Graceland University nurtures and sends into the world individuals who take the mission of the university to heart and carry it out in their daily lives. An example of this occurs each summer at Lake Doniphan near Excelsior Springs, Missouri, where a concentration of Gracelanders – representing a wide range of ages and backgrounds – passionately come together and volunteer a week of their summer at Camp MOJA.
This summer, nearly an even number of more than 80 campers and close to 80 volunteer staff fulfilled a shared mission promoted by Camp MOJA, Community of Christ and Graceland University in which the Christian values of human dignity, mutual respect and social responsibility were more than just words. That idea came to life.
Camp MOJA was founded in 1977 by Community of Christ, Graceland’s sponsoring church. It is a summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities and offers campers fulfillment of recreational and emotional needs. A nonprofit organization, Camp MOJA relies on the work of volunteers to offer at least one week a year where the campers who attend feel like number one. Graceland’s vision and mission are woven into the organization and the experiences it offers.
The co-directors – both Graceland graduates – together have 45 years of experience with Camp MOJA. Cris Dykeman ’01 began going to the camp at 13 and continued through her time as a Graceland student and beyond graduation; even when she moved to Georgia, something about the experience kept drawing her back each summer.
“There are so many pieces of the Graceland mission that tie into our mission at Camp MOJA,” explained Dykeman. “Our goal is to provide an experience for underrepresented individuals that shows them the basic human dignity they often do not receive. And for counselors and staff, they get the opportunity to experience mutual respect and social responsibility with a population they often would not interact with otherwise.”
Johnny Godfrey ’06 began going to Camp MOJA at 15. He also continued through his time as a student at Graceland and now travels from San Diego, California, each summer to attend camp. With Dykeman, Godfrey works throughout the year to fundraise and plan for the success of another camp.
As a Graceland student, Godfrey served as the Agape House President and the Graceland Student Government (GSG) president. “These experiences shaped me as a person and as a professional,” he shared. After 19 years, Godfrey still finds inspiration from the community at Camp MOJA and at Graceland. “The campers are so amazing and demonstrate selfless love in all that they do, and the counselors, staff and volunteers – many from Graceland – are absolutely fantastic and give 100 percent to provide a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Dykeman, now an admissions counselor for her alma mater, sees possibility beyond touching the lives of campers during a single week each summer. She described how she and Godfrey have built a powerful experience into the mission of Camp MOJA for the volunteer counselors as well, who are often high school age.
“We try and teach them leadership values and encourage them to put this down as one of the brightest spots on their resume,” she explained. “It is the piece I'm most proud of on my resume, because I feel it encompasses who I am as a person both in and out of an office setting.”
In addition to the co-directors, Graceland pride was widespread throughout the volunteer staff. From counselors to nurses to photographers, Graceland alumni, staff, and current and future students shared in yet another learning community in which lifelong learners continued to develop their potential for meaningful and productive lives.