Photo: Georgia Culey (left) with Matilda Field (right) at the Tops.

 

By Gil Corr, 

‘Life to the Full!’ reads the slogan greeting incoming students, packed into school buses as they pull into The Tops Conference Centre. The John 10:10 reference probably goes unnoticed by the majority, but a few students may read the catchcry and dream of what adventures the next few days may hold.

But what does ‘Life to the Full!’ really mean for a student who has additional needs? What does it mean for those with a physical or mental disability? For many, the adventures and anticipation that await at a site like The Tops may be an experience that feels anything but full.

One schoolteacher, Sharon, expected this response from some of her students who were challenged with additional needs. To her surprise, though, The Tops activities were incredibly inclusive to all camp attendees, regardless of their physical or mental capability. But more than that, Sharon was blown away by The Tops staff members’ dedication to have every student experience adventure in its entirety.

Tops staff member Georgia Culey said the experience of abseiling was always worth any additional effort, particularly for one student at a recent camp. “For the majority of things, they can actually still do the activity, but particularly for this student, we were able to get him to go on the abseil,” she said.

“With an abseil, we get [a student] to the bottom of the wall, and kids climb up the wall, but we had to set up a haul system, to haul him up to the top. Once he’s up the top we can set him up to abseil back down. So, we get five or six kids to be on one side of the rope, while we’re holding him and pulling him up, and we can transfer him so he can do the full abseil himself.”

Georgia said the experience was one that this student would always remember. “He had a ball; it was really awesome.”

Adam Stewart, Program Manager at The Tops, stressed that this wasn’t a one-off moment, but an integral part of the work ethic and mindset of The Tops at large.

“One of the things that we pride ourselves on is the ability to deal with the individual,” Adam said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter what your challenges are, we’re going to treat you like a valued individual. I imagine in some spaces, someone who has additional needs or challenges, is treated differently … but we try not to do that.

 “Jesus takes people for who they are and who they could be. Jesus is always gracious with the person. And he always digs to the heart of the matter. And part of the heart of the matter is calling out the identity of a person – bringing them closer to the place where they’re loved and valued and a child of God. And we’re called to live the same way.”

 

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