My Lions Camp Story
by Lion Dean Navarre
I was born in 1951(before cable and cell phones) with no arms. My parents had no way of getting information on how to help me. While my younger brother and sister enjoyed going to different camps and doing a lot of things I was not allowed to do then, I sat home. For instance, Mom put us all in swimming lessons. They taught them how to swim while keeping me in the kiddie pool.
One day Mrs. Gaineaux with Bourg Auxiliary Lions Club came to my house and told Mom about this fantastic new place they were trying to put together. A camp built just for handicapped children. After some “debate” with mom and grandmaw, they agreed to let me go. This turned out to be the best thing to happen to me. I was able to attend the “pilot program” at Camp Windywood in Pineville in 1958. This was definitely a life-changing experience for me.
I was brought up attending church every Sunday. For some unknown reason at 8 years of age, I wondered why God punished me. My brother, sister, cousins, and friends had arms why not me? Lions Camp changed all of that.
In those days it was the responsibility of Lions to bring you to Camp. There were no buses. My dad and Mr. Gaineaux brought me. When I stepped out of his car, my world changed forever. I saw kids that were blind, deaf, mental and a lot of braces and wheelchairs because Polio was a big thing back then. But I realized that I wasn’t alone, God had not punished me, and I was just one of the few “special children”. From that day, I never let anything stop me. I went to Camp Windywood until the Camp in Leesville was built.
The first year there was a swimming instructor from New Orleans. She asked, “who wants to learn how to swim”? Myself and a kid with no legs said we wanted to. For him, she tied her ankles together to teach him only hand strokes. For me she had someone tie her hands behind her to teach me leg strokes. In two weeks we went from kiddie pool to diving off of the diving board! She was great and I will always be grateful to her. For the next seven years, I could not wait for summer to get here, knowing that I will be attending Lions Camp. I made a lot of great friends at Camp and we are all still friends since 1958.
While working, I looked for a club to join, but never found one I felt comfortable in. All Lions are great people, but all clubs are different. In 1992 or 93, I ran into a former staff member from 1965 who remembered me. She was a member of the Baton Rouge Southeast Lions and invited my wife and me to a meeting. We joined that night.
In 1995 I started the Louisiana Lions Camp Camper Alumni Association to reunite past campers and help fund our special place. I figured the Lions are doing their part, Staff Alumni theirs, so campers need to step up and do what we can. At our reunions we have at Camp, everyone has a great story about what the Camp has done to better their life. We really enjoyed all that Lions Camp had to offer, but it meant something deeper than most of us can express.
We didn’t get picked on at Camp like we were in school. We could be just kids. We had special things like a wheelchair ramp in the pool, special swings, special archery equipment, and many other things so we could be just kids. I think that is the thing we wanted the most in our early years, and to be accepted no matter what our condition was. Lions Camp did that and still does after 63 years. Lions Camp is a special place where we feel safe and can be like other children.
I feel like I cannot work long or hard enough to keep Lions Camp going. It means everything to me and I will remain a Lion and Alumni until I am called to the other special place.
I would like to thank the Lions who started this program; there is no doubt that they all have a highway to Heaven.