The Callaway family became involved in Joni and Friends Oregon through our CARE Support Group for moms of kids with disabilities. They then started coming to Family Retreat, and shortly thereafter began attending my home church because of the fantastic outreach to families affected by disability (read about my church’s transformation). This year, the oldest son, Elliot, alongside his dad Eli, became volunteers at Family Retreat, caring for a camper with autism.
I asked Elliot to share during our volunteer training about how Family Retreat had impacted him as a typical sibling (someone who has a brother or sister with a disability). This eloquent young man captured our hearts as he spoke. Here is his talk, written in entirety by him. (STM = Short Term Missionary, what we call our Retreat volunteers.) Be blessed as you read it:
Hello. My name is Elliot Callaway. I’m 12 years old, and I have a sister that is eight years old. Her name is Eliana and she has Rett syndrome. This last week was our fifth consecutive year coming to Joni and Friends Family Retreat.
Coming as a typical sibling that first year really changed how my heart felt about disability. Before Joni Camp, disability honestly felt like a curse. After experiencing camp, it felt like a blessing rather than a burden.
From the moment you see the cheering crowds to the abundance of smiles and laughter, it is the only time of year for me and for many others to relax and have a good time with other people who know and have first-hand experience with disability.
Being an STM to a typical sibling is just as important as being an STM to a person with special needs. All year the family can revolve around the person with special needs, but at Retreat the typical siblings can enjoy free time away from their normal limitations that come with wheelchairs, appointments, special needs mom anxieties, and so much more.
I know after my first time here at the ripe age of seven years old, I couldn’t wait to be old enough to serve as an STM, so I could be a part of that same change of heart that I had that first year as a camper. I am really blessed to have the opportunity to serve here this next week. I thank the Olstads for giving me a chance to come up here and share what it’s like to be a typical sibling here at Family Retreat. I’ll be praying for all of us this next week. Thank you.