In the summer of 2002, I was a counselor at a camp for children who were blind or visually impaired. My mother, Patty, helped form the organization and was also camp chef (affectionately known by all the kids as “Patty Cakes” because of her excellent breakfast). The children’s ages ranged from 8 to 15 and I was in charge of the younger boys.
Camp ran for one week and was located on a beautiful dirt backroad with rustic cabins tucked into the woods, an athletic field, and access to a small lake. Unfortunately, all of this was situated on the side of a fairly large mountain with a massive incline. Did I mention these kids were blind? I really expected more problems but, to my amazement, the campers quickly memorized the walking paths and were not the least bit bothered.
The schedule varied each day and the kids rotated between playing beeper baseball (yep, it works just like it sounds), crafts, swimming, and paddling around in kayaks. Most campers had never had the opportunity to do these kind of activities and it was inspiring to see how quickly they adapted. None of them let their impairment get in the way of having fun.
However, not all of the activities were completely thought out, such as fishing. Imagine a handful of visually impaired kids standing on a crowded dock, wielding fishing poles for the first time. I don’t know what was caught more that day, the fish or my skin. There were some advantages, though. For the kids having no luck, I would ask to borrow their pole, quickly catch a fish, then hand it back and say, “Hmm, I’m not having luck either, maybe you should try again.” Wouldn’t you know it, they always caught something soon after that.
The most memorable part of camp for me was during the evenings when the kids were getting ready for bed. It was a chance for them to talk about their day, unwind, and enjoy the camaraderie of camping. As part of my responsibilities, I had to make sure everyone got enough sleep and the hardest part was keeping their books away! Note to self: you can read braille any time, day or night.
At the end of the week, the campers had one last hurrah by hiking the mountain that camp was based on (again, one of those activities you question afterward, but the kids were excited to go). The trail was a little under 4 miles roundtrip and some of the terrain was quite rocky and steep. Personally, if you had put a blindfold over my eyes and told me to do the same, I would have walked at a snail’s pace. Not these brave explorers! Eventually, I had to take the walking stick from one of the more rambunctious campers so that I could tether it to his backpack and keep him from running.
More than a decade later, I still cherish my memories from that summer. I witnessed true perseverance in those kids and was reminded to enjoy every day to the fullest. I’ll also never forget the night one of my campers flossed between his toes, immediately before flossing his teeth.