POLK COUNTY – Around 50 years ago, a young girl with cerebral palsy was at Lake Aurora Christian Camp in Lake Wales to watch her brother get baptized.
The girl had so much fun that, when she died, her family gave the camp a memorial gift.
At that moment, Lake Wales resident and former camp director Bill Redmon realized he rarely got thank you notes from disabled guests. Helping people with disabilities to enjoy the camp — and life — as much as anybody else became his “end of life project.”
Redmond began dreaming up ways to help make life more inclusive for people with disabilities, but he knew building asphalt paths through the camp forest would not be enough to make a difference.
That is when the Removing the Barriers Initiative was born, a non-profit board that focuses on working with people with disabilities.
This past Saturday, the Initiative hosted its Big Kahuna Challenge. It is an event that pits 10-person teams piloting large, wheelchair accessible canoes against one another in a boat race to raise money.
Sponsored by Lake Wales Medical Group, the event took place on the Lake Caloosa on the campus of Webber International University in Babson Park. The proceeds benefited the Initiative, as well as one of its biggest projects: Stirring Waters.
Stirring Waters is a grand idea in scale: the largest water park for the disabled on the planet. Once built, the $12 million-plus project will feature a football field- sized water slide, a lazy river, housing on site and changing rooms designed for those who are wheelchair- bound.
Another of the Initiative’s main projects is providing wheelchair-accessible golf carts at various events, so wheelchair-bound people can enjoy events such as the Rockin on the River autism fundraiser concert this past weekend east Polk.
When Redmon retired as camp director in 2006, it was a retirement in name only. He kept doing all this volunteer work. This year Redmon turns 79 and he said he has been praying for a new generation of leaders to come forward and keep his effort through the Initiative ongoing.
As he grows older, the hours required have taken their toll. Bill and his wife, Wendy Redmon, woke up at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, April 6 to prepare for the Big Kahuna Challenge at Webber International University. They did not make it home until well after 10 p.m., after a long day that included volunteering at Rockin’ on the River.
“I’ll be 79 this year,” Redmon said. “I don’t want to be doing this when I’m 80. I need to find younger people so I can turn it over to them. I’m looking for that person.”
Some help has come already, though. Redmon said many have given financial commitments toward Stirring Waters and that students at Florida Polytechnic University have been helping to design the facility. The Veterans Administration is talking with the Removing the Barriers board in support, as there are plenty of disabled veterans who might benefit.
The Removing the Barriers board also started a second Christian camp specializing in serving the disabled located in the panhandle.
For those who want to get involved in the efforts of Removing the Barriers, there are numerous events yearround that can be sponsored. Those who would like to participate in one of these events, or simply want to donate time or money, are encouraged to check out https:// stirringh2o.com/.