A chance to feel normal
WEBB-It could be Clay County’s best-kept secret.
On a sunny, 77-degree fall day, a shotgun went off in a wooded area behind sun-ripened crops.
But no one was concerned.
Nearby, a barn kept watch over a group of people who all wanted to experience something great.
Just west of the small community of Webb, a group of adult volunteers and handicapped youths from around the nation meet up twice a year at an acreage to participate in a hunting weekend designed only for handicapped young people.
The organization is called Special Youth Challenges Ministry of Northwest Iowa, Inc., and its mission is to empower physically challenged youths to enjoy hunting and shooting sports by helping them overcome barriers found in the outdoors.
They also offer hunting weekends for disabled veterans.
It’s a Christian-based ministry that has been going since 2002 and has a 501 (c) (3) non-profit status.
Its signature scripture is: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13).
Campers are exposed to ecumenical speakers throughout the weekend, enriching their spiritual experience along with their hunting activities.
SYC meets every April to hunt turkeys and every September to hunt deer.
“We started with four kids in 2002, and (this weekend) we have 24 kids here,” said Denny Somers, board president of SYC. “They sign up and we take care of all their paperwork, including their hunting license.
“There is no expense to the child or parents – we even take care of their travel expenses.”
Handicapped youths between 12 and 19 are allowed to participate in these camping/hunting weekends.
Since 2002, SYC has hosted youths from New York, Michigan, Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska.
Somers said when youth hunters come from out of state, SYC abides by that state’s hunting rules.
He said families of handicapped youth apply on their website or talk to someone on the board of directors.
They, in turn, determine the youth’s eligibility to participate, and once their eligibility is verified, SYC goes to work to get them to the home base camp near Webb to be part of the hunting experience, via paperwork from doctors (to verify handicap status), and for traveling, hunting licenses and a new camouflage hunting outfit for first-time hunters.
“We’ve had quadriplegics here before,” Somers said. “We have the ability to invent equipment to adapt to a person’s handicap.”
Somers said they ask that all youth hunters complete a hunter safety course before they arrive.
“All of our youth hunters go through the firing range when they first get here,” Somers said. “When they first shoot a gun, we want them to have heard it before and understand the damage that can be done.
“For our mentally handicapped hunters, they have to know right from wrong, and understand they are not shooting BB guns – they are real firearms.”
Shotguns for physically handicapped youths are mounted on specially-designed stands, with specially-designed scopes which make looking through them easier.
The trigger mechanism is redesigned and hooked up to two cables – one for the hunter and one for an accompanying adult.
The hunter and adult each hold cables while the hunter looks through the scope. When the hunter is ready to shoot, they push a button at the end of the cable. But their gun cannot fire unless the adult’s cable button is also deployed.
David Warren, 29, of Spencer, arrived at the SYC weekends as a 12-year-old.
He’s too old to participate, but now returns to camp to mentor the youth.
Before attending the camp, Warren said he knew nothing about hunting.
Today, Warren helps get campers up each morning (starting at 3:30 a.m.), helps get them breakfast and prays with them.
Warren said it’s a feeling beyond words to see a handicapped child come through the camp and get to know them and the excitement they have when they capture a deer.
He stays because the adults and youth hunters are like family to him.
“I love the kids that come through here,” Warren said. “They’re so excited when they get a deer, and it pulls on my heart strings when I know some kids won’t be here anymore because they have gone home to be with God.
“There are no words to describe what this place means to us.”
The headquarters near Webb features a barn that has been transformed into lodging quarters for campers, complete with 10 small bedrooms and restrooms/showers upstairs for campers who can walk.
There are also three bedrooms, along with a restroom/shower facility that’s in the process of being constructed downstairs for campers who cannot walk.
There is one game room upstairs, and another under construction on ground level.
Board member Phil Driver said area land owners donate ground for the youths to hunt.
He said they hunt a 40-mile stretch along the Little Sioux River from Gillett Grove almost to Cherokee.
Two or three adults accompany each handicapped youth as they go out to their hunting areas.
Some feature blinds, enhancing the opportunity for youth hunters to be successful.
He said costs for this camp to operate annually are between $30,000 and $35,000, and that it comes entirely from donations.
They have received up to $10,000 almost annually from the Valero Energy Corp., which also supplies volunteers to help operate the camp.
Braxton Wiebusch, 19, of St. Cloud, Minnesota., has attended the SYC camp for the last seven or eight years.
He has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and started using a wheelchair when he was 11 years old.
He said he is grateful for this kind of opportunity.
“I’ve caught five deer and two turkeys,” he said. “It’s a real adrenaline high – it’s so exciting.”
Jenna De Jong, 9, of Hospers, has spina bifida. She is a third-grader at MOC-Floyd Valley Schools and uses hand crutches most of the time at school, and a wheelchair if she has a lot of territory to cover.
She was a first-time camper last month at SYC, and she plans on returning next year.
“It’s cool she gets an opportunity that most kids take for granted,” said her father, Scott De Jong. “We’re more than grateful that we were invited to come.
“She’s having a great time.”
“This is the biggest blessing to us this side of heaven, other than our own families,” Driver said. “To be allowed to participate in something like this is awesome.”
Driver said there are 22 members on the board, and there is “no such thing” as too many board members.
There may be 200 adult volunteers at a single camp.
“There’s too much to do for a dozen guys here,” he said. “The cool part is that we’re just a bunch of Joe Blows out here, who just want handicapped kids to have some fun.”
Sam Palmer, an adult volunteer from Alvord, said the youths and other adult volunteers are like a second family to him after being part of it for nine years.
“I like helping kids experience the outdoors, and the fellowship with the kids and their families,” Palmer said. “I would give up any hunting trip to help with this. I was hooked from the beginning.”
Driver said he has heard many heartbreaking stories about handicapped children and their families over the years.
But, in explaining what the camp means to him, he said he was most touched by something a young girl wrote once when she was at the camp.
She composed the top 11 reasons to love SYC.
“One of her reasons said, ‘They give us a chance to feel normal.'”
For more information on SYC, visit www.syciowa.com.
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