In the life of the family living with disability, doctors and specialists commonly focus on what cannot be done. Our mission focuses on what each person can do by themselves, with assistance, or with adapted equipment. HARBOR gives them HOPE, we BELIEVE in them, we RELATE to them, and we help them ACHIEVE the possible and even the impossible sometimes.
HARBOR Unlimited is a not-for-profit organization that was created to assist families living with a disability. Our vision statement is ‘Inspiring people of all abilities to achieve their potential emotionally, spiritually and physically for an abundant life.’ For HARBOR Unlimited, it means that we want each individual to show up to our events being themselves, no matter what abilities. HARBOR Unlimited supports participants for who they are and what they can do, not what society may view them as or what everyone tells them they cannot do. We feel God granted these individuals specific gifts and we want those gifts to shine like a beacon of light. HARBOR also realizes that when people succeed at things, it carries over into their everyday lives. We want to see change in the community so many events are in the community where others can see that people’s abilities do not define them. Educating the community is a key to enriching the lives of people with all abilities.
HARBOR Unlimited has three unique characteristics. We work with all disabilities (we call them abilities). We work with all ages of participants. We want the whole family to participate in activities or camp. HARBOR stands for Hope, Achieve, Reach, Believe, Open arms, and Relate, all of which we want our families to have or receive through our activities and camp. This leads to our mission, ‘Open arms for all abilities and their families to experience unlimited opportunities.’
These opportunities come in various forms, education, events, and summer day camp. In educational opportunities, the Beacon of Light Speaker Series consists of three consecutive months for guest speakers. Each month there are also three guest speakers discussing the same topic. Topics range from trends to specific abilities to need to know facts like guardianship, trusts, etc.
Our events, called Launch Events, range from crafts, planting flowers to recreational activities like rock climbing or skiing. These events last four hours on one Saturday of the month. A lunch is provided and most often, whole morning is free of charge, trying to decrease the financial stress of living with abilities of all sorts. Sometimes these events are in collaboration with other organizations or non-profits. At these events, we gather to enjoy the skills God has granted us, challenge those skills, receive respite, and be accepted for who we are. For us to accommodate all abilities, all ages and their families, we must have a vast pool of volunteers. These volunteers are trained in skills and interviewed to see what type of ability they should be paired up with.
A few times a year there are special events with minimal cost. Adapted snow skiing runs out of Hidden Valley Ski Resort in Eureka, MO. Collaborating in this event is Gateway Ski Program. Another special event is our adapted water skiing. This event occurs at Jefferson Point Pavilion in Lake St. Louis, MO. We collaborate with Missouri Disabled Water Ski Association (MDWSA). This event allows our families to ski (standing or sitting), tube or boat rides. So many have thought they might never ski again but getting on the water is a life changer for so many. One participant said that is was “freeing” for them, that they were not confined or labeled.
Our family inclusive summer day camp, Camp Lighthouse, is nothing like the ordinary summer camp. We do crafts and water activities like other camps. We also do horsemanship and adapted water skiing, rock climbing, tree climbing or zip-lining. This camp takes place at Strong Tower Ranch in Wright City, MO. The fee is kept at a minimal because the camp is for the whole family.
HARBOR Unlimited meets their participants ‘where they are’. Whether the ability is autism, Down syndrome or traumatic brain injury, all enter as individuals. HARBOR Unlimited wants our participants to be present because we have the most impact when guards and walls come down. The smiles on participants’ faces during activities and watching families see their loved ones succeed truly makes our hearts pound. Our goal is for participants to succeed at Camp, Launch Events or special activities and have that carry over to their daily challenges.
Parents, care givers, and/or spouses can also get what they need, whether it is respite for a few hours or getting to watch their loved one succeed. Parents get their choice of helping their child or allowing us to be their companion for a few hours while the parents either participate in the activity, use it as respite or use it to support other parents. Siblings, who…depending on the ability and the effects on the family…sometimes feel left out, get plenty of attention too. When siblings get attention, it takes stress off parents as well. We aim for siblings to be able to be themselves and not have to worry about being pushed aside or helping with their sibling.
The impact goes beyond our families. Volunteers are impacted as well. Many walk away in awe as they reflect on the day’s events. It amazes them to witness what each participant can do, the smiles on their faces as they perform the activities, and knowing they helped make someone’s day and maybe their week or month. Many times, tears are seen from the volunteers as their participant succeeds. Many volunteers return numerous times because of the influence they had on that particular person, their family, and the community.
Finally, a couple stories…
One participant, who we will call “Michael” attends our snow ski event and happens to have autism. As you may or may not know, many individuals affected by autism have spatial issues and do not like to be touched. Gateway Ski Program has special apparatus for individuals who do not like to be touched and/or have balance issues. “Michael”, who had skis on his feet, was placed in this apparatus which also had skis on it. The ski apparatus has metal bars on each side that allow a skilled skier to assist with movements. There is also a tether attached to “Michael” with a skilled skier on the other end. At the beginning of the day, “Michael” had 3 skilled skiers assisting him, teaching and talking to him. By late morning, it was just the apparatus, the skilled skier on the tether and “Michael” skiing the slopes. It was such a beautiful sight to see the joy on his face coming down the hill in this apparatus with only 1 skier assisting. In fact, it was difficult to get “Michael” off the hill at lunch time.
Another participant, who is blind, wanted to rock climb. The support staff at the climbing facility assisted her by using noise so she knew where to reach and with which hand. Watching the support staff work with this participant and seeing her climb all the way to the top was just astounding. She made it all the way to the top and yelled, “I made it!!!” How can you not be touched by something like this? And… she was so excited, she zip-lined down to get off the tower.