Columnists > Voices

Remarkable providences

How a flu bug launched a head-injury camp

Issue: "Faith-based about-face," Aug. 27, 2005

Charlotte left Georgia to care for her dying father in Texas. She ended up coordinator of the brain-injury program at Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation, where she and the chaplain thought it might be fun to organize an overnight camp for former patients. Then she married Mike in 1991, and in 1993 they retired to Red River, N.M.
Or so they thought.
A flu nixed plans to visit family in Texas at Christmas. Meanwhile, former patient Michael B., getting nowhere on the slopes, dropped in for a chat and inquired about a possible head-injury camp in Red River. With no forethought, Charlotte said, "Oh, it will be in August." That was eight months away.
First she needed lodging on flat terrain and scrounged up 20 cabins seven miles from town. Two days later the preacher of Faith Mountain Fellowship church braved a snowstorm to pay a pastoral call.
Before leaving he committed his church as camp headquarters and meal venue. It was time to phone Baylor Rehab about possible co-sponsorship with the church. She found favor beyond expectation: Her former associates promised six paid staff members.

Transportation. No national rental companies had wheelchair vans, but Charlotte talked to a lady in Boston who knew a lady in Albuquerque (the nearest airport to Red River) who had two. Southwest Airlines offered discounts for groups traveling on a Sunday.

As the question of start-up costs dawned, out of the blue came $300 "to help offset a few administration needs." J.S., ex-wife of a former Baylor patient, got wind of the camp and offered a nonprofit foundation, her own residential program that was no longer operational. A simple name change was all the lawyer needed to make the transfer. A year's worth of work done in a phone call.

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Next up, insurance. No companies had the right type. Then one night Charlotte substituted as ski hostess for a friend, which involved meeting a tour bus at 2 a.m. The bus was late. To stave off sleep, Charlotte idly perused a file from J.F. It contained a travel insurance policy from an outfit in Ft. Worth. The following day Charlotte's group had coverage.

Charlotte had her heart set on T-shirts. Companies wanted $1,500-too much. The day she gave up that quest the phone rang with a donation of $1,500. Charlie D. from Amarillo volunteered to cook. Pede S. from Baylor apologized for not being able to come to camp and sent four huge boxes of craft projects. Red River townsfolk rallied round the camp vision when one of their own, 10-year-old Nathan L., suffered brain injury in a skiing accident.

Campers need scholarships. Charlotte and Mike inserted donation requests in their Christmas cards. A steady stream of small checks came in, simultaneous with the stream of seekers. Neither was totaled for months. In May they did the math: $1,275 in needs, $1,275 in scholarships. The mayor and his wife, asked to present the souvenirs, decided to fund them: staurolite rocks, shaped like a cross and found in the Sangre de Christo mountains.

Who do you call to provide punch and cookies when you've already tapped out the town? Margo S., owner of a local bar, read about the camp in the church newsletter. She rang and asked whether Charlotte could use refreshments. OK, cups with "Bull of the Woods Saloon" imprinted on them.

Charlotte was mentioning to God that she needed two more people to lead fishing expeditions. Just then two people walked by her cabin, an unusual sight where most folks ride horseback. Charlotte ran down the driveway and invited them inside. Owners of the cabin down the road, turns out they just love to fish.

Two days before camp they were two cars short. The Mahurins from Oklahoma dropped in to see how they could help. They had two cars. Still one vehicle short for the three-hour airport drive to Albuquerque. A nurse from Moriarty, east of Albuquerque, called to discuss first-aid kits. "I have to pass by the airport; is there anyone I can pick up?"

Much is left out-how death seeded life; detours turned to shortcuts; rain turned to rainbows; and Mountain High, a five-day camp in Red River for young adults with brain injury, was born.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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