by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: In June of this year we published an article by Chris Nusbaum entitled “From Doubt to Dedication: My Journey in the Federation.” Chris’s recounting of events that happened to him when he attended a camp sponsored by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland has occasioned several responses, some from the staff of BISM, whose perception of the camp differs greatly from Chris’s. Two questions have been respectfully put to me. One is why I ran such an article without first fact-checking it. The second is whether running the article means that this is the Federation’s view of the camp and of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.
When we run an article in the Monitor that we consider an investigative piece, we do our best to determine that all of the statements made are factual. Of course only a small number of articles fall into this category. Many clearly are opinion pieces—here was my day participating in a walk to fight leukemia, and here is how it felt as a blind person; here was my trip through an airport with the reactions of one woman to my journey.
I published the article by Chris Nusbaum believing it was clear that this was an opinion piece being told from the perspective of a teenager and relating his perceptions as a child of six. Had I made this clear in the headnote, no one would have considered that this might be a Federation assessment of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland or the camp Chris attended. I consciously refrained from adding this cautionary note because my intention was to let Chris’s article be read without apology or distance. Sharon Maneki has written to provide a different perspective about the camp, and, in the interest of fairness and in an attempt to paint a clearer picture of the camp, I gladly print it here:
A competent historian tries to get as many perspectives or views as possible when writing about a particular event. When writing about specific events in the US Civil War, a historian may not limit himself to describing the perspectives of Union soldiers, but may also include those of Confederate soldiers as well as slaves and plantation owners. Although the article “From Doubt to Dedication: My Journey in the Federation,” by Chris Nusbaum, in the June 2013 issue of the Braille Monitor, was intended as a personal reflection rather than historical commentary, I would like to offer another perspective on KIDS Camp (Kids Independence Development Summer Camp) that differs from Chris’s perspective.
KIDS Camp was a one-week, overnight camp sponsored jointly by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) and the Parents Division of the NFB of Maryland. KIDS Camp began in 1996 and ran consecutively for about ten years. I believe Chris was enrolled in KIDS Camp in 2004, when he was six years old. As the president of the Maryland affiliate during the years when this program was offered, I always visited the camp to work with the children and to support camp staff. I genuinely enjoyed my time at KIDS Camp.
I was present on the night that Chris described in his well-written article. As Chris mentioned, it was the last night of the program. At that time Chris was a timid traveler, as are many six-year-old children. Chris would stand and wait for direction and was reluctant to move at all. Camp staff wanted him to walk out to the campfire on his own. Contrary to his recollection, he was never left in the building by himself. Loretta White, the director of the program, was always nearby, waiting for Chris, and other reluctant souls, to inch their way forward. I observed Loretta bringing Chris to the campfire. She knew that, even though Chris did not accomplish the task of independent travel that night, he needed his supper. She also knew how much Chris enjoyed stories read by Kit Bloom, the Children’s Librarian at the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Loretta White is an excellent teacher. She is also the mother of several severely disabled children. Because of her guidance and leadership, many blind students acquired skills and confidence at an earlier age. Today her children are remarkably independent adults despite their disabilities. The BISM staff members who assisted Loretta were top notch.
Differences of opinion about past events as recalled by a young child and a teacher are not uncommon. Some children respond to a teacher’s guidance immediately, some may remember a teacher’s actions and may benefit from them years later, and some children may never remember a teacher’s influence at all. As I look back on my KIDS Camp experiences, perhaps Chris simply was not ready for KIDS camp at that time. But we must not give in to our doubts; we must be willing to expect more from our children than they sometimes believe they can do.I am very glad that we were able to have the KIDS Camp in Maryland. I was sad to see it discontinued. I am grateful that today we have the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Programs nationwide and that BISM offers programs for older blind children. I regret that Chris feels that he had a bumpy start on his Federation journey. However, I stand by my earlier prediction that Chris Nusbaum will grow, mature, and become an effective leader in our movement.