For nearly a decade, I have truly been blessed with the seven summers I was able to spend a week of being a counselor at a Christian Youth Camp.
The memories are indeed too many: Small group bible lessons, archery, paintball, inside jokes about having too much bread (Wade and Hudson know), starlight devos, my alarm clock being thrown out by my co-counselor, sacrificing a pair of socks for a camper, out door movie nights, having another camper ask if I knew how to talk to girls (my initial response: “No one does.”), the countless nicknames I would give and be given (“The Cap” is the best nickname I have ever gotten).
These were just some of many memories that I was remembering while watching Crip Camp. The Netflix documentary (who’s full title is Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution tells the story of how, in the 1970s, a group of hippies worked at Camp Jened to form a safe haven for the youths in the handicap community. It is startling for me, someone born most of the events of the film, to realize how mistreated handicapped people were.
The film starts with home video of the camp with memories being told by those who attended it as either campers or (in at least one case) a counselor. The “basics” of a summer camp are discussed (though since it was run by hippies, it is safe to say it was not a “Christian” camp as I was talking about earlier). Early week insecurities, coming out of one’s shell, the nearly inevitable summer crush (is it weird I can remember the AIM username of my YMCA camp summer crush?), and even “make-out” sessions (I doubt this was the case, but if this happened at the one week YMCA camp, no one told me about it.) Being that the campers are handicapped, it is no surprise that they have their own issues to deal with as well, most notably having to be bathed by someone who was not their parents.
Yet, as is the case in all summer camps, you have at least one “Breakfast Club” moment, in which everyone is comfortable enough to be open. Those are the moments that make any camp life changing.
The issue, of course, comes with leaving camp (which, I can say without hesitation, is just as hard for the counselors as it is for the campers). We are thrown back into the real world, with all of it’s problems and distractions. Yet the former campers of Camp Jened do not take life the way the world wants them to, and the movie spends the rest of the time displaying how there were protests for equal rights for those with disabilities, eventually leading to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
While the film does give a strong message about rights for all despite their disabilities, I admit to being a little worn down at times by the politics of the film. That is not to say anything about my stance on the issue, only that it is possible to politicize a film too much, and the film does do that (albeit sparingly).
Parents, the film is rated R mainly for language, including a fair amount of sexual references given by campers (though there are no stories of that kind from the camp, there is at least one of which that happened at a camper’s later stage in life). That said, I would think mature High Schoolers and above would be fine with Crip Camp.
Every once in awhile, I am asked what my favorite thing about being a counselor is. The answer is simple: seeing what God is doing in each one of their lives as they grow older and mature. It even gets me a bit teary eyed just typing about it. Thanks to social media, I am able to connect with some of (older) campers I have had, and see what God has done using them.
To see a camper apply something they learned at camp (especially a Christian Camp) to their lives in the world is nothing short of a miracle.