'Great way for them to feel empowered': Kids with visual impairments receive summer camp experience

NOW: ’Great way for them to feel empowered’: Kids with visual impairments receive summer camp experience

FREDONIA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Albert and Ann Deshur JCC Rainbow Day Camp is a summer camper's paradise. The sprawling landscape tucked away in Ozaukee County, has everything kids could imagine; a swimming lagoon, pool and splash pad, basketball courts, tennis courts, baseball fields, a rock wall and more.

For Vision Forward, it's an opportunity to provide the non-profit's visually impaired students with a summer camp experience like no other for a week each July.

"This is our third year here at the JCC. We've been doing a version of this camp for eight years," explained Jaclyn Borchardt, CEO at Vision Forward. "The focus is around creating opportunities for kids who are blind or visually impaired to be able to engage in adaptive sports, other activities. Ways that they can find the ability in really traditional activities but with special adaptations that allow them to be able to participate fully."

Each day, kids from across Wisconsin and Illinois are bussed to Fredonia and given the chance to swim, participate in arts and crafts and play different sports including beep baseball and beep kickball. The opportunity to participate is appreciated by campers like 15-year-old Bennett Lehman.

"You get to talk to people, and you get to make contact with people who have the same experiences as me," Lehman said. "Building the relationships and getting to meet people and talk to people who are, like, my same age and going through the same experiences in life. That's, like, really cool to know there's other people out there that go through what I go through and know that I'm not alone in all that."

According to Vision Forward, 70-percent of kids with visual impairments are not given the opportunity to be a part of the physical activities that they are able to participate in at camp. Those students also find challenges participating in events at school, including physical education.

"Some of our students might be the only kid in their entire school who's visually impaired," Borchardt said. "Carrying a white cane is certainly an important tool, but it also is a very public announcement of the fact that they're visually impaired. Here, they're surrounded by others who have their cane and I really think it creates that environment of, really, inclusivity and the kids feeling comfortable using the adaptations that they need."

Vision Forward doesn't just provide a summer camp opportunity for kids. The non-profit, which has been around for over a hundred years, provides programs and services to individuals of all ages who are blind or visually impaired.

Those programs range from Vision Forward's birth to three early intervention programs to helping adults as they prepare for success in the work force.

Born with vision, Lehman's eyesight has continued to decline over the course of his life, making the types of programs Vision Forward offers all the more useful. Still, the soon-to-be sophomore doesn't let what he can't see keep him down.

"I guess it was always just kind of a fact of life. I was like, 'This is how it is. This is how it be,'" Lehman said. "I always just try to make the best of it. It's a fact of life. You just have to live with it. You can't change it."

It's that positivity type of positivity that makes camp so special for those attending, and those facilitating.

"This is their favorite week of the entire year," Borchardt said. "Seeing the kids just develop, build those self-confidence skills and advocacy skills is really fantastic and rewarding."

For more information on Vision Forward, visit the non-profit's website here: https://vision-forward.org/

Share this article: