When I spoke to my father earlier today, he was in a break from the long task of taking down Christmas decorations. I, living by myself in a slovenly apartment with few house guests, didn’t have to work quite as hard. I had a three-foot-tall fiber optic tree which I unplugged a little while ago and took back into the storage room. It took me all of 30 seconds.
I had one other piece of holiday décor, which I didn’t have to unplug because it never really got plugged in. It was a jar, painted as a snowman, that I made last summer while assisting Jean Nulle in her arts and crafts workshop at Summer Plus. (Jean gave her helpers the chance to make the same crafts the teens were making, which is always fun.) It had a very short power cord, and there was simply no good place for me to plug it up. But as I was unplugging the tree, I decided to plug the snowman into the extension cord I’d been using for the tree and leave it up, at least for a little while, as a wintertime decoration.
Yes, I painted this myself. It’s a mason jar. It’s hard to see the texture in this photo – it was hard to get a good photo of it with my smartphone – but it has a frost-like appearance created by blotting the white paint on with the end of the brush. (A spray-on varnish had been applied first, as a primer, to help the paint adhere to the glass.) Then, the face was painted on top of the white paint. A short string of Christmas lights provides the interior light, and the felt hat, with ribbon trim, hides the cord, which dangles from the back like a ponytail.
By the way, one of the ornaments on my tree was also a Summer Plus souvenir – a little unglazed ceramic snowman which each participant painted.
OK, folks, here we go – the dates for Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry’s week-long camps next summer are now posted on the ministry’s website:
AIM Week 1: June 9 – 15, 2013, Major Home Repair -or- Kaleidoscope
AIM Week 2: June 23 – 29, 2013, Major Home Repair -or- Summer Plus
AIM Week 3: July 7 – 13, 2013, Major Home Repair -or- Quest
What this means is that if you come, alone or as part of a group, to week 1, each person can individually choose (prior to camp) whether to participate in major home repair or in Kaleidoscope. If you come week 2, each person can choose between MHR and Summer Plus. Week 3, each person can choose between major home repair or Quest.
The descriptions below are my own, although I think they’re accurate:
Major Home Repair: Teams of about six people are formed on Sunday night of camp. Each team works all week at the same site, helping to improve the home of a needy Cumberland Mountain family. The guided but volunteer-driven team selection process is intended to give each team a balance of men and women, various ages and skill levels. Prior experience is not necessary; teams include everyone from complete newbies to professional contractors.
Kaleidoscope: An arts program for elementary-age special-needs children. Volunteers can either sign up to lead a workshop (music, drawing, arts and crafts, etc.) or just to assist the kids and workshop leaders. “Special needs” is broadly-interpreted and might include everything from severe disabilities to ADD/ADHD or just a really crummy family situation. Volunteers pick the kids up from homes each morning, bring them to camp, and take them home each afternoon. On Friday, the workshops demonstrate what they’ve learned at a celebration attended by the kids’ family members.
Summer Plus: Enrichment workshops for young teenagers from Grundy County – mostly 12-15. Past workshops have included cooking, juggling, creative writing, tennis, arts and crafts, women’s self-defense, photography, drama, creating a camp newsletter, and so on. Potential leaders are welcome to suggest their own ideas. Each workshop is two hours a day for four days, so in many cases it’s more of an introduction than a complete class, meaning you may be more qualified to lead a workshop than you realize. Teens attend one workshop in the morning and a different one in the afternoon. Most volunteers who do want to lead a workshop do so during one session and assist with someone else’s workshop during the other session, but gluttons for punishment like my friend Robert Matthews lead two different workshops (Robert teaches both juggling and photography). It’s even possible to have two separate sessions of the same workshop if the volunteer leader is willing and the staff feels there’s enough interest among the teens to justify it. And, as with Kaleidoscope, you can sign up just to be a helper if there’s nothing you feel like teaching.
As with Kaleidoscope, volunteers pick the kids up each morning and drop them off each afternoon, and there’s a Friday celebration for each workshop to demonstrate or describe its content.
Quest: A relatively-new program, and the only one in which I haven’t participated. This also involves teens from Grundy County. It’s an adventure program – high ropes course, low ropes course, rappelling, rock climbing, horseback riding and a service day. Volunteers, as I understand it, may but are not required to participate in the activities themselves. Those who don’t participate in a given activity can function as encouragers.
The volunteers (most of whom travel to camp from out-of-state) spend the week staying at Camp Cumberland Pines near Altamont, Tenn. Friends Cabin is air-conditioned, with two adults staying in each room. In the evening, after the home repair teams have returned to camp and after the Kaleidoscope/Summer Plus/Quest teens have been taken home, the home repair and youth-program volunteers come back together into a full camp community for supper. Volunteers have a time of sharing at which they can talk about the day’s joys and concerns, and then a brief, but creative and participatory, worship service. On Wednesday of a camp week, there’s a cookout followed by free time which volunteers can spend out in the county (or in their bunk napping).
There are, of course, some AIM weekends (major home repair only) coming up this fall, and I encourage you to check those out, especially if your situation won’t allow you to take a week off during the summer. But I love the richer experience, team-building and sense of community you get during a full week-long camp.
It used to be a standing joke in situation comedies that people who have been on vacation loved showing their slides, and that said slide shows were intolerable for those subjected to them. But I’m going to put this slideshow out there anyway.
A day or two after I returned from my Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry week, I posted my own video of the event. But the ministry has now posted the official camp slide show of that camp week to YouTube. The slide show, an AIM tradition, is shown on Friday night of a camp week.
This differs from my video in that it shows everything that was going on. My video only shows things for which I was present and had my phone handy. In this slide show, you’ll see all of the various Summer Plus workshops (enrichment workshops, organized by the adult volunteers, for teens from Grundy County), as well as both of the home repair sites at which we had volunteers working. You also get a lot of camp life, including various worship services and our Wednesday night cookout. At 2:51, you see me leading my creative writing workshop (although it’s a candid, un-posed shot, and I’m looking away from the camera). I’m also in numerous other photos.
The slide show used to be purely a staff responsibility, back when it was done with actual slides in a carousel. Nowadays, they get many of the photos by asking campers who are willing to share their digital photos. They seemed to have more than the normal quota of out-of-focus shots this time, and for that I apologize. But there’s plenty to see that’s in focus.
I hope you enjoy this. If you’d like information about being a part of an AIM weekend this fall, or a week-long AIM event next summer, contact me or go to the Mountain T.O.P. web site.
Well, my week at Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry was incredible. I didn’t really want to leave, and I really wish I’d been able to work in two separate AIM weeks this summer as I did last year and as I did frequently in the mid- 1990s and up to about 2003 or so.
Summer Plus, Day One, is in the books, and I think it went well. Creative writing workshop was larger, and more participatory, than last year. When I talked about writing a group story, a couple of the teens even said that they wanted to write their own stories — which thrilled me to death. Continue reading →
I will be participating in Summer Plus, leading a creative writing workshop for teens from remote mountain communities. I’m not sure whether my workshop will be in the morning or the afternoon; whichever it is, in the other half of the day I’ll be assisting in a workshop taught by someone else. (I don’t know what that will be yet.)
This is the last (I think) in a series of posts about Mountain T.O.P.’s Adults In Ministry program. Look at the bottom of this post for links to the previous installments. In another day or two, I’ll make one last post with links to all of the installments in order, or perhaps I’ll set it up as a standing page on my web site. By the way, I did not do a separate post for Quest, the newest ministry within the AIM program, because I’ve not had the chance to experience it yet and thus really didn’t have much to say about it beyond the summary in my original post. If anyone who’s been to Quest would like to write a guest post about it, I’d gladly put it up and link to it as part of the series.
I sometimes say that my participation in short-term missions trips is a selfish hobby because I get out of my trips far more than I put into them. There’s something about being in intense Christian community — whether on a short-term mission trip, an Emmaus walk, or certain types of retreats — that’s difficult to explain or describe if you’ve not experienced it. In an earlier post, I quoted Mountain T.O.P. founder George Bass as saying that trying to describe Mountain T.O.P. to someone was like trying to explain what a banana tastes like to someone who’s never had one.
