Drivers behind proposed change at golf course

By on March 3, 2016
A side view of the proposed residential cabin. Illustration courtesy Fry Associates Architecture.

A side view of the proposed residential cabin. Illustration courtesy Fry Associates Architecture.

‘It was a God thing’ says HVMI’s executive director

Talk with Tim Sheetz and Kyle Robinson about Handi*Vangelism Ministry International for just a short time, and you will quickly perceive a palpably prayerful attitude about their possible future in Akron on the present site of the Westview Golf Course. Sheetz is HVMI’s executive director and Robinson is the organization’s director of mobilization and will replace Sheetz as executive director at some point in the future.

HVMI is a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian organization whose most visible component is a summer camp program for children and adults with physical and/or mental disabilities. Campers range in age from nine years old to 50-plus. There are currently six separate week-long camps, two weeks at Camp Sankanac in Pottstown, and four weeks at Malaga Camp in Newfield, N.J.

Both of those Christian campgrounds have programs of their own, and HVMI staff and campers must vacate the premises before the other camps are scheduled to begin.

If it’s God’s will for HVMI to move its scattered ministry to the Westview site, and if the Lancaster County planning commission, the Akron planning commission and Akron Borough council officially approve of the ministry’s plans, then Robin Seidel will sell his meticulously maintained golf course to HVMI, and the HVMI founders — Tim and Kathy Sheetz — their staff, volunteers, donors, campers and camper families will certainly raise a Hallelujah! sure to be heard throughout the western part of the borough.

Feelings expressed by citizens attending the February Akron Borough council meeting were somewhat mixed about the change in use for the R1-zoned property, but the comments were mostly positive.

Asked about HVMI’s roots, how it started, Sheetz said, “It was a God thing.

“My wife, Kathy, and I, a long time ago, back in the early 70s, were just married and we decided that we were going to do whatever God called us to do. Kathy was teaching fifth grade in Pennsville, N. J., and I was working for duPont.

“God showed us a place in New York State, about 50 miles north of New York City. It was a residential program for children with disabilities, and also a summertime camping ministry. We went up there for an interview, and signed a contract for the following year.

“When it was time for us to begin work, we drove up there, but we missed our orientation sessions. So that first night, we didn’t even unpack our suitcases. We just went to the campsite. Kathy was assigned three girls with disabilities, I was assigned three boys.

“Keep in mind, we had no training. All we could do then was watch other people to see how things were done.

“For the first five days, I felt that God had made a mistake. Nothing was happening right. Kathy cried herself to sleep every night. That was hard for me as a husband to witness, to see my wife cry herself to sleep. We began to wonder about what we were going to do, if we should go back and try to start over. Or what…

“That fifth night, after more tears, Kathy and I got down on our knees, by the bed and asked God to forgive us for looking at this ministry from our perspective and not from his. We recommitted ourselves to whatever His calling was for us.

“The next day, we got up and went to the same three kids for her and the same three kids for me, and God just showed us beyond the disabilities, to the souls that we needed to see, and to know who God was.

“That was the beginning.”

Over the next six-and-a-half years, the Sheetzes were houseparents to six children with disabilities.

From that beginning, the Sheetzes went on to start their own family, now two married daughters and four grandchildren, but continued their work with the disabled. Following their New York experience, they joined Bible Centered Ministries International, which is headquartered in Lancaster. At the time, BCM did not have a strong emphasis on people with disabilities.

The Sheetzes started a program for the disabled and it eventually grew, after 30 years, into a stand-alone organization, HVMI. Since 2004, HVMI has been operating its ministry in a number of locations and is currently headquartered on the second floor of the former Science Press building on Chestnut Street in Ephrata.

The plans for the Westview site, tentative, of course, and pending approvals, would call for a cabin with dormitory style accommodations capable of sleeping up to 88 people. Robinson noted that their usual camps number 25 to 30 campers, each of whom has a 24-hour counselor, so normally the cabin facility would only be used by 50 to 60 people.

Plans are for campers to arrive Monday morning and leave Friday afternoon. In a six-week season, some 150 campers would potentially be at the Akron facility, 25 to 30 each week. While they are at the camp, they would follow a routine with time for meals, recreation, Bible study and evening entertainment.

Sheetz said the first year, 1973, the BCM program limited campers to children with disabilities who were seven to 12 years old. But when the 12-year-olds wanted to come back, they raised the age to 13. The kept raising the age limit. Some 85 percent of the campers do return every year, and there is now no upper age limit. The season’s final week is devoted to a reunion of sorts for campers aged 50-plus, physically challenged but fully functioning adults, many with college degrees and regular jobs.

In addition to the residential cabin, there would be an office building on the property, two or perhaps three residences for permanent staff, a pavilion, a multi-purpose building, playing fields and a swimming pool.

During camp weeks, Robinson is in charge of the games. His job is to adapt volleyball, for example, to the abilities of the players. Some of the players might sit in chairs, and the ball might be allowed a bounce or two before it needs to be sent back over the net. Robinson said his goal is to have every player enjoy the game and have a positive experience, both with the games and with their entire week at camp.



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