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‘Possibilities’ gives inside look at campers and their family

By Staff | Jul 5, 2017

Tiffany Chantake. PHOTO PROVIDED

A small group gathered at Sanibel Community Church last week to enjoy lunch together while watching a video created by Filmmaker Rusty Farst, which shared the experience both the camper, and parent had following a Trailways Camp.

“The story was with the parents,” Farst said before the video was aired. “The trust they put in Trailways Camp made the difference in the parent’s experience. It is a seed in the growth that could happen for the camper to be on their own.”

The Trailways Camp began by Sanibel residents Jerry and Sharon Miller due to their personal experience of caring for their two sons who have a rare disease. The camp originally began in Texas in 2005 after their son, Robert, passed away. The couple wanted to find a way to honor their son, while making a contribution in a world where they saw individuals with disabilities and their families not having a way to stay connected and share joys and sorrows.

The Millers found a site on the Caloosahatchee River at Riverside Camp and Retreat Center in Labelle. From there they found a provider, Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida Inc. that was willing to buy their mission and hire staff. The final step was creating a partnership with the SW Florida Community Foundation to take care of finances.

The first camp at Riverside was held in October 2012. Jesi Cason became the Trailways Camp coordinator through Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida.

Jeremy Flickinger. PHOTO PROVIDED

“I get to meet some of the coolest people on the planet,” she said smiling.

Her full-time job as the coordinator includes finding ways to encourage the campers through promoting independence and finding comfort when out of their comfort zone. The one challenge of being the coordinator, which she enjoys, is coming up with creative ideas that are assessable for everyone.

The last day of camp, is by far Cason’s favorite time. She said the campers are crying and hugging each other after only meeting a few days prior.

“It’s so rewarding,” she said.

Farst, and Cason visited six campers’ homes to hear their stories while video taping their responses for the video “Possibilities.”

Michael Nelson. PHOTO PROVIDED

He said he really enjoyed editing the interviews because it became their story, which showed their highest moments of camp, their best experiences and the vulnerability of what they overcame to participate in the camp.

One by one, Allison Reiter, Anya Denmark, Michael Nelson, Tiffany Chantaka and Anthony Acovski filled the screen with their mother or father while sharing a little of their story and what the camp has meant to them.

Reiter has attended Trailways Camp twice as a camper and three times as a volunteer. She admitted she was scared the first time she went to camp. That emotion quickly changed to not wanting to leave once camp concluded a few days later. Reiter recalled crying on the way home.

The camp has helped her gain independence while at home.

One of her favorite experiences while at Trailways Camp was horseback riding. That initial ride led Reiter to climbing into the saddle again at a friend’s birthday party.

Allison Reiter. PHOTO PROVIDED

As a volunteer, she was a team leader for a specific colored area, which afforded her the ability to do such tasks as help other campers who might be scared.

The video ignited cheers from those in attendance, as well as a great deal of silent moments as everyone took in what kind of impact the Trailways Camp has had on their peers.

For parent Anna Lunsford, worry overcame her when her daughter Chantaka wanted to attend Trailways Camp. Lunsford said her daughter had never felt secure and safe while away for any length of time, which typically resulted in a phone call a couple hours later to be picked up.

That feeling changed once Chantaka attended Trailways Camp. When that phone call never came, Lunsford knew her daughter felt safe and secure in the new environment.

“Camp is fun with friends,” Chantaka said, adding that she enjoys participating in the talent show, fishing and doing crafts.

Anthony Acovski. PHOTO PROVIDED

Trailways Camp, Lunsford said is a place that offers many opportunities in an environment where they feel like they are the most important people.

“She loves it,” Lunsford said.

Kimby Brett, a member of the advisory board, and parent of a camper, was also in attendance last Wednesday.

“It offers something we’ve never had,” she said of Trailways Camp.

Brett stumbled upon the camp a year and a half ago when her son, Grant Hampton, attended his initial camp. She said it’s been wonderful because it is often times very hard for her son to be connected with a social scene.

“He has the time of his life,” Brett said smiling. “These people (the Millers) are amazing to create this setting to make them feel like they are like everyone else. They are giving souls . . . they are what the world needs more of.”

Independence, adaptation, an opportunity to create bonds, and the sense of belonging are some of what Brett has seen in her son since attending the camp twice.

“I want it to go on and succeed,” Brett said of why she decided to become a member of the advisory board. “We need it to grow to enhance the lives of this population.”

“Possibilities” was the second film Farst has done about Trailways Camp. The first one explored the history of the camp and the family who began it all. The third one, which has already begun, focuses on the volunteers who help make the camp possible. His hope is to take pieces of each of the three videos and turn it into a 30-minute film that can be entered into film festivals to touch even more lives.

“I enjoyed how open the parents were to speaking to me,” Farst said of “Possibilities. “They showed pride and expressed love. I got to see how something that started off as a hardship became unconditional love.”

For more information about Trailways Camp, visit www.trailwayscamps.org.