Rock climbing, horseback riding and whitewater rafting are not the type of activities normally associated with the visiually impaired or blind. However, at the Colorado Center for the Blind’s Summer Youth Camps they live by the motto “live the life you want” and with four different Summer Youth Programs offered, the Center focuses on teaching campers the abilities you can have when dealing with any amount of visual impairment.
For the youngest campers, aged 5 to 11 living in the Denver Metro area, the Center offers a three-week program in June. The Confidence Camp for Kids is just that, a camp where visually impaired children learn to read braille, navigate with a cane, do chores around the house and gain the confidence to do many fun activities like horseback riding, swimming and hiking. Brent Batron, the director of Youth Services at the Center, believes this can be the most rewarding time for someone growing up with a visual impairment.
“Some of these kids are being exposed to braille and using the cane for the first time,” Batron says. “The confidence that these kids are getting, I think that’s the biggest thing. Also friendships, a lot of times these kids we get from the Denver metro area, they’re coming from a place where they’re the only blind kid in the school, so they’re developing friendships with other blind students that are from different schools. … A great part of this camp is they just get to be kids, which is not always the case.”
Batron loves to connect with the kids at camp — and he can really relate to them, as he is visually impaired himself. Originally from Maine, Batron learned about the Colorado Center for the Blind at a National Federation of the Blind convention. It was at this convention where he realized what he was missing.
“I understood at that point that I could do anything, and even though I could see better than a lot of the people there, I couldn’t do as much as the people there,” Batron says. After attending the Colorado Center’s adult program in 2001, he joined the Center as a cane travel instructor and has since moved up to director of Youth Programs.
Much like Batron, many campers like to return to work for the camp.
“One of the nice things that really is cool about this program is that once these kids become 11, 12 years old, they want to become junior counselors, so they’re giving back to kids that are younger than them,” he says. “They’ve had so much fun and learned so much and are so excited about it that now they, even at that age, are giving back, which I think is really, really cool.”
Campers between the ages of 12 and 14 attend the Initiation to Independence program, a Monday through Friday program for three weeks in June. Here, campers get more chances to interact with blind and visually impaired adults who are in many different walks of life. Building on the independence skills taught in the Confidence Camp, these campers are shown how blind adults live their daily lives just like anyone else.
“In the summertime … we have probably about 100 blind people every day here in the Center, so they (campers) get these blind adults as role models also. And if the receptionist is blind and can do his job and use a cane and use braille, it’s empowering to these little kids to know they can do these types of things,” Batron says.
For high school-aged campers, the Center for the Blind offers two programs: Earn and Learn and Summer for Success. These two eight-week sleep away programs aim to prepare children for the next step in independence. The Earn and Learn program offers lessons in resume development and interview skills, aiming to help campers earn summer paychecks. The Summer for Success program helps campers who may be going off to college and need to learn certain skills like taking tests, writing papers and handling large college classes. Living in the Center’s provided apartments also help campers gain the skills they need to live independently as they move forward. Both programs offer the opportunity to travel with the Center to a National Federation of the Blind convention to meet nearly 3,000 other blind and visually impaired people.
The Summer Youth Programs offered at the Colorado Center for the Blind provide many different learning opportunities for the blind and visually impaired children of the Denver area. Those interested in attending should not worry because they will be surrounded and supported by people who have or still are learning the necessary skills to live independently. Learning there will give visually impaired and blind youth the confidence they need to move forward.