Looking back at Charis Hills Camp

August 21st, 2017 by Charis Hills Admin

by Rand Southard

After eleven summers here at Charis Hills Camp, Colleen and I have seen some amazing things happen between children with the autism diagnosis. When we began this camp, we were hopeful that the children who attend would find a place where they could be accepted as they are. Most of the children with autism who attend have a difficult time in social situations and in finding others who will not exclude them for their, (sometimes peculiar) interests or behaviors. When children are at school or church and don’t have the interests that many of their counterparts have, they feel that they are not wanted. Thus, many have isolated themselves further by drawing into the computer world where they are not judged and not criticized but rather are rewarded for the ability to concentrate and function in a world where social customs are not needed.

Colleen and I were determined to develop a program where these children, regardless of their uniqueness, would be accepted. We started by developing a training program for the counselors. The counselors needed to find a strong place in their “self” where they can stand and not be knocked down. We can all find that in our faith in Jesus Christ, so the first item on the list was to find that group of counselors who wanted to serve Christ by serving these children. Building that group into a family unit who would work tirelessly to give every opportunity to these children became goal one.

Goal two, was to give them the knowledge base to help promote self-confidence in this group of campers. We train our counselors to promote the positive and ignore the negative behaviors; they are about to hurt them self or another! Campers receive a lanyard upon arrival and the system calls for giving a bead to put on the lanyard whenever a behavior occurs that needs positive enforcement. Counselors tell the camper what behavior they want, and when the behavior is seen, it is rewarded with positive praise and a bead is given to remind the camper of what just happened. Campers end the week with a string of beads that many take home and hang up to cherish for long periods of time. The bead string tells them, “I am good” and “I have done well!”

I could not count the times when a camper says “I can’t live without my phone or ipad!”
Many do not believe they are capable of making friends. Because friendships are made with people of similar interests, it’s not long until the cabin conversations turn to those things they almost all have in common. I remember a short while ago when a new camper came running to his mother when he saw her at the awards program. He ran to her and said excitedly, “Mom, Mom, you won’t believe it, not only do they not make me stop talking about Star Wars… they know more than I do!” He was speaking of the other campers! He had found a friend with similar interests.

As campers return year after year, I see those friendships solidify. Campers arrange to come when their friends are here! They sit quietly at the campfire chapel each evening and learn about our Savior and I see them, two at a time, then four, then ten at a time, gather together, put arms around each other and pray. I see these socially awkward young people after weeks of camp accepting others who do things that initially might “set them off”. I see campers rewarding other campers, cheering for them, doing the chants only a Charis Hills Camper will know! I see counselors, worn from the day, sitting patiently with a camper on the porch talking quietly and trying to answer the hard questions of our faith. I see the joy in both when the light comes on, and an occasional counselor tear when it doesn’t.

These campers begin to be challenged to learn new things, to move away from the solitary life behind a computer and to look forward to a time fishing, kayaking, making a ceramic cross, studying the stars, or learning about animal care. They learn to admire the majesty of the horse, and feel the power of his feet as he trods beneath them. They learn the commands of “walk on” and are taught that this is what God does with us! Our job is to “walk on” under control and in trust of the One who put us here.

There is nothing “magic” about Charis Hills Camp. Our program is built on Jesus Christ and his message to all of us: That we all have a purpose and a plan and that none of us are ill equipped to fulfill that purpose, no matter our difficulties in life. We teach that God uses our trials to build us stronger, just like weight lifters have to tear down muscle in order to build it up.

In the quiet of the evening, as I watch the sun set from my porch and hear the laughter drifting over the lake from a bunch of sweaty kids and counselors playing some silly game, I feel like God has created a type of magic here! The magic comes from His design on this earth and on mankind, and that plan is to treat each other with fairness and dignity. When these young counselors realize that they have it within them to change a small part of the world, to really change it, for good and when these campers realize that they have purpose, that they have ability, then God has worked His own magic.

Calling Charis Hills Counselors

January 23rd, 2013 by Charis Hills Admin

by Rand Southard

It’s that time of year again to look for some fine young people who want to be summer camp counselors, to begin the process of putting a team together of people that will absolutely change the lives of a few campers. I can’t help but think about the wonderful impact that these young folks will have on the campers, but maybe even more so, the impact that the camp family will have on them.

When I say camp family I mean it. We all become a family, for a while, and some for a lifetime. I know those people who were there with me during the summers I was a counselor had a tremendous influence on me. Not only did working with the campers change my life, but the counselors I worked with shaped me.

I was not confident my first summer. I had always had the support of my family and small group of friends, but, I had not been tested on my own. I remember wondering if any one would like me? Would any one befriend me? Could I work with the kids? Would I have the endurance? Would I have the patience?

I look back now and see how I was rescued from those feelings of my own by those I was surrounded by. As I write, names from the past flood my memory. Counselors and campers alike who helped me in various ways to learn that I had some skill of my own, that people outside my home town would like and love me, that I could earn the respect of the campers.

I still see those faces, know those names, forty years later. Most of those I worked with became professionals who work with children in some capacity, some in other fields, some I remain in contact with, some fit in the ‘closest friends’ category.

