Retreat at Caraway filled with fun
August 3 2001 by Mary Moorefield , BR Correspondent

Retreat at Caraway filled with fun | Friday, Aug. 3, 2001

Friday, Aug. 3, 2001

Retreat at Caraway filled with fun

By Mary Moorefield BR Correspondent CARAWAY - A few minutes at one of the Happiness Retreats leaves little doubt how organizers came up with the name. The three-day events for people with developmental disabilities are filled with singing, clapping, games, crafts, parties and all-around fun. Little wonder why the retreats are the largest hosted by Caraway Conference Center near Asheboro each year.

The retreats are sponsored by the Baptist State Convention's (BSC) Special Ministries Department. This year three, three-day retreats were held July 28 to Aug. 3.

The retreats have been taking place since the mid 1970s. Originally, the retreats were held at the N.C. Baptist Assembly at Caswell, then moved to the campsites at Caraway and finally into the conference center.

The retreats were started so people with disabilities could have a special place to come to be themselves and learn about God.

"They need to know the Lord like everyone else," said Donnie Wiltshire, special ministries consultant for the BSC's General Board.

The Happiness Retreats are a time when those with disabilities can come together and learn about God, have fun with others and make lots of new friends. Many church groups come year after year.

First Baptist Church in Greensboro has been coming to the Happiness Retreats since the early 1980s.

"The group really looks forward to this from year to year," said Sally Skidmore, a chaperone. "They talk about it all year long."

Jerry Woolery, associate pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Charlotte, said his group has been coming for 12-15 years.

"This gives them the chance to feel normal and go on a trip like other groups in the church do," he said.

The campers participate in many activities that go on at most summer camps. In the morning, they attend classes patterned after typical Vacation Bible School (VBS) classes. In fact, the theme for the retreats is the same as the VBS theme each year. This year the theme was "Truth Trackers - The Secret of the Stone Tablets."

The teachers decorated their rooms in safari and desert styles to go along with the theme.

In the afternoon, the campers spend time doing arts and crafts, swimming, using puppets and participating in other fun activities. The evening brings a time of fun, high-energy worship.

"It's unlike anything you've ever seen before," Wiltshire said.

The service opens with group singing, followed by a performance by the Happiness Retreat Choir, which is made up of campers. On the night of July 31, several members of the camp helped to present a puppet show of the "Daniel in the Lion's Den" story.

Other events that occur during the week include a talent show and a theme party.

"The talent show is a chance for the campers to perform a talent without fear of embarrassment, and they are encouraged by others," Wiltshire said.

The party is a time for games and activities that are based on the retreat theme. The campers participate in games such as mummy-wrap races and camel races.

All of the special needs campers have their favorite aspects of the retreat.

"The prayers are my favorite part," said Bobby Gilreath of Greensboro's First Baptist. "I've been praying for a long time."

Music is a big part of the retreat as well.

"The music and the parties are the best part," said Gerry McDaniel of Highland Baptist Church in Raleigh.

All of the campers enjoy the retreat year after year because of the friends they make.

"You can't help but go home happy, but you miss the people that you met," said Dee Griffin of Cornerstone Baptist. "I'm glad I get to come back every year."

In addition to the classes and activities for the special needs campers, there are also classes and seminars for parents, chaperones and counselors. They learn helpful information and new techniques of care for their special needs members.

"They leave invigorated and have a new enthusiasm just like the campers," said Marci Campbell, a special needs consultant with LifeWay Christian Resources. "This is all a reminder for the leaders as well, that this is what it's all about."

The Caraway staff appreciates what the special needs retreat means to Caraway.

"This group looks more like the kingdom of God than anyone," said Charlie Wilson of Caraway's guest services. "I'm reminded of Jesus' words because everyone was invited. They are not shy at expressing love for others."

Carlton and Geraldine McDaniel of Raleigh's Highland Baptist made the Happiness Retreat a family affair. Their daughter is one of the campers and the other members of their family came along to help.

They would like to see special needs programs grow in other churches like their own. "In our church, we brought the need," Carlton McDaniel said. "From that, it progressed from a broad community need to a more specific family need."

As much as the camp means to the campers, it also has special meaning for third-year director Judy Autry.

"I get so much out of each retreat - lots of hugs, love and the fact that they have such an open spirit," she said. "They teach me how to be who I really am, and it rejuvenates your own spirit to be here."

The 496 campers and staff who attended the Happiness Retreats this year likely left with energy and a feeling that they were part of something special.

"I'm already looking forward to next year," Griffin said.

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8/3/2001 12:00:00 AM by Mary Moorefield , BR Correspondent | with 0 comments
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