If you’ve never been to the Ozark Mountains in Southwest Missouri & Northern Arkansas, well, you haven’t really seen all of the natural beauty of God’s creation. In fact, many that live here call it “God’s Country”. With it’s many shades of green, rustic scenery, and diverse wildlife populations, The Ozark Mountains is a mosaic on the tapestry of your mind’s eye. And when most think of mountains, they see the Rockies, the Grand Tetons, or the Wasatch. Those are all beautiful in their own way. But, those are mountain ranges you drive up into to reach your destination. The Ozarks are different; you drive down into these here mountains! Trust me. Consider it a little teaser to get in your vehicle and see for yourself.
The other treasure of The Ozarks, hiding in plain sight, are the people who live amongst the many undulating hills and valleys. Residents wave at each other while driving. If you’re stuck in the ditch (might have experienced this a time or two), neighbors flock to assist you! It is truly a community that would give you the shirt off their back- if you need it. And with Salt-of-the-Earth citizens, comes many charitable organizations directed and supported by the heart-wealthy Ozark community.
During my time in Branson, MO, the live music capital located less than an hour from Springfield to the north, businesses and community leaders, held fundraisers throughout the year. Those moments, along with their accompanying events, are some of my fondest memories in my 13+ years as a resident. It was never intrusive to ask for assistance for your charity because nearly everyone supported a cause(s) that involved helping all people in every walk of life.
One of these causes that I bumped into in 2003 was Camp Barnabas. Founded back in 1996, Camp Barnabas is a non-profit charitable organization that includes two locations dedicated to providing life-changing experiences to individuals with special needs and chronic illnesses. The Camp is a Christ-centered ministry that has hosted over 75,000 campers and missionaries over the last 22 years. Cindy Teas, one of the co-founders says, “It is so great to see the ministry that started here so many years ago is continuing to bless the campers…young people…and adults that serve as part of this ministry.”
Two of Camp Barnabas’ biggest fans also have quite a fan base. They are Texas Rangers’ pitcher Cole Hamels, and his wife Heidi. Cole is a highly decorated pitcher whom is best known for winning the MVP in the 2008 World Series, which brought the city of Philadelphia a long-awaited Championship. Heidi Hamels (formerly Heidi Strobel) has her own fan following that began when she was a contestant on Survivor: The Amazon, back in 2003. They brought their friends at Camp Barnabas an early Christmas present: a 32,000-square-foot mansion with over 100 acres of land!
Heidi, whose family is from the Ozark area, says that her and Cole loves that Camp Barnabas sees the big picture. “They are changing the way the world sees disabled ministry.”
The Hamel’s mansion and property, valued at nearly $10 million dollars, is a personal donation to The Camp on behalf of Cole & Heidi, says Kathy Greene, who represents The Hamels Foundation from their headquarters in Springfield, MO. Cole explains why he chose Camp Barnabas. “There are a ton of amazing charities in Southwest Missouri,” he says. “Out of all of these, Barnabas really pulled on our heartstrings. Seeing the faces, hearing the laughter, reading the stories of the kids they serve; there is truly nothing like it. Barnabas makes dreams come true, and we felt called to help them in a big way.”
The Hamels Foundation was founded in 2009 by Cole and Heidi, while Cole was still a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. The foundation was started to provide hope and a brighter future for children through financial support for educational opportunities. Their mission is a simple, yet powerful one: to enrich the lives of children through the power of education by giving them the tools they need to achieve their goals. The Hamels Foundation now includes projects in Philadelphia, Greater Dallas Metro Area, Springfield, MO (the headquarters of Camp Barnabas), and in rural Malawi, Africa. Among the many attributes that are unique about The Hamels Foundation is that 100% of every dollar raised, goes to charity programs. Cole also provides for all the foundations expenses personally. This most certainly adds to the appeal of giving knowing that there is literally no money lost, and the power of your dollars all go to people and groups that benefit from your giving.
For the leaders of Camp Barnabas, this donation allows them to take the next step in their development. “Our mission is to change lives through disability ministries, and we’ve been strategically looking for ways to expand our ministries outside of a summer camp,” says Jason Brawner, CEO. “We have no doubt this gift will allow us to do that.” The camp was inspired by a cancer patient named Lauren Hauschild, according to their website. When Lauren was a child, she attended nearby Kanakuk Kamps every summer. But when she lost her leg after a bout with cancer that began in 1992, Lauren wanted to keep attending camp; so the following summer she did. Unfortunately, she ended up at the camps medical care center quite often and could not enjoy her time with the other kids. Lauren just wanted to be a normal kid at camp, Lauren described a place where DIFFERENT was NORMAL. “Everyone would be in a wheelchair or on crutches. No one would care that your hair was messy from chemo. It would be easy for anyone to do all the activities at camp. Cancer would not isolate you—it would unite you. And when you come there, you would be loved.” With Lauren’s vision as inspiration, the founders purchased Soaring Hawk Camp in Monett, MO, in 1996, which became Camp Barnabas.
The Hamels have just made Christmas even more special for the kids, adults, and leaders that make Camp Barnabas such a unique and wonderful place. And rest assured, they will always remember the generous lump from Cole…and Heidi!
(Chris Gaines is an author and Editor-In-Chief of Patriot Gaines. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and two kids, Patrick & Megan, in the Cedar Valley of Northern Iowa.)
Photos Credits: Getty Images, Camp Barnabas, MLB
Article Sources: KY3, 12.15.17, “Cole and Heidi Hamels Donate Table Rock Lake Home to Camp Barnabas”, Springfield News-Leader, 12.16.17, “Pitcher Cole Hamels donates Stone County mansion to Camp Barnabas”
*To find out more about the organizations mentioned, please click on the links found in the article,