After being around “camp life” for 40 years I’ve seen what camp does for so may counselors like me. They come to camp a little nervous, excited and more often than not, not knowing anyone – much like the campers. They leave confident, fulfilled and with a group of friends like they may never find in one place again!

I believe fully that the experience gained being a camp counselor is as valuable as four years of college. Almost all camps offer valuable experiences. This place called Charis Hills is special… but I’ll save that for another time. I will say that if you are considering a camp counselor position, be ready to be exhausted, worn completely out, and re-filled with the best emotions, experiences, and friends you may ever encounter.

The Blessings of Camp

January 21st, 2013 by Charis Hills Admin

By Colleen Southard

Being the youngest of four, I got to watch my siblings do lots of things before it was my turn. When my older brother went to Glen Rose Church Camp, I couldn’t hardly stand it. I tried to talk my parents into letting me go earlier than they planned. It didn’t work. I wasn’t really sure what I was missing out on, but I knew it was big.

When I was ten, I was invited to go with my cousin to her church camp. I had no idea it would lead to a life-changing event and life-long passion. I loved camp immediately. Swimming every day was great. I enjoyed the fun activities, surviving the first night of homesickness, and feeling like a confident big kid the next day.

Every evening, the whole camp gathered for singing and a worship service. The first couple of nights I did a lot of squirming on my bench. God was really convicting me of my sins. As I said earlier, I learned lots from my older brother; including how to stay out of trouble or at least, not to not get caught. On the last night of camp, when I heard the gospel message, it was like a light went on and I understood that not only was I a sinner, but that God had made a way for me through Christ. I accepted Christ that night. I was so excited to get home and tell my parents. Even though I was raised in a church, God chose to speak to me at camp. He chose for me to begin a relationship with Christ at an early age. He used camp to do it. I was blessed to spend many weeks at camp as time went on.

Seeing Christ alive in my counselors in my youth and seeing the counselors live out their faith at Charis Hills is what it’s all about. Whether it’s turning to the Word to find out what the Bible says about being anxious or homesick or stopping to pray with someone about a situation demonstrates their faith in action. We are passionate about teaching our campers about having a relationship with Christ. We want to show others that Jesus isn’t someone we only hear about on Sundays in a sanctuary, but He is with us minute by minute and is interested in every detail of our lives. Camp was such a gift to me. Oh, Praise Him from whom all blessings flow.

October Family Camp

November 5th, 2012 by Charis Hills Admin

There are a lot of neat things about Family Camp at Charis Hills. Parents come and spend special time with their children in the North Texas Hill Country. Kids meet other kids with similar backgrounds (either because they have special needs or because they, too, have a sibling with special needs). Families come together to pray and worship in nature and make life-long friends along the way. And parents come to learn and support each other through their journeys of raising special needs children.

This weekend, Charis Hills had the honor of having Bobbi Sheahan, former attorney, current author, and stay-at-home-mom, speak to parents about what she’s learned about adapting to life with a special needs child. Her latest book, co-written with psychologist Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D., is called “What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child with Autism: A Mom and a Psychologist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years.”

Bobbi’s talk covered many topics of interest to parents including the importance of routines, dealing with outsiders and skeptics and their judgments of your parenting, and seeking resources for support. Bobbi cites Dr. Temple Grandin for many of her recommendations for supports, including: having a supportive family, structure and routines, gathering information, and possibly obtaining medication, and accountability for your child. She also stressed that the special interests of a child on the spectrum may not necessarily be a bad thing and may lead to work later in life.

The sessions also stressed the importance for parents to take care of themselves through the process – and remembering that parents and other siblings have needs, too. One of the main recommendations that she suggested was about reaching out online through books, blogs, and websites. She stressed that Twitter is a great resource. She also suggested the importance of laughter through it all.

To close the sessions this weekend, Bobbi organized a round-table discussion for parents to talk about the specific challenges that they face with dealing with issues of bullying, getting their children to open-up, and in-turn, dealing with school systems. Many great suggestions were shared including the recommendation to learn to be a parent advocate through the special education process.

This weekend’s session with Bobbi Sheahan were informative and entertaining. For more information about the topics discussed, check out Bobbi’s book.

Go to: http://store.fhautism.com/p-864-what-i-wish-id-known-about-raising-a-child-with-autism-the-first-5-years.aspx

Use the coupon code: BOBBI for 15% off and free shipping

Autism Conference, Keller Texas

February 9th, 2012 by Charis Hills Admin

3rd Annual 2012 “Teaching Does Make A Difference Autism Conference” Feb. 27, 28 & 29. Check it out.

Conference Opportunity!

September 6th, 2011 by Charis Hills Admin

Future Horizons Inc. is presenting an Autism/Asperger’s Conference in Dallas Oct. 6 & 7. Dr. Temple Grandin, Dr. Tony Attwood and Dr. Jed Baker will be the featured speakers.
Details: www.FHautism.com

Preparing Your Child for Summer Camp

May 13th, 2011 by Charis Hills Admin

Ahhhhh, summer camp! Fireflies, fishing, friends and fun are just around the corner for your favorite camper. There are several things that you can do to help prepare them for camp.

