A number of years ago my daughter decided she wanted to become a photographer. She was eight or nine at the time, so we didn’t really nail this down as her one and only career path. We did, however, get her a cheap digital camera. She snapped pictures left and right. I’d upload them to find what you’d expect. Blurry photos of half her own face, sixty-two photos of our dog on the same day, and random off-centered pictures of dolls, flowers, and our ugly brown couch. But thrown in the middle of all those deletables, there were quite a few that were actually pretty good. You know, for a nine year old. Since this interest in photography proved more than a passing whim, we got her a better digital camera when she turned ten. We also signed her up for a two-day photography camp at our area zoo. She learned a few things about composition and centering. She kept taking pictures, and she got getter. The really cool thing was how much she loved it. It was fun for her.
My daughter is now twelve. We talk a lot at our house about the gifts God has given each of us, and we look for ways to share those gifts with others. Some good friends of ours recently put their God-given gifts to use in the formation of a new foundation, Kids & Dreams Foundation. The foundation seeks to offer support for families dealing with Autism and bullying, among other things facing many of today’s families. This summer they presented Nebraska with an awesome opportunity: a summer camp geared especially for children on the Autism Spectrum, Downs Syndrome, and other similar diagnoses called Operation Shine. This was a real summer camp experience filled with swimming and kayaking, theme nights and costumes, camp songs and s’mores. Knowing my daughter’s love of photography, our friends invited her to be an Operation Shine Camp Photographer. Her photographs would be collected and printed to fill individual photo albums as gifts for each camper to take home. As a family we discussed what this would look like and how this was a really neat opportunity for my daughter to use her gifts to serve others. Details were sorted out, and it was determined that I would accompany my daughter at camp, taking pictures myself, as well.
It was an incredible privilege to capture memories during Operation Shine Camp with my daughter. We were there to document and record moments, special moments, in the lives of some really great kids. We found ourselves cheering as we watched these children step out of comfort zones to do wild and fun activities. We celebrated when these kids faced fears, pushed through sensitivities, and laughed during new experiences. We were more than once moved to tears as we witnessed children break through their fixations, just for a moment, to engage in a fresh and exhilarating activity. We also observed extreme compassion as we snapped moments of connection between the children and their assigned volunteers. These men and women were the most beautiful representation of kindness and bigheartedness and gentle boundaries. They were cheerleaders, mediators, and friends for their campers.
It was humbling for my daughter and me to behold all of these captivating moments. We did all of this from behind a camera. We were not there to participate as campers. It was not our responsibility to interact. We didn’t bear the weight of running an entire special needs camp, as did the foundation board members. We didn’t have the lovely burden of caring for children twenty-four hours a day, like the incredible volunteer staff. We were there to observe and capture moments. We were in the background snapping memories as gifts for parents. We were there to work, to serve, to give. As we left camp on our final night, we were blessed to discover that in the pouring out of ourselves for others, we were truly full.
This year was the very first Operation Shine Camp. It was such a success there are already plans to hold it again next year. They will be looking for more campers and more compassionate volunteers. If you have children who would benefit from this incredible camp or you are that special type of person who can live sacrificially for a weekend, I encourage you to get in contact with Kids & Dreams Foundation. You can find more information about Kids & Dreams Foundation and Operation Shine Camp on their Facebook page or on their website www.kidsanddreams.org.