CBS News: Long Island’s Camp Helen Keller offers children with low vision a unique summer camp experience
By Carolyn Gusoff, CBS News | July 29, 2022
BROOKVILLE, N.Y. — A special summer camp is underway on Long Island for children who are blind or visually impaired, but that doesn’t stop them from all the activities you may only associate with sighted people.
CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff visited the Long Island University campus in Brookville, where New York’s only day camp of its kind is held.
It’s a camp that buzzes with activity — and rings, too.
A spin on sports, players follow the sound of the ball and can get an assist.
“I need a counselor to guide me while playing tag,” one camper said.
Counselors like Nicole Mauro, who has no color vision, started as a camper. She’s now assistant camp director.
“I hope they’re able to find the best parts of themselves, visual impairments aside,” she said.
At Camp Helen Keller, created 60 years ago, kids ages 5-15 are all visually impaired to varying degrees.
Some children can’t see colors but are learning to understand them.
“We say, do you want blue like the ocean or yellow like the sun or green like nature and the grass, and it teaches kids things that they need to learn incidentally about the world to make sense of what goes on around them,” camp director Stephanie Trollo said.
They can feel what they are creating, games pieces have braille labels, and dance steps are taken, too.
“We describe what the movements would feel like, so, ‘you’re going to move your hands up like splashing water into your face,'” Mauro explained.
It’s a break from mainstream schools where these kids are often left out of visual activities.
“When we’re in gym, they just tell me to sit out,” 10-year-old camper Alex Sanchez said.
“In school, they’re often known as the blind kid, and here, they’re the singer or the artist or the dancer because everybody’s blind,” Trollo said.
They’re building self-esteem and lasting friendships.
“We’re all friends because we’re all the same,” 11-year-old camper Sophia Allard said.
Helen Keller Camp is free to participants, funded through donations and state grants but what’s priceless, say kids and campers, is the acceptance.
“This is probably one of the best jobs in the world, and just being around all these kids is great. And to be able to play any kind of sports and do all the types of activities that any other camp would be able to do is amazing,” sports director Reid Erickson said.
“It makes me feel happy,” camper Sophia said.
Creating summer memories and lifetime confidence.
Camp Helen Keller is open to eligible low-vision children from Nassau, Suffolk and Queens. For more information, visit the Camp Helen Keller webpage.