In many ways, a Mountain T.O.P. community is a safe place for me, a place where I know I’m among friends, where I could ask someone for a neck rub without being thought creepy, where I can write and receive notes of encouragement, where I’m free to try things outside my comfort zone and know that it will all work out somehow — and if it doesn’t, that will be OK too.
A day at AIM begins with a group morning devotion, led by one of the campers. I am almost always privileged to be asked to lead one of these when I’m at AIM. Last summer, I went to two different AIM weeks; I led a devotion at one but not the other. That made perfect sense — why call on someone a second time when there are plenty of others willing to share? — but I tried to think back to the last time I had been at AIM without doing a morning devotion. I’m sure there must have been at least one other time, but I couldn’t think of it. Even at my first AIM event I led a devotion — which I’ll mention again in a little bit. Continue reading →
In the spring of 1993, I was an unofficial member of the Singles Council of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methdodist Church, working on a newsletter which was published at that time.
We had a meeting at Brentwood United Methodist Church, and there to speak to us were George Bass and Gail Drake (now Gail Castle). George was the founder and executive director of Mountain T.O.P., and Gail was director of adult ministries. At the time, Mountain T.O.P. was trying to promote one week of the Adults In Ministry program as “singles week,” an idea that was later scrapped. In any case, they wanted our help in letting our constituents know about the AIM program. I had little if any idea what Mountain T.O.P. was all about; my only connection to it was Mary Jane Tucker, whom I knew through the conference singles retreats who served on the Mountain T.O.P. board at the time.
At the time, AIM weeks offered only Major Home Repair or Summer Plus. Kaleidoscope wouldn’t be offered until a couple of years later, and the Quest program didn’t start until recently. As Gail described the Summer Plus program – enrichment workshops for teens from mountain communities – she listed some possible workshop topics. One of them was “creative writing.”
I had no experience teaching or working with teenagers, but I am a writer, and I started thinking that it might be fun to teach creative writing. And I thought that Mountain T.O.P. might offer the same kind of Christian community that I had come to enjoy at the time through the conference singles retreats. So I signed up for the third AIM week of the summer, in early August.
At the time, Mountain T.O.P. had a much larger geographic footprint by renting various camp facilities across the Cumberland Plateau, from Jamestown in the north to Jasper in the south. My first AIM event was at Camp Overton, in the little town of Campaign, Tenn., between McMinnville and Sparta and close to Rock Island State Park.
It turned out to be a quite atypical AIM week, for reasons I’ll get into, and yet it was quite sufficient to get me completely hooked on the Mountain T.O.P. program.
This is the latest in a series of posts in which I talk about Mountain T.O.P.’s Adults In Ministry program. Starting with this one, I’ll include the links to the previous posts at the bottom instead of trying to put them all here.
Kaleidoscope is an arts program for special needs children from Grundy County. Grundy County has six primary schools sharing one art teacher and one music teacher. “Special needs” covers a lot of ground; it can mean anything from severe disabilities to ADD, ADHD or just a bad home situation. Most of the Kaleidoscope kids are referred by the school system, although (as with Day Camp, Summer Plus and Quest) it’s not uncommon for Mountain T.O.P. to be lining up a home repair project, notice that there are kids at the house, and ask if they’re interested in participating. I think the age range for the program is 6-11, although that’s off the top of my head and may be off. I remember 12 being the dividing line between Kaleidoscope and Summer Plus but I’m not 100 percent sure whether it’s the top age for one or the bottom age for the other.
Volunteers lead arts workshops for the kids, or simply help out as caregivers in workshops being led by someone else. Workshops can be things like drawing, arts and crafts, music, drama, and so on. As with the other AIM ministries, the volunteer base for any given camp event tends to be a mix of age and experience levels. We’ve had professional teachers and child care workers, as well as clueless amateurs like, well, Yours Truly.