in 1974 to more than 4,500 in 2002. Campers come from all over the Midwest and have mental or physical handicaps. The camp, which also provides respite care for campers of all ages, operates on donations. It receives no government support, formal sponsorship, or paid fund-raisers. Everything given to the camp goes directly to benefit the campers.
For Mary, climbing that tree was an important accomplishment. As her counselors and newfound friends cheered her from the ground, she discovered her own courage and ability. This kind of thing happens all the time at Camp Courageous, where children try new things and often succeed, in part because someone is there holding a safety rope. The absolute best part of the camp is that children make friendships that last for years and years.
Volunteering to support the camp has rewarded me in many ways. Most importantly, I know I’m helping children with disabilities to discover their strengths and live better lives. Seeing the joy of a child, confined to a wheel chair, lowered into a swimming pool and allowed to play and move around, brings tears to my eyes every time.
When I get discouraged, I know just how to find the inspiration I need to keep trying: Think of Mary.
(Ed. note: Camp Courageous website)