Idyllwild, California wild fires have been burning for nearly a week, starting last Monday. As the story of homes being evacuated and nearly 6000 residents having to relocate, one story has yet to be told. The most inspirational tale of incredible service and love in the face of personal catastrophe arises from that of Buckhorn camp, just 2 miles from the starting point of the wild fires in California where around 400 teens and leaders were gathered for the Centers For Spiritual Living teen camp.
Youth were gathered from around the country to experience a life-changing week at camp together. They filled 48 cabins at Buckhorn camp in Idyllwild where only about 8-10 resident workers fed and sheltered the group for the week. You know teens, many like to take everything out of their suitcases and it doesn’t take long before rooms of any size are covered with all possible belongings for assessment. Camp was no different. According to leaders in participation, some of the A-frame cabins looked like dorm-rooms almost immediately, while the groups gathered for inspirational talks and experiential workshops.
The workshop which took place just before news of the fire and evacuations broke out – was about ‘letting go of excess baggage’, meant to imply releasing emotional and mental ties and memories which no longer serve the presently developing self. How little did they know this information would be preparing them to precisely do just that – ‘let go of excess baggage’ as the teens and leaders were asked to pack only a small bag and exit the mountain for safer shelter. Many of the youth were upset about leaving their stuff. It was uncertain if they would see their ‘things’ again as they loaded on buses and headed down the mountain into Hemet, where they were put up at a local high school by the Red Cross. The next night, the group was transferred to the Palm Desert Center for Spiritual Living where Rev. Joe Hooper opened the doors to the sanctuary as a second shelter location so the camp could stay in tact and be the only group on the premises.
The staff at Buckhorn, led by Ron and Debi Norton, stepped into unexpected action-oriented service for these teens. Over the next day, the small group of those running Buckhorn, in the midst of growing and near-suffocating smoke on the mountain, went through all 48 cabins and packed up every single item left by teen and leader a like, labeled it as per cabin and shipped it down via U-Haul to where the group stayed for retrieval. The faces of joy and relief from the teens upon seeing their belongings returned to them was nothing compared to the immense gratitude and respect which everyone felt for the time it must have taken to perform such a feat. Even though their own community was in danger of the fire, these selfless workers made sure to take care of the campers. They could have left the items to go pack up their homes, but instead made sure every item was loaded onto U-Haul trucks to be driven to the Palm Desert CSL location.
With stories of destruction and loss so rampant, it is critical to our hearts and our minds as humans to hear stories which uplift the spirit and remind us of the good which goes on everywhere in the face of disaster. The California wild fires inspired incredible service to hundreds of teens and adults on the mountains of Idyllwild this week. The campers returned home safely and not a single bar of soap nor flip-flop was left on the mountain. Buckhorn camp ought to be acknowledged and applauded for their acts of service and love to those they barely knew, showing us all what good business and really being human is all about!
Written by: Stasia Bliss