A look inside the "greatest place on Earth," the Louisiana Lions Camp

VERNON PARISH, La. (KALB) - The Louisiana Lions Camp, also known as the 'The Greatest Place on Earth' is tucked behind some railroad tracks in Anacoco off of highway 171.

Best friends! Lion's campers hold hands during lunch. The Louisiana Lions Camp offers summer sessions for children with disabilities. (KALB)

For 61 years, this has been the summer place for Louisiana children with special needs, diabetes, and pulmonary disorders.

There are no limits at Lions camp. Kids get to run, play, take a dip in the pool, sing and dance...(there's a LOT of singing and dancing). It's an encouraging environment where everyone is loved and praised.

Camper Patrick Parker was born with Microphthalmia, a developmental eye disorder. He runs track at Leesville High school, plays piano and guitar.

"God gives us these things for a reason. I think my purpose is to show other people with disabilities that they can do anything they want just put your mind to it. Like how I play guitar, if you're disabled you can play the guitar. We just push through and keep living."

Many campers return as counselors, looking to inspire other kids with disabilities like Abigail Andrus who was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 14-years-old.

"I really didn't learn a lot about my disease until I came here and met other kids who had the same things. (I) made friendships and they taught me a lot about myself and how to live with it. This place is amazing. It's definitely life changing not only for these kids but these kids change our life as well."

Kristian Bellard has a physical disability and spent seven summers at Lions camp. This is his first year as a counselor.

"It's amazing to see other counselors with disabilities and other campers that have the same disability as me. I can bond with them more. I love all these kids and I just treat them like they're my own. I see myself in a lot of them."

But the campers teach their counselors a lot about life's blessings. Tanner Yates fell in love with the kid's last summer and plans to return during college.

"It really made me learn to not take for granted the abilities that I have to play ball. But just being with them and watching them have fun it really just keeps you pushing through the day. Seeing all these people (counselors) come out and do it with me and just have a blast like this shows how great the world really is."

Program Director Matt Meleton says it's all about showing kindness to one another.

"A lot of times our counselors come here and they've never helped someone shower or they've never helped someone use the restroom and just daily things that we take for granted, " he said. "(Camp) has taught me to not be afraid to get down on one knee and serve others."

And the goal is to take that kindness beyond Lions camp.

"There's no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more, " said Meleton. "The world is a very negative place and some positivity in it always helps so any amount that goes into the world just brings happiness and joy to everyone."

Some campers and counselors have known each other for years, like Keyon Artis and Jake Arceneaux

"I was a camper here for a year, I'm diabetic and to be able to come back as a counselor and help these children with special needs it really means a lot," said Arceneaux.

After six years, this is Keyon's last summer at Lions camp. His mom said he loves to camp and skipped out on family vacations to come to his 'getaway.'

When it was time to say goodbye there were some sniffles and tears. Each week-long session ends with a campfire, where loved ones get to cheer on their children as awards are handed out.

Eli Judice wiped his tears away just in time to tell our KALB camera all about his first camp experience.

"It was really fun and I liked that all my friends came!"

After singing the Lions camp song together one last time campers were reminded that each of them is 'Heaven's Very Special Child.'



 
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