Upstate New York camp is changing lives of people with developmental disabilities

Sports Spectrum believes in highlighting local ministries doing awesome work through sports. Today we feature the Haven Camp Program at Delta Lake, written by the ministry’s executive director, Steve Clark.

Far too often, people with developmental disabilities miss out on opportunities of belonging to a faith community. With transportation difficulties, lack of support from staff, physical limitations due to building needs, and training needs of church leaders, people with disabilities can find themselves feeling isolated and alone in understanding what faith is and who Jesus really is.

Through the vision of Pastor Bill Moon, that was changed at Delta Lake Bible Conference Center in 1971. Bill, who pastored a small Christian & Missionary Alliance Church in Newark, N.Y., had been going into state facilities in his town on Sunday afternoons to lead Bible studies with the residents there. He took a risk and approached the staff to ask whether they would allow some of their residents to take a trip two hours east to Rome, N.Y., and go to camp at Delta Lake.

What began on those few summer days in 1971 has blossomed into the Haven Camp Program at Delta Lake, serving campers with developmental disabilities through seven week-long summer camp programs and four weekend retreats. Over the past 47 years, thousands of adult campers have enjoyed hayrides, arts & crafts, worship, Bible lessons, great food, swimming, boating and everything else you can imagine in a camp program.

Our Haven Camp program is a huge part of the mission of Delta Lake. It’s in our DNA. We’re here to serve and be the hands and feet of Jesus. That’s truly what we’re doing through our Haven Camps, as the mission is to the meet the PHYSICAL, SOCIAL and SPIRITUAL needs of people with developmental disabilities. This is done through an active camp program that’s tailored to the interests of the individuals and takes into account their unique medical and dietary concerns.

Julie Hillis, the Haven Camp Director, shares her vision that campers receive individualized care. 

“At Haven Camp, our goal is that every camper will experience God’s love for them, that they will know they are valuable and that they each play an important role in the Kingdom,” she said. “That sense of belonging is created as we share experiences and stories and take time to reflect on who God is and His great love for each person.”  

One longtime camper recently passed away. Norman Klimas had been attending Haven Camps for more than 30 years, and every day he would call the Delta Lake office to say hi, tell a joke or check on his camp registration. The years of providing a fun, safe environment for Norman made such an impact on his life that he reached out every day. He wanted to continue that conversation because he knew the voice on the other end cared about him as an individual and more importantly as a child of God.

 “Giving people an opportunity to connect, build relationships and learn while in a positive, supportive and caring environment is essential for human growth and development,” Hillis says. “Delta Lake’s Haven Camps provide those new experiences for campers to achieve spiritual, emotional, and personal growth.”

The Haven Camp program is at an interesting phase of ministry. There has been steady growth over the past four years; now we are looking at how God is leading us to expand the scope of who and how we serve.

We now have “Embrace,” a conference for pastors to help them consider beginning a special needs ministry in their community. We are also praying about other ways we can help and support families that have special-needs children.

God used the strategic vision of a pastor almost 50 years ago to make an impact in the lives of individuals with special needs, and He continues to bless the Haven Camp program today.

To learn more about the Haven Camp visit