Featured Writer: Ben Honeycutt
Boom Boom…Boom Boom…
A sudden burst of wind ruptured the mountain air, causing the red bobber to dance within the water.
“Alright, Jon.” I whispered, “You got this.”
Our gazes fixed inside the water, I felt a bead of sweat escape my dampened brow, an enormous fish had began to glide towards Jon’s baited fishing lure.
I moved a moistened palm above my pounding heart.
Boom Boom…Boom Boom…
“Get ready, Jon.” I whispered again.
All at once, the gargantuan fish released a spasm and ripped towards Jon’s lure. Throwing his rod into the air, I pointed at the water below as a terrific splash echoed throughout the pond. Looking up, I gasped as I saw Jon’s line snapping back towards us at a ferocious speed.
Releasing simultaneous shouts, Jon and I ducked for cover from the approaching lure.
Feeling my heartbeat slow, I dared to peek at the world around me. Opening an eye, I saw Jon’s hookless line resting in the grass beside me.
“Dang it!” Jon yelled in surprise, “It stole my hook!”
“It stole everything!” I voiced in response.
Turning to each other, a hint of a smile had materialized upon Jon’s face. Feeling a wide grin overtake my expression, I released a laugh, and soon we had both descended into fits of laughter.
This experience is a stolen moment from my wonderful week volunteering for camp Summit at the Rocky Mountain Village. In the weeks following my time at RMV, I have had a difficult time creating an accurate summation of everything that made the week incredible. While it will be impossible for me to convey all of the emotions, experiences and friendships I found at the Rocky Mountain Village, I will do everything in my ability to detail the moments that made my week at RMV truly magical.
Part I: I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.
I discovered RMV after my close friend Maggi volunteered at camp Summit last year, and after witnessing the way the camp transformed her as a person, I was resolute about becoming a part of that experience. Riding up with the youth group from New Covenant Presbyterian and their youth pastor Christopher Akins, we reached the Rocky Mountain Village the night before the camp was set to begin. When we were settled in, Chris sat the entire group down and articulated that throughout the next week, we would be assisting individuals with disabilities who were ages 35 and older. Chris explained that many of the campers here regarded this week as their “one week” or “vacation.” Taken with feelings of the deepest inspiration, I was eager to take on the coming day, but nothing I heard could have prepared me for the day that lie ahead.
When the campers arrived the following day, I immediately felt incredibly overwhelmed by what I had volunteered to do. I had glimpsed videos and snapshots of the camp from the year before, but nothing I had seen could have filled me with an understanding of what it meant to truly care for individuals with disabilities. Little could I have fathomed that by the week’s conclusion, my involvement with Summit would reshape me as a person, and completely alter the plans I have for my future.
In my last meal at RMV, a smile kindled upon my expression when I discerned the fortune from the shattered cookie upon my plate.
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
It is perhaps the most fitting fortune cookie that has ever crossed my path, and is the perfect summation for the wonderful week I had experienced.
Part II: “Even if today does not go my way, I will still love every moment of it- The Campers
“What was that?!” I asked, a horror creeping over my soul.
“I’m having chest pains, I think I may be having a heart attack.” The camper repeated, looking into my eyes.
As a counselor watched over my camper, I sprinted to the nurse’s cabin as my anxiety ascended its breaking point. The campers had been nearing the end of a campwide scavenger hunt, and I had been at my camper’s side throughout the night’s entirety. Nervousness had overwhelmed my emotions throughout the first day of RMV, and if I had just allowed my camper to have a heart attack..
“Perhaps I’m not cut out for this.” I thought in a cold defeat.
Returning the camper to the Ponderosa cabin, the nurse and I tucked him beneath warm blankets while she monitored his heartbeat. After what felt like hours of anxiety ridden moments, the nurse informed us that he was going to be alright. Feeling as if a small Buick had been lifted from my soul, I caught my breath as the nurse departed from our cabin. Turning back towards my camper, I saw a devious smile form on the corner of his expression.
“I am sorry for tricking you,” my camper said, “but that hunt made me tired!”
Feeling my jaw drop, I looked towards my camper with an expression of the deepest shock.
“You’re not mad at me, are you?”
Feeling myself release an incredible smile, I shook my head at my camper with a relieved disbelief. Happiness spreading over me, my camper and I began to converse about our hobbies, dreams, and Thursday’s dance for the next thirty minutes that we were together. Incredibly, in spite all of the shock I had just experienced, the event of that night had completely wiped out my anxiety, but, more importantly, left me with someone that I could call my friend.
