Blind kids gain keys to independence at unique camp
Last month, blind and visually-impaired young people learned key survival skills in a newly-built school house designed especially for them.Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind has held the SEE (Student Enrichment Experience) camp for the last five years, but this was the first summer it took place at Tracy’s Little Red School House, a facility named for the late educator Tracy Lynn Callaghan that is located on IFB’s campus off of North Point Boulevard. The School, which opened this summer, is enhancing the camp’s mission to teach blind and visually-impaired youths to function independently.
Its floor makes mobility and orientation training simpler because it is textured so that it feels and sounds different when tapped with a cane. The school’s computers are equipped with software that reads words from the screen. Another room is equipped with a washer and dryer, a fold-out bed and a kitchen. There, instructors teach life skills such as doing laundry and cooking. There’s even an art room and a playground with a bench swing in the back of the school.
SEE activities were not limited to the Red School House. Campers took regular trips to Salem Gymnastics for exercise classes.At the camp, which is run by IFB’s A Brighter Foundation, students receive instruction on everything from using canes to guide them to performing basic household chores.
“They come in here just to be with other kids that face the same challenges they do, the same kind of self-advocacy,” Brighter Path Program Coordinator Jenny Viars said about the advantage of the campers being around other kids like them. “They encourage each other, probably without even knowing it.”
Eleven-year-old Ben James has attended all five SEE camps. When asked what he got out of the camp, Ben had an adventurous answer.
“Lots of zip-lining,” he said with a grin. “I didn’t like it; I loved it.”
SEE’s annual zip-lining trips to places like Carolina Ziplines in Westfield is a tradition that’s become a big hit with campers. The School House also provides adventures for Ben and the other campers. One day last week, students scoured the grounds of the school searching for plastic, beeping eggs. Visually-impaired campers like Ben wore blindfolds during the egg hunt to make it fair for the blind kids.
On that same day, older campers visited a nearby Food Lion to do some grocery shopping. They then had to put the items they bought in there proper place in the School’s kitchen. SEE instructor Jill Wilson used the activity to instruct campers on how to tell the difference between items like barbecue sauce and salad dressing by touching them. This was Wilson’s first year as a SEE teacher, but she’s been teaching independent living to the blind and visually-impaired for more than 30 years. Wilson, who has retinitis pigmentosa, has been visually-impaired her whole life and is now almost totally blind. She taught cooking at SEE and was glad to pass along what she knew.
“I liked to cook, and so I just kind of learned as I went along. Now, I want to help others who won’t have to learn on their own,” said Wilson, who, among other things, taught campers how to operate the microwave by placing brail stickers on the button panel.
Each camper was assisted by a volunteer like Israel Suarez, 17, who was teamed up with 12-year-old Jacob Gerancher. During the Food Lion outing, he helped Jacob, who is blind, find items on a brail grocery list. Israel was by Jacob’s side as he pulled a shopping cart with one hand and used his cane with the other. Israel, who has been a camp volunteer for four years, said he has been impressed by what the young campers can do.
“They have a lot of potential,” said Suarez. “They’re smart kids. Sometimes, I feel like I learn more from them than they do from me.”
Jacob, who has been a SEE camper for several years, especially likes the kitchen activities, including cooking quesadillas on a George Foreman Grill and making sugar cookies. He said the camp is even better in the new building.
“I love this building better than the old building,” said Jacob. “The other (building) wasn’t very much fun because you had to stay in one room.”
Last Thursday, the camp’s final day, campers planned to use the food they purchased to make meals for their families. The School House will host a tutoring program for blind and visually-impaired children during the upcoming school year. Various clubs and groups also meet there. Soon, it will be home to Triad Reading Information Service, a radio station on which volunteers read newspapers for blind listeners