Stepping into the spotlight: Talent show wraps up this year's Camp Able
It may not be the full 15 minutes of fame promised by Marshall McLuhan, but the campers at Camp Able got about two minutes apiece on Saturday night, and made the most of it.
The sanctuary at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was the setting for the Camp Able talent show, and this was the chance for campers to shine. The four days leading up to the talent show provided a myriad of fun and enriching opportunities to the campers, diversely abled area residents, said interim St. Mark’s priest in charge Kathy Schillreff.
“We’re all diversely abled,” she said. “There are lots of things I can’t do. Our job in the world is to share the love of Christ.”
The 54 campers, who have a variety of conditions, including Down’s syndrome, spinal bifida, Cruzon syndrome, and “all over the spectrum” of autism, spent the days and evenings engaged in activities including swimming and diving, fishing, cycling, kayaking, paddle boarding, yoga, creating and performing skits, dance and music, along with 122 staff members and volunteers.
Of course, part of what they were doing was preparing for their big moment during Saturday night’s talent show. Announced by emcee and occasional accompanist “Capt. Chris” Dixon, each camper or act took their turn in front of the audience.
The outpouring of support was exhilarating, even to someone simply watching and photographing the proceedings. The crowd whooped and applauded each performer, before, sometimes during and especially after their act. They also were great at audience participation, waving their arms, doing the Macarena in place for one dance number, and generally enveloping each camper in a warm cocoon of love and acceptance.
For the campers, who face so many challenges in their everyday lives, their star turn was a highlight of their year, and the space in front of the St. Mark’s sanctuary might as well have been the stage at Carnegie Hall. The variety of performances demonstrated the campers were indeed diversely abled. There were multiple musical numbers, with the campers performing according to their skill level, whether miming or lip-syncing, singing pieces or all of the lyrics, or dancing to tunes from Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” to Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” a song that a camper named Patrick performed with four girls dancing and shaking maracas and another whispering lyrics into his ear.
A camper named Brooksanne did a break dance number, and Erica brought down the house with a moving a capella rendition of “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” “Justin the Illusionist” did card tricks, “Patrick the Pounder” took on a faux opponent in a boxing match, Kyle sang to NSync and took it to the house, as did “Mr. B” with his dance to “I’m Too Sexy.” “Anthony the Dog” bested all comers in a hotdog eating contest, and earned a standing ovation.
“This is so wonderful,” said camp director Callie Benvenutti, nee Bennett, whose father, former St. Mark’s pastor Kyle Bennett, originated Camp Able, which now has spread to five different locations across the South. “After a couple of days, you can hardly tell the campers from the staff.” She works as a speech language pathologist, and her new husband also serves as a Camp Able director.
One counselor from Marco Island, Samantha Jennings, 21, is spending her summer vacation working at all the Camp Ables between her studies at Florida State. Another Marco Island volunteer, Jack Patterson, no longer in school, said he has been working with the camp for eight or nine years, and said he gets more than he gives from the experience.
After the performances, campers, staff, family members and supporters went to the parish hall for refreshments and goodbyes, still basking in the warmth of the evening and the week.