Now that my anxiety had now completely evanesced, the true meaning of the Rocky Mountain Village became evident the following morning. As the sun’s light began to trickle over the horizon, I sat with Ponderosa’s campers as they waited for turns on the zipline. Attempting to create conversation, I asked Mark, one of Ponderosa’s campers, if he was excited about the activity.
Looking up at me, he uttered, “Yes, because I leave my chair, and for a moment, I’m free.”
It took me a moment to reign in my emotions for a response.
As the week moved on, I fished with Jon, rode horses with Dan, played catch with Warren, camped out with Harl, and jammed with Larry at the Tuesday night concert, and by week’s conclusion, I understood how important this camp was for every camper, counselor, and volunteer in attendance.
A few more of my campers’ quotes are etched into the canvas of my memories.
I was assisting Harl back up to our cabin one day when he turned to me and said, “Ben, you mean more to me than I do to you.”
I looked into the man before me, and told him that this simply was untrue. The friendship I had made with Harl is something I could not have fathomed before my time at camp Summit, and my time with him and every one of the campers is something I am going to treasure for my life’s entirety.
Looking into me, Harl answered, “I’m glad, because before I pass away, I want to leave my mark on this world.”
I have thought about that quote at least once a day since the conclusion of my time at the Rocky Mountain Village.
Upon the morning of the camp’s last full day, I was sitting outside of Ponderosa with Mark, who was informing me of all of his plans for the day ahead of him. Out of habit, I told Mark that I hoped the day went well for him, but his response to this caught me completely off guard.
“Well,” Mark began, “Even if today doesn’t go my way, I will still love every moment of it.”
As Mark explained to me how he did his best to love every second of every day, I felt absolutely blown away by his inspiring outlook about the world around him. My relationships with the campers of RMV have caused me to appreciate every moment of every day, and the determination of the campers has inspired me to pursue my dreams no matter how improbable they may seem. The friendships I built with the campers have changed my life, and I will forever be indebted to them for this extraordinary experience.
Part III: Yea Camp!: The songs and dances that holds the camp together
I could not help but feel amazement at the wonderful scenery of Empire, Colorado. Located 45 minutes to the west of Denver, snow covered mountain tops filled the sun dabbled horizons around us.
Moving my gaze from the evergreen trees sprouted throughout the mountains, I saw a camp counselor walking in my direction. To my right, the counselors of the camp had begun to loudly sing and dance to camp songs as the campers began to arrive. The counselor, introducing himself as Gibran, enthusiastically invited me to join the rest of the dancing counselors. Though I was much too nervous to accept his invitation, I was blown away by the passion that Gibran and the rest of the counselors displayed throughout the opening day.
Generally aged from 18-25, the counselors of the camp were hired through Easter Seals Colorado to be at the Rocky Mountain Village for the entirety of the summer, and the camp itself was directed and organized by a handful of wonderful people known as “The Program Staff.” When I think of the staff of RMV, I think of a conversation I had with Jonah Berger (one of the camp’s directors) where we each shared our life’s dreams. I think of the time I spent getting to know my fellow cabin counselors, and discovering about I could one day work at the Rocky Mountain Village. I also remember the wonderful conversation about religion I had with our youth pastor, Chris Akins, (who may as well have been called a counselor at RMV.) The friendships I made at RMV have had an extraordinary influence on my life, and I hope to hold these relationships throughout my lifetime.
- The entire staff at the Rocky Mountain Village is doing something simply incredible. Whether it’s in the opening night skits, the scavenger hunt, or the myriad of other camp activities, the flexibility and selflessness of the program staff and counselors is truly magical.
On the camp’s final day, when the staff assembled to sing and dance with departing campers, I felt myself join the festivities without a second thought. Though I did not realize it at the time, the week at RMV had absolutely transformed me as a person.
Part IV- Take it Easy, Larry: The Civil Rights Activist Everyone Needs to Know About.
Through all of the songs, dances, activities, and adventures, there was a discernible cloud that hung over the camp for the majority of the week. The cloud sometimes took the form of a whisper, and other times it even appeared in open conversation. This cloud was the heartrending truth that one of RMV’s longtime campers, Larry Ruiz, had passed away over the previous year. On the last full day of camp, Tom Picton gathered the entire camp for a memorial for Larry, and I quickly discovered that Larry’s legacy flowed far beyond his 35 years at the Rocky Mountain Village.
Born in 1954 in Denver, Colorado, Larry was born with Cerebral Palsy and entered a world that possessed little to no understanding about his disability. In the beginning of his life, Larry spent almost all of his time confined to the space within an institution. However, in the 1960’s, an idealistic pastor broke out Larry and the other residents of the institution. The pastor lived with the belief that people with disabilities deserved the rights held by every other individual.
