Tator is a good guy! Tate Plachecki is an electrical engineer at the Harley-Davidson Assembly Plant of Kansas City and a member of the Employee Rider’s Association (ERA). Three years ago, he initiated a partnership between the ERA and a group whose focus is to assist developmentally challenged adults. This group hosts their annual “Camp Courage,” a four-day summer camp for older teens (18+) and adults with developmental disabilities.
The ERA’s partnership with this event is directly the result of Tate presenting it to the group and to plant management, both of which welcomed their involvement. In the three years since the ERA has participated in Camp Courage, their arrival has become one of the most anticipated events of the week and the number of riders who join in continues to increase annually.
Having had prior opportunities to travel with the Employee Rider’s Association and participate in events they either sponsored or supported, I already knew this group took great pride in helping others. On this particular afternoon, the rewards of their connection with the campers were deeply emotional and very gratifying.
Sunday afternoon, June 25, under mostly cloudy skies, a collection of 25 of us gathered at the assembly plant, briefly discussed our route and riding rules, then headed out. Tator led our group on a weaving path through scenic paved back roads, with several small towns, varied multi-acre residences and farms to just northeast of Stewartsville, Missouri. Our destination was Camp Farwesta, the host site for Camp Courage.
Camp Farwesta is a gorgeous, maturely wooded campground created near the turn of the 20th century. This site provides level terrain, air conditioned and dining accommodations, a swimming pool and a stocked fishing pond that is always a favorite of those attending.
In the late 70s, volunteers from Catholic Charities & Community of Christ Churches in the Missouri and Kansas areas started Camp Courage. They recognized the need for those with developmental disabilities to spend time together and the summer camping environment was ideally suited for improving the dispositions of the attendees.
Now affiliated solely with the Community of Christ Church, the not-for-profit Camp Courage provides a safe, Christian environment for folks to come and be themselves. Each summer, Camp Courage hosts up to 40 campers who can attend the program. Campers must be mobile (no wheelchairs, walkers or canes), cooperative and in good health. This year, the oldest camper was 77.
Our group of 20 motorcycles arrived at the campgrounds in the late afternoon. As we wove our way through the grounds, the group of campers excitedly approached. With bright eyes, wide smiles and unbridled enthusiasm, they gathered around. As soon as we parked, the questions began. Some asked how fast the machines would run, or if they were hard to ride, or if we were there last year. But all demonstrated a clear appreciation that we took time to pay them a visit!
After some chatting and observations of the bikes, ERA President George Young and other ERA participants broke out the goodies. They had brought along official Harley-Davidson pins, scarfs and commemorative coins, as well as some colorful necklaces and ink pens on strings. The campers, with guidance from their helpers, gathered in line and each awaited their turn to receive their gift bags. Several asked for assistance to turn their scarfs into do-rags and we gladly obliged. The genuine appreciation they demonstrated was heart warming! One camper wanted to try on a helmet then posed for pictures, loving every minute of the attention he was getting.
Our group, the campers and their helpers were then invited into the dining hall for barbecue sandwiches, chips and drinks. The meal opened with a prayer delivered by one of the guests, and a thank-you message from Camp Courage chief organizer Janet Woodward.
Following the meal, our group said our good-byes and headed out with a warm feeling that we had helped make the camp a little more special for those less fortunate than us.
If you are interested in supporting Camp Courage, the following information is provided.
We host 40 volunteers to assist us in caring for the campers. We strive for a 1 to 2.5 ratio between counselors and campers. Volunteers are recruited, mostly by word of mouth, from others who have attended this camp and see the value of the experience for so many. Volunteers are interviewed and trained by the Camp Director. Background checks are run on any new volunteers and they need to come prepared to offer references that can be called and verified.
Volunteer Positions: Being a part of the volunteer staff at Camp Courage requires excellent physical and emotional health. It is a 24/7 commitment to our campers.
Counselors: The role of a counselor is to oversee a cabin and all those living in it. This will require leadership and mentoring skills.
Nurses: Licensed medical staff is on the grounds with our campers 24/7.
Clean-up Crew: A group of youth works in the kitchen as servers and is responsible for table set-ups, cleaning, dishwashing and cleaning the bathrooms. These volunteers report directly to the Camp Director and are on-call 24/7 to be helpers where ever they are needed.
Camp Courage is funded by individual and group donations. Tax-deductible contributions can be made through any US Bank in St. Joseph Missouri. For 2006, campers paid $100 to attend the 4-day event. We have a long-term goal to be able to secure enough annual funding to allow all of our campers to attend camp, free of charge. Currently, we have not be able to offer that to any of our campers. However, for 2006, we were able to reduce their fees by $25 each instead of raising them to cover the increased costs of insurance and campground fees. The annual budget for Camp Courage is $9,000.
Activities for the campers include: Beads & Crafts, Bingo, Board Games, Bocce Ball, Broom Ball, Dance Lessons, Fishing, Hayrides, Horse-shoes, Ping Pong/Table Tennis, Puzzles, Shuffleboard, Swimming, Team Building, Dance Parties, Live Music, Movies and more!
Thanks, so much, for helping us get the word out about Camp Courage. I know we are probably biased, but we truly feel it is a worthy and needed opportunity for all those we serve!
For more information, please contact Janet Woodward at 816-809-6588.