Friday, July 31, 2015

Modeling Christ’s Unconditional Love and Acceptance

The 2015 Carolina Point Session 2 Summer Staff 
Recently, my 28-year-old son Drew spent a month working alongside 30 other young adults at a Christian camp in Brevard, NC, called Carolina Point. That doesn’t sound like such a big deal. Lots of young adults do this every summer. What makes Drew’s month special is that he was the only staff member with Down syndrome.

When a child is born, it's natural for his mom to worry that her child won’t be included or accepted by his peers, but the worry is so much greater when the child has special needs. Throughout Drew’s life, I have tried to get him involved with all different kinds of people, both with and without disabilities. He knows tons of people and everyone is kind to him, but he really never has been included among non-disabled peers for any extended time. I can’t remember his ever being invited to a non-disabled person’s birthday party or being asked to stay overnight at someone’s house.

Drew and his coach/buddy Daniel
When Drew was asked to serve at camp for a month, I thought it would be great for him but worried that the other young people might lose patience with him after a week or two. I did have faith in Daniel, the young man who was to be his coach, because Daniel had spent a good deal of time with Drew at week-long camps, club meetings, football games, etc. Daniel was committed to this experience being a success. Also, I was only 2.5 hours away and could easily get Drew if things didn’t go well.

I thought I was prepared for all/any things to happen, but what did happen was something so much greater than I could have ever imagined. Drew was with some of the kindest, most genuine, God-loving people I have ever been in contact with. They are one happy group!

These young people worked alongside Drew, encouraging him to do his best and keeping him from even thinking about being homesick. He shared in their devotional time, underlining important passages in his copy of their required reading even though he couldn’t read all of the words. He prayed with them, sang with them, cried with them, and most of all, laughed with them. He became their friend.

Drew roomed with five other males in a room designed for four people, but they didn’t seem to mind. I think it made for a closer connection. He learned some typical "man" things like how to apply strong-smelling body spray from Gabe and how to use the term dump instead of poop from Taylor – both very useful life-skills. They also decided not to shave and had various lengths of facial hair at different times during the month.
Drew proudly showed us his bunk which was one of six in this room.
The 'Stache Crew
Two weeks into his month, we visited Drew to see how things were going. He was so excited to show us around the camp and introduce us to everyone, and he did know everyone. Many of his new friends wanted to tell us how great Drew was doing, but I really wasn’t convinced until my daughter asked him if he wanted to go home with us. He replied, “No. I’m staying here with my friends.”


A tragic accident resulting in the death of a young girl happened during Drew’s time at Carolina Point, but the staff and campers all supported one another and learned so much about faith through this tragedy. When Drew returned home, I asked him if he wanted to talk about this accident. He told me that Olivia fell, the helicopter came and took her away and that she’s fine now. I’m not sure Drew really understands what happened or if he just put his own spin on the event because death makes him so sad, but I didn’t elaborate or try to explain what really happened. In our minds, Olivia is fine now because she is in Heaven.

Drew has changed so much from the person he was before his month-long time of service. He is more independent, for sure. I’m not sure who taught him how to take his plate to the kitchen and wash it when he’s finished eating, but thank you! He also volunteers to help with various jobs, is more respectful of others and is also more tolerant of his niece.

Drew’s new friends include him in their pictures posted on social media and even change their cover photos to one that includes him. He has been home a week now, and every day I find a new picture or video that Drew is tagged in. They have allowed me to be part of their group text so that Drew can keep up with them. The group is also planning a reunion in early January, and Drew’s name is on the list. Finally, he’s been asked to spend the night with his non-disabled friends!

If you ever need your faith restored in today's young people, please ask me about these young adults who spent a month with my son. They have had a tremendous impact on Drew and on my whole family.They are the ones who bring God’s light into the world. 

Thank you Carolina Point  Summer Staff Session 2 as well as all the Work Crew and Young Life staff for letting Drew be a part of your lives. You truly took to heart Young Life’s mission of modeling Christ’s unconditional love and acceptance as you got to know my son. He is a more independent and patient young man and a person who knows he is loved by Jesus and you!

Mark Wilson, one of the Summer Staff bosses, said, "My good buddy Drew rocking out with the one and only @samheilig at Carolina Point. I'm a better man because of my new friendship with Drew."