Talk to your child about camp. You will only know about your camper’s concerns if you talk about them. Talk about your experiences if you attended camp.

Talk about homesickness. For many children, sleep away camp is their first away from home experience other than staying with family members. Talk about how you handled it. Explain that homesickness is a normal experience and that the activities and making new friends will distract them from feeling sad or nervous. Let them know that their counselors will always be there for them to talk to. Tell your camper that they will be receiving mail from you and that you will be logging in to see pictures of the fun they are having. Have your child choose something from home like a picture or stuffed animal to take with them to camp. Show your camper the opening and closing dates of camp and mark them on the calendar. If there are any recent stressful events in your family, discuss them so they are not worried while they are away from camp.

If you child has any special needs such as reminders for help in specific areas, dietary needs, medical needs…etc. assure your child that you have spoken with the camp and those needs will be taken care. Remind them that they can always ask their counselor for help as well.

Pre-write some letters to leave in the camper Mail Box at Check-in. This will assure that he/she gets mail the first days at camp. Plan and encourage your camper to write home by sending paper, envelopes & stamps.

Get your camper involved! Involve your camper in selecting their activity preferences. Discuss the options and have your camper look at the list of activities and videos on our website to guide them in their selection.

Involve your child in any shopping that needs to be done and packing to get ready for camp. Let him make some choices.

Involve him in putting batteries in the flashlight, choosing a book he might like to read during rest time and help label clothing and belongings.

Talk about the things that they will learn and friends that they’ll make.

Always be positive, assure them that they are mature enough to handle being away from home and encourage them about the fun that they will experience!

Pray for your child. God has great plans for your camper, but He wants to hear from your heart!


You might also like: 5 Ways Parents Can Help Prevent Summer Camp Homesickness

Summer Camp Rainy Day Activities

March 3rd, 2011 by Charis Hills Admin

Often the weather just does not cooperate. We here at Charis Hills like to have a good number of rainy day activities on hand. We are always looking for ways to keep the kids entertained and teach them skills or help them grow emotionally. Typically kids will gravitate towards the television or video games when they are forced to stay inside (unfortunately they do it on sunny days too). Here are some useful resources for “unplugged” activities that you can do with your kids when stuck indoors.

Rainy Day Activities

Online Resources

PBS Kids: Zoom

This is a great place to start for hands on learning activities that you can do with your kids. We have used many of them as a springboard for other activities. Most of the supplies needed you will find in your kitchen pantry.

More Info

Disney Rainy Day Activites

Disney: Family Fun

Lots and lots of activities to choose from. This is a great resource for outdoor activities and games too. Many are user rated too. Most of the indoor activities and crafts are best suited for children under 12.

More Info

If you know of any other good resources or activities please leave a reply below.  Thanks!

2nd Annual Montague and Wise County Spring Break Day Camp

February 23rd, 2011 by Charis Hills Admin

Charis Hills Summer Camp, located just 20 minutes from Decatur, TX, will be hosting its second annual spring break day camp for local children March 14-18.  Hurry to register while there is still room. Children will participate in Archery, Arts and Crafts, Fishing, Bible Study, and more!

For more information visit our web site or call 888-681-2173.

Ways to Help You and Your Child Transition Back to School

August 26th, 2010 by Charis Hills Admin

Camp is over. (Sigh) We were blessed by a great summer of fun with some wonderful campers!  Now, it is time for them to hit the books!  Whether they are off to public, private or home schooled, here are some tips to help your child get back in the saddle, or rather,  their desk again.

Remember, it is normal for all children to experience back to school anxiety, but especially those with special needs.  Remind your child that he is not the only student who is uneasy about going back to school.  Practicing some of these ideas can have great pay offs in reducing your families stress in the coming days.

~ Be ready as a family. Try to do your back-to-school shopping ahead of time.
~ Talk with your child about things at school and ways they can help.  Ex: Involve them in making healthy lunches.  Encourage them to be responsible for bringing home teacher communication, doing their homework.
~ Get into a routine of getting up and going to bed at the proper time for school.  Everyone benefits from a good night’s rest and a regular routine.
~ Whenever possible, you and your child should meet their teacher before school begins.
~ If your child is attending a new school, take a tour of the school and find out where their classroom is.
~ Get your child’s daily schedule of classes and the school calendar.  Routines, schedules…etc. are a great comfort to most children and teaches them about planning ahead.
~ Find out and follow the school’s drop off and pick up instructions.  Make a plan with your child so that he knows when and where to meet you.
~ Talk to your child about any potential anxiety producers.  Even children who are home schooled may be concerned about a specific academic subject or educational goal for the year.  Just talking about their concerns will often help head off the worry bug.

Encourage, encourage, encourage.  This will go a long way in helping your child to reach their potential this school year.  Point out the positive aspects of starting school like seeing old friends and making new ones as well as the fun of learning new things.  And of course, pray for your child, their classmates and their teachers.

Remember: God knows the plans he has for your child!

Jeremiah 29:11