After someone had invited them to volunteer their fishing boat and a little time in the 2015 Minnesota Breakaway, Chuck and Gayle DeMers made their way to Lake Geneva Conference Center in Alexandria, Minnesota with their boat in tow. Not knowing what to expect, their anticipation was to give a few people with disabilities an opportunity to have a little fun casting lines in the water and, maybe, a few boat rides. Little did they know that during those few days their lives would change.
Gayle in her own words; “Like a stone thrown into a pond, sometimes it seems God sends a ripple of blessings which begins with our saying ‘Yes.’ That happened to my husband, Chuck, and me last year when close friends asked if we would like to join them in volunteering to serve at the 2015 Minnesota Breakaway Camp. It was such a rewarding and joyful week that we all gladly participated again this year (2016).”
Chuck is a quiet fisherman. He doesn’t say much. When you ask about his experience at camp his Norwegian, fisherman face turns red and tears swell up in his eyes. That’s all you need to know about his heart.
During their 2015 experience at Breakaway, Chuck and Gayle met a group of guys who have developmental disabilities and they love to fish. Somehow through their time on the boat and through their fish frenzy afternoons, something happened inside the hearts of the DeMers. Almost mystically, but most certainly spiritually, a friendship exploded between Chuck and Gayle and the guys. A friendship that has captivated all of them.
Gayle puts it like this, “Because of camp, Chuck and I have experienced many rich blessings but perhaps the greatest has been becoming friends with four of the campers who live in a group home not too far from us. Every couple of weeks, we spend a few hours with the guys to watch them in their softball or bowling leagues, to celebrate birthdays and holidays, to share a home-cooked meal or dessert, or to share some snacks as we sit at their kitchen table and play games.”
After the 2016 Minnesota Breakaway Gayle approach the leadership of Lift Disability Network with an idea. She said, “Why do we have to wait for a whole year to see everyone? Why can’t we have a reunion?” So, thus begin planning. The reunion happened on Sunday evening December 4, 2016.
No one knew what to expect. Minnesota Breakaway has been established for about five or six years and all it has been is one great week in the summer; therefore, no one knew if anyone would show up for a “reunion.” Invitation when out to everyone. Campers, Crew members, friends and volunteers were invited to be a part of a few hours of fun and friendship. Well, 160 people responded.
The time was spent enjoying food, playing “minute to win it” games and laughing. After all was said and done, everyone said let’s not wait until Breakaway in August, let’s do something this spring (2017). Who knows what will happen. What we do know is that when someone says yes to a little fishing, big things can happen. Relationship happens.
Lift Disability Network was founded to give relationship an opportunity to impact the disability life story. In the case of Chuck and Gayle and the guys, that is exactly what has happened.
The greatest thing, Chuck and Gayle will tell you, is that those four guys are like their family. Gayle wraps it up, “Whatever the activity, we always enjoy our time talking, laughing, and just hanging out with each other. There is never a doubt our presence is appreciated. Tom, Matt, Steven and Bobby, thank you for being our friends… you are a blessing to us!”