At Summer Camp, Disabled Youth Can Get into the Swim of Things: Handicapped Children Learn to Love Outdoors

By Montgomery, Christine | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 11, 1997 | Go to article overview

At Summer Camp, Disabled Youth Can Get into the Swim of Things: Handicapped Children Learn to Love Outdoors


Montgomery, Christine, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


NANJEMOY, Md. - It wasn't homesickness that started spreading over Lions Camp Merrick by the third day. It was nicknames. The "Molasses" cabin (because they are "as slow as") and the "Ghost Club" (expert scary storytellers) are just two of the groups at the site, where for one week in August, blind and visually impaired youngsters can get a true residential camp experience.

To be fair, by midweek's 8 a.m. roll call at the flagpole, Molasses cabin leader Tresha Ferebee says they had redeemed their straggler personas.

"Now we're the Werewolves," she says.

The Charles County camp, owned by the District 22-C Lions Club, also offers a residential session in July for area children with various levels of hearing impairment. Soon residential stays will be provided for youngsters with other disabilities, such as diabetes and muscular dystrophy, a spokesman for District 22-C says. It's the only place in Maryland and Washington that offers residential camps for blind and deaf children.

Canoeing, camp fires, nature hikes, arts and crafts, swimming and sports are the focus of Lions Camp Merrick. The disabilities are incidental.

Melissa and Lauren Sheeder, sisters from Baltimore, thought sleep-away camp might be boring. Too structured, too much like school.

What would they do all day? How would they like the strangers in their cabin? And what about the food?

"It's delicious!" says Melissa, 10.

"There are a couple of girls here who are vegetarians, and they take that into account," says Lauren, 11. "And the beds are comfortable. Just like home."

"There's just a lot more kids in the room," Melissa says.

Last week the girls, who have extremely limited sight because of glaucoma and a genetic disease, learned how to paddle a canoe - first in the pool, where instructors showed them how to get in the boat and balance it. Next they'll take it out in the Potomac River, which has a small sandy beach on the camp's edge.

"My favorite part was when they tipped us over," Melissa says. "They did that so we wouldn't be afraid."

The way in which the counselors introduce new activities - neither girl has ever been in a boat - makes a big difference, Lauren says. "It's not like school - they take time."

That's really the only difference between this camp and other residential facilities, says Ruth Ann Robison, the camp's co-director.

"We use a lot more description with things, and a lot of hand-over-hand," says Mrs. Robison, who's also the outreach coordinator at the Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore.

"Hand-over-hand" is a teaching technique in which the instructor places his or her hands over the child's to illustrate how to do particular tasks. The camp's other director, Karen Hartlove-Newcomb, showed a group of girls how to make beaded necklaces using hand-over-hand teaching to get them started. A little messier lesson came later, when the campers turned peanut-butter-covered pine cones into bird feeders by rolling them in bird seed.

Lions Camp Merrick is supported by the Lions clubs of District 22-C, which covers Montgomery, Prince George's, Calvert and St. Mary's counties, along with the District.

The fees range from about $125 to $300 a week per camper, including those attending a one-week session in August for visually impaired adults. But the Lions Club sponsors those who cannot pay, and no one is turned away for financial reasons.

About 36 children are at camp for the visually impaired this summer, almost double the number of who attended the inaugural session last year. …

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