The leaders and teens of Summit Youth Ministry felt a call to serve. This call, coupled with a newly discovered passion for connecting with others, inspired the group to attend a summer session at Cornerstone Camp in 2017.
Jim and Heidi Edwards serve as part-time youth leaders at the First Church of God in Defiance, Ohio. Last summer, Jim and Heidi wanted to expand their teens’ view of the world through serving on a mission trip. They introduced their youth group to the idea of serving through a local mission trip with Victory Lane Camp.
“VLC seemed like a good place to start for several reasons. It was close to home, a shorter commitment and, shall we say, ‘all inclusive’,” Heidi shared. “But most importantly, the idea of supporting families by serving them lined up with the heart of our youth group.”
The Edwards brought six youth volunteers with them: Ethin Thacker, Dominque Johnson, Tyler Hespe, Savannah Webber, Madaline Dennie, and Brooklyn Bowen. Each teen was assigned to a different family and received training through Teens in Mission. Through Victory Lane Camp’s Teens in Mission (TIMs) program, students serve using their unique gifts and perspectives. Throughout the camp session, TIMs participate in skits, help families with daily activities, take part in daily training, and get to know their assigned Victory Families.
Spending time with their Victory Families was a highlight for the teens from Summit Youth Ministry. Brooklyn connected with her Victory Family and loved “running around with miss Ruby and learning about her family and her life,” she expressed. And Madeline enjoyed “meeting Emma and being able to bond with her” as well as “learning about all the different disabilities, and overall just spending time with Emma and her family and the rest of camp,” she shared.
Jim and Heidi also formed relationships with Victory Families, including Carmine and his mom, and Truman and his family. In addition to these connections, The Edwards found joy in “watching our youth jump right in, not even depending on us for much,” explained Heidi.
“We received feedback from the families and staff that our kids were helpful and assets to the camp experience,” she continued. "These families are so appreciative of the time spent with those serving so they can relax but also see their children with disabilities thrive in new environments and experiences.”
Ethin grew up helping with his little sister with special needs and wanted to be at camp to encourage others to help the best they can. He shared that his time at camp, “opened my eyes to see that not everyone can do the same things the same way.”
Brooklyn, who had discovered a passion for the special needs community before signing up for camp, found that her experience moved her into an even deeper level of passion for helping others. “It helped me realize that I can do this as a career,” she expressed.
Jim and Heidi have seen the growth of the teens throughout their time since camp. Heidi described, “We believe our students had a great time connecting with the families at camp. Their lives were eternally changed. We know there are some still connecting with their families even from afar. The church was excited to hear about their experience.”
Everyone went home with a new experience, furthered understanding of special needs, and a fresh perspective on helping others. Heidi encourages others to “take a chance and dive in.” Which is what they plan to do again this summer by returning to Cornerstone to serve with another team.