Friday, November 18, 2011

Lions Camp (and Tracey)

(I'm continuing my theme of being thankful.)

When I was in high school a member of our church, college student Peggy Shalla, talked on a Sunday night about her experiences as a camp counselor at Texas Lions Camp for Crippled Children (yes, that used to be the name) in Kerrville, TX . As I sat listening to her, I thought, "I want to do that, too!"

And I did.

And I don't think I've been the same since.

I worked there the summers I was nineteen and twenty. We had kids from all over Texas who were physically disabled. The Lions Clubs across Texas would find these kids and pay for their two weeks at the camp. (We worked five 2-week sessions - 10 weeks in all.) In one cabin (which would house about 30 kids) we’d have children who couldn’t walk, or who were deaf or blind or who had any other kind of physical impairment. (There were six cabins in all - three for girls and three for boys.)

I remember one little girl (about nine years old) who was a victim of Thalidomide, a sedative prescribed in the late 1950's for relief of morning sickness in pregnant women. Horror of horrors it had the side effect of causing babies to be born with feet and hands but no legs and arms. It was if our camper had a body with hands (with three fingers) coming out of her shoulders, and feet (that weren't normal) where her thighs should start. She had a special wheel chair she rode in that was low to the ground.

Another little girl (about 8) named Tracey (I will never forget) was born with no mouth, no lower arms and hands, and no legs and feet beyond her knees. She had prosthetics for her legs (that she used on occasion), and an artificial lower arm and hand on one arm, and a claw-type prosthetic on her other arm. She’d had her mouth ‘opened’, but had no lips or teeth. She did have a tongue and could talk pretty normally. Tracey was a delight. I remember my dad visited me one time and Tracey hobbled out on her knees to the 'living room area' and greeted him. Every once in a while, through the years, my dad would bring that up - about how happy she was. What an inspiration. She had the best attitude. Of course, we knew that all the children had pretty good attitudes while they were there.... because they were with only children who were disabled. At this camp, they were ‘normal’.   'Normal' means a lot.

Now most of the children were not as disabled as the sweet little Thalidomide girl or Tracey.
Here's a picture I found of some of the boys at Lions Camp years and years ago. (I worked with girls, of course.)

Now the camp calls itself Texas Lions Camp and they have sessions for diabetic children, children with cancer, as well as sessions for disabled children.
Click HERE to go to their website.

So how did Lions Camp change me? Well, I'm sure in more ways than I even realize but for sure it made me see the disabled as NOT disabled. Well, of course, they are disabled, but oh my, they offer more to this world than most able-bodied people.

So I learned definitely not to pity them.
And not to even call them 'them'.

And I feel as if I really matured those summers. For one thing, it was hard work.
We had to be out by the flag pole near the mess hall at 7:15 every morning. Some of those kids had braces that didn't take just a few minutes to put on. (Most of the kids with braces could put them on themselves.)

And we, as counselors, had to have them tow the line. Every camper after breakfast had to come back to the cabin and do chores... and make their beds with hospital corners! Chores meant sweeping and mopping the cabin, cleaning the restrooms and shower stalls, dusting and making sure everything was neat and spic and span.
When the campers went to their morning crafts classes some of the camp staff would inspect the cabins. Those with the cleanest cabins could eat lunch first. (I always thought we needed a better reward than that!)

Oh and we had fun. I learned some silly songs, and games, and crazy things... and oh we laughed and laughed and laughed.

And when we camp counselors would go into town on our days off, we'd see kids and look for their disability. Ah, but they'd not have any.  And we'd laugh to ourselves and say, "How boring."

I learned more stuff... and I have more stories to tell... but I better quit. (I'm not a fan on long blog-posts.)

In conclusion, I'm thankful I can walk and talk and see and hear, etc. But if suddenly I couldn't I'd want to be like Tracey... and have a fun life anyway!!!

I'm thankful for her.

I wonder what she's doing now?

(Whoa. This is a long blog-post. Congratulations if you read it all!!)


Anonymous said...

Oh, it might have been a longer post...but it was GOOD!!!

I'll look forward to more stories!!!


sara [at] journey of doing said...

Wow - what an experience. You should share this with more people, especially students who are the same age you were. I think it's a great way to change the way people think about things.

My hometown...

I am thinking of my hometown now. Mission, Texas. And McAllen, Texas. And Mercedes, Texas, where I was born. And Donna, Texas, so near there...