Braille Monitor                                                                                                           November 2004

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New Opportunities for Michigan Youth

by Katie Munck

From the Editor: In the October issue we reported on the impact high expectations and challenging activities are having in a program for young people in Hawaii. NFB attitudes and expectations can make a powerful difference in the lives of blind kids. The following is a story reported by Katie Munck, daughter of Larry and Donna Posont, leaders in the NFB of Michigan. The weeklong camping experience for blind youngsters that she describes was part of a joint effort among blind adults from several organizations to provide six weeks of camp programming, but Federationists will recognize the emphasis on skill-building and development of healthy attitudes as pure Federation philosophy at work.

Katie Munck is a senior English education major and journalism minor at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. She plans to teach high school English and write freelance. Here is her report:

"Buddy check!" yells the lifeguard, and twenty-four campers scour the water for their swimming partners. The buddy check is loud as kids yell out the names of their buddies.

At Camp Tuhsmeheta, the campers use their senses of touch, smell, taste, and sound to navigate their way. These campers are blind and visually impaired, and Camp T was created especially for them.

Since 1971 the camp's main goal has been to provide yearlong recreational and environmental services to blind and visually impaired children in Michigan. The camp was originally bought by gift money from the Michigan School for the Blind. No state money was used in purchasing the camp; however, the state had control of the trust formed from the gift money.

In 2003 the state chose to withhold the trust money, and the camp was closed for the summer. Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind (OUB), a group of middle-aged and retired blind businessmen, recognized the need and decided to step in on behalf of the camp. In late 2003 OUB donated $40,000. Needing at least $67,000 to run the camp for six weeks, Larry Posont, co-director of Camp T, went to the Michigan Board of Education to request trust money. The Board flatly refused any funding, so OUB raised $27,000 through private donations.

This year the camp is full of campers and tired but excited staff members. The camp's future, though, remains uncertain. For this reason the campers take advantage of every opportunity to have fun.

They enjoy swimming and boating and the activities that take place in the arts and crafts pavilion. The week I visited, campers took the opportunity to imprint designs on medallions of leather. The scene could only be described as noisy. Clank. Clank. Clank. The hammers banged on the metal engravers as campers imprinted various designs on their leather. One camper made something special for Mom--a medallion with a heart on it. During art week the students also learned the basics of stone sculpting. Their teacher is also blind--a common occurrence at a camp that encourages blind students to be independent.

The campers appreciate this independent, hands-on approach. "There are all kinds of visually impaired kids here, and they [camp workers] show you that you can do almost anything you want to," said camper Tiffany Taylor.

The camp's Greenville, Michigan, location also provides opportunity and independence. "The kids learn independence easier at Camp T. There are no cement paths. We're in the wilderness," said Peter Posont, counselor.

The staff is a mixture of sighted and visually impaired people. The campers gain confidence by working with visually impaired adults who are living well-adjusted lives. These counselors also have the opportunity to teach valuable life skills the campers may not be receiving at home.

"I have to stop and think about how I do things before I can teach the kids. I know how I pour my drink and how I cut my meat, but how do I show the campers?" said Steve Decker, counselor. Decker is totally blind.

The counselors also enjoy seeing the growth in the campers. "We let the kids do everything. We show them what they have to do, and we let them do it," John Kusku, counselor, said.

This attitude is evident in every aspect of the campers' lives. The campers get their own food at mealtime, something many of them may not be used to doing. Other campers are encouraged to explore things on their own. For example, many campers have never been allowed to walk without assistance. At Camp T, though, the staff understand the importance of showing rather than telling the kids what to do.

The resulting independence is matched by the confidence boost the campers receive. "I like to see the kids try new things they never thought they could do because they're blind. It's good to see kids grow over the course of the week," Decker said.

The high school week ends with an all-American prom. A blind DJ will provide entertainment for the campers. Several giddy girls have been spotted preparing for the night by making their own jewelry at the art pavilion. Dresses and flowers have been donated. The idea behind the prom is to give these campers a chance to fit in that their public high schools would not provide.

Though the camp is in session this summer, Posont and the other staff members are nervous about next year. Posont and other members of OUB know that they need to raise at least another $67,000 for next year. OUB is trying to make long-term arrangements that could benefit the camp.

"Currently we have two thoughts. We could either fight for the trust fund or try to use the trust money to buy the camp outright," Posont said. He believes that the state considers the camp nothing more than a headache.

Posont, though, sees great potential if OUB were to buy the camp. "If the state got hold of this land, it would develop condos and create extra taxes and an ecological mess for the area," he said. "We must keep this property natural but developed for its purpose--successful blind adults mentoring blind children."

Despite the politics involved, the staff is still focused on its first priority--the campers. "The little things they accomplish really make it worthwhile," Posont said.

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