This blog post was written by KK Ray, a Special Session summer camp counselor.
After attending 2 years of Special Session, it has become one of the most important parts of my life, and two weeks that I get to spend at Camp McDowell every summer with the campers and staff there is the highlight of my year. Although the role as a Special Session counselor is to be of any help to the wonderful people that come as campers, anyone that has ever been can easily say that the “job” is much more than that. The campers there help you as well by how to be a better person, and displaying what true and unconditional love is. The inspiring atmosphere of love and acceptance for all people at this camp has led me to my decision to major in Special Education, in attempt to help spread the environment of this experience outside the walls of Camp McDowell. Without doubt, I can say that Special Session will always be a significant part of my lift and has brought me friendships that will last forever.
This blog post was written by Special Session counselor Detyrick King.
I love everything about Camp McDowell - the people, the environment, and so much more. I realize that it isn't the place that makes Camp McDowell so special; it is the people that make it special. So many great people that I love throughout the diocese of Alabama spend time at this place! It seems like God is always at Camp McDowell, and that's why Camp McDowell is so special because God dwells in that place. My first time coming to camp, I thought that I was going to impact so many lives but so many people impacted mine instead. Camp McDowell, including Special Session, will always be your special place for every program they have. It will continually be a special place!
Many students volunteer for different things just to fulfill service hours or community service requirements. While Special Session can provide service hours, it really does so much more than anyone would ever expect. Going to Special Session the first time, I can honestly say that I was a mix of excited and terrified. It was a new place with a lot of responsibilities, including being charged with the care of other human beings, which was a first for me. However, not only did the experience shatter all my expectations and fears, but it also gave me new insight into the ups and downs of the lives of each of the truly special people that I got to meet. As someone who has always had a service-oriented personality, I enjoy volunteering for Special Session more than I can put into words. It is a place where each person is treated as a child of God, no matter who they are or where they come from. One of the ways Special Session has helped me grow in relation to volunteering is its renewal of my desire to get out and serve in a variety of places with different groups of people. It also has given me something truly meaningful that I can put on resumes, talk about in interviews, etc. Every time I talk about Special Session, it brings back many of the joyful memories from camp and can even completely change my mood for the better. I cannot wait to go to camp and be reunited with all the people I now call friends at Special Session!
This blog post was written by Jacob, a Special Session Counselor.
When it comes to Special Session, no one is a stranger to a good hearty hug. Young or old, camper or staff, everyone will get their fair share of hugs throughout the session. But the best part about getting to staff is you remember those extra meaningful hugs. My camper Elbert (pictured) and I shared one hug that changed my whole outlook on Special Session. After the talent show, I was feeling incredibly drained and over Special Session. But it was in that moment that Elbert came and gave me a huge, loving hug that changed my heart. That moment will stick with me forever and speaks to me about the power of Special Session.
This blog post was written by Levi, a Special Session counselor.
It was the evening that our friends, the campers, arrived at McDowell. Mostly everyone wanted to take a hayride around camp- myself included! I remember how refreshing the breeze felt as we rode along, telling jokes and singing songs. This fond memory made more memorable after hearing someone make a comment regarding the stars. Stars? Living in the city I’m only ever lucky enough to see maybe five stars at night, but that first night at camp I recall looking up only to find the clear blue shown with thousands (if not millions!) of brilliant lights. Moments like this where I was surprised by the beauty of nature around me happened all throughout my time at camp. These moments with nature make my camp experience all the more wonderful and lovely which just gives me another reason to return to camp for the next year!
This post was written by MaryPratt Byrd, a Special Session counselor.
Special Session is a place of growth in patience, understanding, and love. There are many ways I have grown from coming to camp. Special Session has pushed me out of my comfort zone and has allowed me to grow with love from all the people you encounter and live life with here. I have grown in patience with myself and with others whether it be in activities of daily living, how I communicate with others, or how I process what God is doing in all of our lives here at camp. Special Session encapsulates what it means to grow- in love, with this community, yourself, and with God.
This post was written by Michael Erwin, a Special Session counselor.
I went to church my entire life. I grew up praying every night and before every meal. I attended services at St. James Episcopal Church every Sunday morning and went to EYC every Sunday night. At 17 years old, I thought I had a strong relationship with God and was as spiritually enlightened as one person could possibly be. That summer I had the privilege of being a camp counselor at Special Session. Seeing that it was my first year, I had no earthly idea what I was getting into and in all honesty, I had never felt more fear in my entire life than I did the day before the people I now call my best friends arrived. I spent that week with some of the most wonderful human beings I have ever met, and it was not until the Talent Show on Thursday night, that my life was changed forever. I remember the moment so vividly because it was the moment I first saw the Kingdom of God. I was standing in the back of The Doug during the Talent Show and was trying to discern which people were campers, which were support staff, and which were counselors. I came to find out that I was physically unable to discern who was who, and then I had the realization that it does not matter. I was trying to put people in these boxes that society has constructed, and I was not seeing the world the way God intended. We are all children of God and there was no difference between any of us. In the years since that moment, I have only felt that close to God when I am back at camp among my closest friends. I go to camp each year not because the camp needs me. I go each year because my soul needs to be at camp.
This post was written by Nicole Luthcke, a Special Session counselor.
Friendships at Special Session are unlike any other connections that I have experienced. The staff and counselors are always excited to see their friends who they only see once a year, but these aren’t the connections that make Special Session unique- it’s the meaningful connections you make with the campers. Seeing these friend after months of being apart is a feeling like no other. No matter the type of reunion, it is given and received with the most love and excitement there ever has been. One camper who has recently touched my heart is Matthew Luke. Matthew Luke and I love to carb-load at lunch while we discuss the latest news and gossip of camp. When our days of fun comes to an end, we both can’t help but tear up, knowing we won’t reunite for another year. To pass the time we keep in contact through facetime and text messages. I can’t wait for next summer when I am finally reunited with the most wonderful people at wonderful, wonderful Camp McDowell.
Richelle Stringer has been coming to camp as a camper since 2012. Her favorite activities at camp are arts and crafts and cookie baking, and she likes to sing in the talent show and swim in the pool. Coming to Special Session is Richelle's favorite week of the year. Richelle is from Walker County, and her camp counselors this year were Nicole and Mackenzie.
Richelle uses a wheelchair to get around. Unfortunately the wheelchair she has right now is not working properly. It is difficult to push, and no longer fits her body. Richelle needs a wheelchair that is custom fit to her body to provide the support that she needs; this can costs thousands of dollars. Richelle is currently experiencing homelessness and is unable to purchase a new wheelchair.
We are currently running a campaign to raise $10,000 for our Camper Assistance Fund so that we can help campers like Richelle with needs like a new wheelchair.
Special Session campers are adults with disabilities. Our counselors are youth ages 16-24.