Metropolis of Atlanta Philoptochos and Family Life Ministry partner for “Christ The Good Shepherd” Special Needs Camp! (for children on the Autism Spectrum)

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The Diakonia Retreat Center

On Memorial Day weekend (May 22-25, 2015), Family Life Ministry and Philoptochos collaborated for our first Special Needs Camp, focusing on children with Autism, which was held at the Diakonia Retreat Center.

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Clergy, with members of Philoptochos, Family Life Ministry, and Camp Director Despina Koulianos.

Children and their families came to the DRC for a 3 day camp adventure designed around the theme of Christ the Good Shepherd. We hosted nine children with Special Needs and their families, traveling from North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida.

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Campers and counselors of our 2015 Special Needs Camp.

Camp was centered around the theme that Christ the Good Shepherd loves and cares for each one of His sheep. We even had a sheep at our opening lesson, carried by a counselor, Demetrios Buck to illustrate the theme of Christ the Good Shepherd.

Counselor Demtrios Buck, with sheep

Counselor Demetrios Buck, with sheep

Campers and families attended “inclusion” church services, where the children were readers, and for many, Altar servers for the first time.

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Our Altar Boys.

Campers made iconostases (wooden boxes to hold icons) and by the end of the weekend this box was filled with tools to help children “take their Church home”.

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Campers making the Iconostases.

Inside of the iconostases children made an icon of Christ the Good Shepherd and also put together a photo album containing icons, prayers to read at home, scripture verses, and photographs of the weekend.

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Completed Iconostases projects

A highlight of each day for campers was the evening campfire/sing-along led by Recreation Therapist, Jon Blaylock, who is a master of games and songs for children on the spectrum.

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Recreation Therapist John Blaylock leads campers in song.

Our staff arrived a day earlier than campers for special training by Catherine Faherty, a specialist in the field of Autism.

Other activities included a slip ‘n’ slide, an opportunity for children to fish on the lake; and even FLM’s spiritual advisor Fr. Paul Kaplanis got in on the fun by agreeing to become a human ice cream Sundae!

The slip 'n' slide.

The slip ‘n’ slide.

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Camper with fish.

Fr. Paul being a good sport as an ice cream sundae, with his Eminence Metropolitan Alexios and campers.

Fr. Paul being a good sport as an ice cream sundae, with his Eminence Metropolitan Alexios and campers.

Family Life Ministry was very proud to support such an important event, giving children on the Spectrum a chance to participate more fully in the life of the Church. We know that all who participated came away gratified, particularly the parents. And we hope that this inspiring event will continue in the future.

IMG_8442Written by Special Needs Camp Director Despina Koulianos, with additional text by Nick Kostopoulos. Photos by Stratis Papageorgiou.

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