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Summer camp serves youth with vision impairment
July 14, 2017

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The Lighthouse of SWFL, an organization devoted to helping those with vision impairment lead independent lives, wrapped up its summer camp on June 29, giving children an opportunity for recreation, education and adventure.

Lighthouse hosted its 11th annual summer camp for 15 children and youths through young adults, offering field trips to a horse stable, an airport, a wildlife preserve, a working farm, and a guide dog school, just to name a few.

The kids camp was for children between 5 and 13; the older one for those 14 through 22.

"They get to go out and discover things. Usually at summer camp there's a lot of competition. Our camp does a great job leveling the playing field," said Amy Turner, Community Relations coordinator for Lighthouse. "They can experience things in a safe way, like nature."

Campers got to hear the sound of a horse's whinny and pet the nose of a Clydesdale horse at Whispering Pines Horse Farm. Without vision, relying on their sense of touch is a must, and feeling a baby alligator brought out the brave ones of the bunch at Babcock Ranch Preserve. For many, it was their first time petting a horse or experiencing nature up close.

Older campers went to Page Field and sat in the cockpit of an airplane, holding the controls, feeling the buttons, and talking to a pilot. The trip to a Southeastern Guide Dogs was especially important as they were each given a guide to walk with and practice.

Rounding out the end of each week featured a day at Sun Splash or visiting the Broadway Palm Dinner Theater to take in a play.

Campers also visited Southern Fresh Farms, and Sun Harvest Citrus and Ostego Bay Foundation provided wonderful presentations at the Lighthouse building.

Turner said excursions like this offer more than a new experience.

"We had a 14-year-old who was super shy and had never been able to connect. It's a second disability. Now, he's petting horses and interacting with other kids. For the younger kids, he's the mentor," Turner said. "Now, he has the courage to speak up and it was nice to see them come out of their comfort zone."

Eleazar Wilcox, 15, of North Fort Myers, said the camp gave him ideas of what he wants to do with his life.

"The camp showed how they can accommodate you. I'm with the Division of Blind Services and they mentioned it would be a good idea to join," said Wilcox, who works at The Palms in Fort Myers in the kitchen. "They always teach you about career opportunities and work experience."

Cosette Dunkle, 16, of Cape Coral, it was a great way to learn to navigate the world.

"It was fun to be with the little kids and hanging out and getting to know the group you're with better," said Dunkle, who wants to become a pediatric oncologist. "I'm learning some of the tips and tricks in learning to manage your vision."

Lighthouse is going beyond fun and right into responsibility. This past week, Lighthouse started a summer work experience program where high school and college students who have vision impairment can apply for summer employment at local companies and experience work for the first time.

Those in the program can bus tables, work at assisted living facilities, sort and hang clothes at a donation center and prepare themselves for future jobs.

"For four weeks, the students will learn life skills such as responsibility, punctuality, and organizations," Turner said. "By working, it improves their employability and gives them a chance to be in the real world."

The mission of the Lighthouse of SWFL is to enable people of all ages with a visual impairment or blindness to remain independent, active and productive in society.

Lighthouse of SWFL, which is at 35 W. Mariance Ave. in North Fort Myers, serves more than 400 people living with blindness and vision impairment per year in Lee, Hendry and Glades counties.

Lighthouse of SWFL is a 501(c)3 United WayPartner that is partially funded by the Division of Blind Services, Lee County government and private donors.

For more information on Lighthouse of SWFL, go to www.lighthouseswfl.org, call 997-7797 or visit them on Facebook and Twitter.

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