Once he was out of the institution, Larry began to take action after the Civil Rights Act of 1968 excluded individuals with disabilities. Due to the effects of cerebral palsy, Larry, and many others with the condition were in need of city busing that was accessible to everyone; an issue that the Civil Rights Acts had failed to address. In the coming months, Larry joined a huge group of individuals who surrounded Denver city buses and handcuffed themselves to the vehicles. Larry and the rest of the protestors were often surrounded by police and eventually taken into custody. However, the protestors had made such an impact that Denver revamped their entire transportation system within the next year. Larry was not finished. He and the other protestors protested in major cities across the United States until their voices were heard in Washington, and in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act finally became law across the United States.
When Tom finished filling us in on Larry’s legacy, many campers spoke of their fondest memories of the departed camper. As amazed as I was at Larry’s activism, I was equally touched when I discovered more about who he was as a person. I discovered that Larry had an incredible sense of humor, and that he reached out and found jobs for fellow campers on a regular basis. I also discovered that “Take it Easy” by the Eagles was his favorite song, and that his activism had caused him to be arrested on sixty-six occasions.
The entire night was incredibly emotional for everyone in attendance. Though I had never known Larry, I was taken by the love almost all of the campers possessed for him, and by how he had affected the lives of everyone in attendance. Upon the conclusion of his memorial, Tom led the entire camp in “Take it Easy” as Larry’s ashes were spread around the campsite.
Overcome with emotion throughout the event, I began to wonder about why I had never heard of Larry’s protests throughout my school life. Larry’s activism was not only incredible, but it spurred a change for the entirety of our nation. Everyone deserves to know about Larry’s story, and if there’s any power within me, I will do everything I can to ensure that Larry’s story is not forgotten.
Take it easy, Larry, and thank you for everything you did to change the world around you.
Part V- The Last Dance and Final Goodbyes
Once Larry’s memorial had concluded, the campers each took turns addressing the camp for the remainder of the Vespers service. The campers reflected on a range of topics ranging from fishing, the campout, or why they loved being in the Rocky Mountain Village.
Through all of the emotion, tears, and laughter that had accompanied the Vespers service, what became clear was how special the camp was for not just the campers, but for everyone involved with this experience. There were bonds, magical friendships, formed in this week between the campers and staff that made this week truly magical.
In the final event of the week, the campers moved from Vespers to a campwide dance in Genesee hall. Charged from Larry’s memorial, the campers and counselors seemed to take the emotional energy of the Vespers service and dance the night away.
As I hit the dance floor with the campers, I felt a kind of happiness that I had never felt before in my life. The wonder I experienced from the dance is something that’s almost impossible to describe, but it’s a feeling that everyone needs to experience.
As I reminisce about Ponderosa’s campers one final time, the friendships stand out above anything anything else in my memory. I often think of a conversation Gibran and I had with Ponderosa Dan. Dan is often quite difficult to understand, (we would often have him spell words out to us when we conversed with him) and on this occasion, nothing Gibran and I guessed was even close to what Dan was attempting to tell us. Our guesses ranging from a river to his sister, Gibran and I did not possess the slightest clue about what Dan was telling us.
Looking to Dan, I asked, “Do you like watching us flounder like this, Dan?”
Bursting into laughter, Dan nodded as Gibran and I broke out as well. (Gibran and I soon figured out that he was telling us about the old TV Show, “Bonanza.”)
The message that shines through this week is that these campers are not “disabled,” they are each people who have passions, hobbies and dreams of their own. If we as a society can look past these disabilities and see these people for who they truly are, the friendships that could blossom would be life changing for everyone involved.
“Before I pass away, I want to leave my mark on this world.“
The campers and counselors of the Rocky Mountain Village are leaving their marks upon this world with each passing day, and if there’s any justice in this world, Larry, Harl, and campers and counselors of camp will forever be remembered for making this world a better place.
Thank you to Chris Akins and New Covenant Presbyterian for giving me the opportunity to attend Camp Summit and the Rocky Mountain Village, and thank you to Maggi, Leah, Lauren, Patti and Allison, for making the drives equally adventurous and hilarious, and thanks for all of your wonderful advice throughout the week– I certainly would have been lost without it!
Thank you to Austin, Arsenio, Garrett, Gibran, Tony, and all of the Counselors and Program Staff. I would not have had this wonderful experience without the support you gave me throughout the week. Your selflessness was of constant inspiration to me, and I can not wait to see you all again!
And finally, thank you to Dan, Devin, Harl, Jon, Larry, Mark, Terry, Warren, and every one of the campers who attended Summit! My friendships with you have forever changed my life and have inspired me to become a better person. I can not express just how much each and every one of you mean to me. I will see you all again in the summer of 2013!
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