A whole lotta sharing going on

LAKE SHETEK – Nearly 100 campers of all ages and abilities united for a very special Camp SOS (Sharing Our Services) experience this week at the Shetek Lutheran Bible Camp on Lake Shetek.

Camp SOS is one of 16 different summer camps offered at Shetek Lutheran Bible Camp. According to Verla Gayle Stoffel, Lyon County Camp SOS representative, Camp SOS has been serving the unique needs of developmentally disabled individuals each summer for the past 40 years.

“Camp SOS does this by creating a stimulating and enjoyable camping experience,” Stoffel said. “It allows the individuals to develop independence, social and creative skills, along with many opportunities to take part in physical fitness and recreational activities. Each activity is designed and presented in a way to make each point meaningful and valuable to the camper.”

Stoffel noted that campers are given the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities, including music, canoeing, nature study, physical activities, swimming, hiking, art, boating, outdoor games, creative drama, puppetry and fishing.

Camper Jon Simpson said he had two favorites at this year’s camp.

“I like chocolate milk,” he said, “and I like swimming.”

Simpson said he enjoyed splashing around with friends and counselors like Heidi Bengtson at the swimming party Wednesday. He also found time to construct an Indian village in the campsite garden.

“I just finished my project (Thursday),” Simpson said. “It’s a pretty good setup.”

Simpson’s creation, built using twigs, leaves, grasses and colorful pipe cleaners, included a teepee, a main village hut and tent, along with fire pits, Indians catching fish and fish hanging over a fire pit to cook.

“I did all of this with no help at all,” Simpson said. “This camp is on Indian land. So I wanted to make a little bit of history here. I saw what the Indians did, so I just made this.”

According to Stephanie Hovda, Camp SOS program director, a total of 96 campers took part in this year’s weeklong experience.

“Their ages vary,” Hovda said. “The youngest is 12, and the oldest is around 75.”

With the large number of campers, many counselors and volunteers are necessary to make sure the camp is safe and successful. Fortunately, there are plenty of generous people out there who enjoy assisting with Camp SOS, Hovda said.

“We have about 22 counselors on my summer staff, and then we have about 40 more volunteers,” she said. “It’s really cool. We have professionals and nurses, all the way down to 14- and 15-year-olds who are learning to do this.”

Cody Ziemke said he’d enjoyed helping out for the past couple of years.

“I like it,” Ziemke said. “It’s been nice (weather), too. Monday was pretty hot, but it started to cool off after that. Wednesday was nice for the swimming party.”

As a second-year counselor, Abby VanMeveren wasn’t quite sure what to expect at Camp SOS. A jet ski injury prevented her from helping at the camp last year.

“I was a little nervous because this was the first time I was helping with the camp,” VanMeveren said. “But as soon as I saw the smiles on the their faces when they came on Monday, my heart melted. I knew it was going to be great.”

Now, VanMeveren considers Camp SOS the most fun of all the camps at Lake Shetek.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s messy but awesome.”

On Thursday night, campers and counselors were all smiles as they joined together for a dance party. It didn’t matter if someone was in a wheelchair or not, because everyone was involved, dancing to songs such as “Fishin’ in the Dark,” “Footloose,” “Good Night,” “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” “I Love Rock N’ Roll” and “Mickey.”

During “Sweet Caroline,” everyone formed a giant circle and put their arms around the people next to them. Amy Jo Larson, wearing her Elvis outfit, even showed off some break-dancing moves.

“Everyone gets to dress up (Thursday night),” VanMeveren said. “It’s fun.”

After the dance, everyone headed to the campfire.

“I’m playing the guitar at the campfire,” camper Brian Bakker said. “I’m going to say a prayer, too. I lost my mom.”

Though saddened by the May 11 death of his mom, Irene Bakker, Brian Bakker was quick to give out high-fives and hugs to other people, including camper Jennifer “Hannah Montana” Dummer, who said the opening prayer.

Another camper, Sami Hey, also led the group in prayer.

“Thank you for this beautiful day, for the counselors and CITs (counselors in training) and for this beautiful campground,” Hey said. “Amen.”

After a skit, a couple of songs and another prayer, everyone got ready to turn in for the night. Shortly after lunchtime Friday, campers said their good-byes.

“Camp has been fun,” said Simpson, who plans to return next year.

While campers come from all over the region, area campers also attend. Every year, funds are raised in Lyon County to try and offset the fees, which are expensive, for the local participants. Each year, it gets more and more difficult.

“Most years, we are able to send about 10 campers,” Stoffel said. “I have been coordinating campers and raising funds in Lyon County for about the same length of time as the camp (40 years). Many individuals cannot afford to attend, so I ask for donations from local service organizations to enable them to enjoy a camping experience.”

Stoffel noted that the majority of past donations have come from the Tracy area, but that other communities have also chipped in. All the support is greatly appreciated, she said, especially in tougher economic times.

“Over the passage of time, we have seen camp fees rise,” Stoffel said. “At the same time, our donations have dwindled, making it a challenge to raise enough money to help pay a portion for each of the camp fees. This year, we have five from our area attending.”

For more information about Camp SOS or to make a donation, contact the camp at 507-763-3567.