“Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.” (Luke 18:16)
Laughter, joy, high fives and plenty of physical activity filled the football field where FCA partnered in its first All Ability Sports Camp July 9th and 10th in Akron, Ohio.
Organized by FCA Akron Area Director Tristan Griffin and his wife Melanie, the camp’s purpose was to give young athletes with disabilities the same camp experience that’s has been part of the ministry since 1956 that serves and loves with the heart of Jesus. Seventy-one campers between the ages of 2-25 experienced the love of God through the 180 volunteers and 31 sponsors. There was no cost for families to participate, enabling any family with a child with a disability to participate as an athlete.
The seed for an All Ability camp was planted March 2018, when Griffin’s daughter Scout was born with a disability. Griffin and Melanie learned what it looked like to serve her and step into the disability community. As a staff person for FCA, this moved into his ministry, and Griffin began dreaming about a camp that could bless and care for other children like Scout.
Griffin researched organizations that worked with people with disabilities and partnered with numerous organizations such as the Special Olympics, Youth Challenge and Akron’s local children’s hospital to host the camp.
The Griffins and their team made strategic adjustments that applied to specifically to All Ability Camp. Each camper had their own buddy who participated in the activities, such as football drills, baseball and soccer, ate meals together and encouraged and had fun with them and occupational and physical therapists, nurses and speech therapists on hand. Volunteer training included communication tips, easing transition anxiety, and specific diagnoses they might encounter like Down Syndrome, Autism and traumatic brain injuries. There was also a mobile sensory bus on the grounds for campers to calm down in if they became overstimulated in the environment.
From registration to the closing ceremony, the message of camp was clear: pursuing God’s love and pursuing loving others. And that’s exactly what campers, parents, volunteers and staff alike experienced.
“What we’re seeing is a team coming together for the glory of God to bless people,” said Northern Ohio Director Robert Kilo. "I’ve had parents saying, ‘My goodness, my heart is warmed by seeing 180 volunteers come out!’ These are parents of children with special needs who are not used to seeing this, so if anything, they’re seeing an amazing display of God’s love and I’m so glad we could be a part of it.”
“This has been the most fun camp I’ve been a part of,” added Cuyahoga County Area Director Nobles Darby IV.
“If you think about God, He created all people in His image," he continued, "and He did that for us to bring Him glory. These past two days we really wanted to pursue and show the love of Christ because in honoring all His creation, we honor God.”
One camper named Hope stood up in her Huddle and spoke encouragement over her fellow athletes: “I go to church every Sunday and Wednesday night and I pray every day for all of you. Today before you leave here, I want you to pray for you and your families, because that’s what Jesus wants.”
Griffin hopes to expand this camp throughout FCA’s ministry help others figure out what it looks like for their local areas.
“Because we have made the commitment to serve EVERY coach and athlete, I believe God is sending us opportunities to do so,” he said. “God is being faithful in doing His part to help us fulfill that commitment; now, it's our turn to fulfill the mission of leading every coach and athlete into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His church.”
There’s no better time to begin, as FCA staff recognize a need and desire to serve people with disabilities. “In a very short amount of time doing work in this realm, it has become abundantly clear that God has a desire for people with disabilities to be provided with the opportunity to engage in the same or similar activities as their typical peers,” said Griffin. “FCA is perfectly positioned to fill this need in the Christian sports realm.”
Praise God for the work He is doing to share His love with every coach and athlete! To learn more about All Ability sports, email Silas Mullis at firstname.lastname@example.org or Steve Jones at email@example.com.
If you feel led, please consider supporting Tristan Griffin and his area ministry to help further impact the ministry of All Ability sports.