NGOs: A Special Place: Young Life Capernaum in Washington, D.C.
I first learned about Young Life Capernaum at a chili cookoff fundraiser. My friend Rachel had recently stepped in to lead the Washington, D.C. chapter and was looking for volunteers to help out once a month during Saturday’s “club.”
Young Life is a Christian-based organization that is about building relationships with teenagers to give them a fun, healthy and safe space to grow and interact with others. Young Life Capernaum is an extension of the organization and focuses specifically on young adults with special needs. The name “Capernaum” comes from the story in the New Testament, where a group of men break through the roof of an overcrowded home to lower their paralyzed friend into the house where Jesus was teaching so that he could be healed.
Rachel, who has a gift for working with children and adults with disabilities, started the Capernaum chapter to give young adults in often marginalized areas of Washington, D.C., an outlet where they could express themselves and build friendships.
“Often these kids will just sit in front of the TV all weekend long. There are no places for them to go and hang out with their friends,” Rachel told me.
Young Life Capernaum’s mission is to change that through a monthly “club” gathering and a four day-long summer camp, where leaders aim to give campers "the best time of their lives." Participants have fun, learn new things, karaoke to Bon Jovi songs, try the zip line, and grow in their friendships with each other. Inevitably, each gathering always culminates in a dance party.
Before I started volunteering, I felt awkward around those with disabilities, never wanting to inadvertedly say or do the wrong thing. Yet, within one weekend of volunteering the awkwardness disappeared.
The following photos, taken in 2010 and 2011, show participants in Washington, D.C.’s Young Life Capernaum at both the weekly club and during summer camp. I am privileged to call them my friends. They have taught me much about joy and gratitude in the face of adversity.
Though I decided not to include their names, I tried to capture them at moments when their personalities shine through. My hope is that the photos will provide a bridge to others who may not have much exposure to those with special needs.