Camp Spotlight: Virtual

As summer approached and COVID spread across the world, camps all over the United States were closing. Not Camp Abilities. The world of Camp Abilities is about making necessary adaptations to achieve our fullest potential. A pandemic was simply another challenge to overcome.

How do you run any camp virtually? How do you run a virtual camp that prides itself on one-to-one support? How do you run a camp that requires specialized equipment? How do you teach a sport that requires tactile learning? How do you coach and give feedback over a tiny computer screen?

The answers were easy – and difficult – you just do it. You believe in a virtual Camp Abilities and then you run a virtual Camp Abilities.

In the weeks before, organizers and coaches spent many hours suggesting and rejecting ideas. But with the commitment of everyone, Camp Abilities – Brockport became Virtual Camp Abilities. Twenty-six kids. Ten specialists. A week of camp. When I spoke with Lauren, she was thrilled at the results. But, what did the campers think?

Angelina and Isabella

Camp Abilities – Brockport is five hours from Isabella and Angelina’s home. They are fifteen-year-old twins who attended their first camp five years ago. Before attending their first camp, neither girl had been exposed to many sports. They arrived in Brockport excited and scared in equal measure. It was their “freedom week”.

They loved making new, lifelong friends. They loved sleeping in dorms. They loved meeting role models and networking. They loved trying sports they had never considered. Both girls were particularly nervous learning beep baseball. “I was worried I’d slam into someone. But the coaches broke down each part piece-by-piece and I was able to understand.”

Isabella arrived at her first camp knowing how to swim. But not knowing how to swim the various strokes of a competitive swimmer. She had not known about the different strokes or racing. A coach stood in the pool with her and carefully demonstrated each stroke. Standing still in the water, Isabella practiced and mastered the technique with her coach before she set off down the lane. “I was scared of hitting the cement wall. That happened and it hurt. And I was nervous actually racing because I didn’t like being seen [while still learning].” Isabella faced the fear of hitting a wall and now she is active in gymnastics and faces down the fear of hitting the bar. She said, “It’s very scary but I look forward to going back to the gym when this [pandemic] is over.”

While Isabella loved the water, Angelina loved the track and the feel of cross country running. She was taught how to use a tether and continues to run cross country and track for her high school. Angelina is the twin who likes to be out and about. Her mother told me Angelina will go to the store even though she can’t go inside due to the pandemic. “Angelina just likes to be on the move.” Cross country is a perfect fit.

It was very disappointing when camp was canceled. They would miss “hanging out”. They would miss the team spirit and the competition. They would miss sleeping in dorms. They would miss “FREEDOM WEEK.” 

But like the rest of the world, they decided to make the best of it. 

Virtual Camp 2020

A few weeks before camp, two large boxes arrived. Inside the girls found a complete camp in a box that they didn’t have to share. They discovered jingle balls for goalball, jump ropes for fitness, a beach ball for fun, soccer balls and therabands and shot puts and discuss, guidewires and tethers and yoga mats.

Even several weeks after camp, the girls were still excited about the equipment they “get to use all year round.”

The campers were divided into four groups of six and participated in yoga, goalball, track and field, fitness and soccer. They learned new skills, improved on old skills, set goals and broke records.

Every day began with Team Time. On the first day, they selected a team name. Angelina and Isabella were members of the Blue QuaranTEAM. After Team Time, the entire group did yoga. Yoga was Isabella’s favorite. She particularly enjoyed “learning new poses.” 

After yoga, the four teams broke into different rooms and worked on a specific sport. For example, on Monday, Angelina and Isabella did soccer and fitness. On Tuesday, track and field and goalball. At the close of each day, the campers could work on specific skills during Specialization Time.

“I wondered how it would work without the one-on-one instruction and without the use of hands. But the coaches were so patient and descriptive. They verbally described each movement. It was better than I expected.” ~ Angelina

With the help of a parent and a camera, every camper received individual assessment, correction, and instruction for each skill. “It was organized chaos,” the girls’ mother, Samantha said. “But a good kind of chaos.” 

Care to Share

Every day, whether on-site or virtually, the campers are asked to share something from the day. 

On Wednesday, Isabella shared, “During five-a-side soccer, I had a really fun time playing with my sister. I got better at running and dribbling at the same time. Now soccer is getting easier which is crazy because I’ve only been doing it for two days.”

On Thursday, Angelina shared, “Today, I got to work on my long jump form. I was able to beat my last long jump distance.”

Self-Advocacy

Being able to advocate for oneself is a driving goal for Camp Abilities. We want each camper to go into their communities knowing what they need and asking for it. Each day, the campers listened to the advice of others who have learned to become self-advocates. Both girls mentioned these role models are a vital component of the Camp Abilities experience. 

“I use cycling as my medicine. Just being able to work out and stay active helps with other things besides staying fit, like my mental health, especially during these difficult times.” ~ Griffin Pinkow, elite tandem cyclist.

“Speak up for yourself to get something that you want. In life no matter who you are it’s important to work on the skill of self-advocacy.” ~ Ruth Childs, Theater Professor at SUNY and Self-Advocacy Director for Camp Abilities 

“You gotta stand up for yourself. You have to make sure that you have the opportunities because sport is such a positive influence on your life.” ~ Kevin Broussard, Paralympian

Choice Activity

At the on-site camp, the campers are given free time to kayak or swim or relax. For the virtual experience, the campers played games such as “escape the virtual room” or trivia. Both Isabella and Angelina were winners in Scattergories and Family Feud. They made granola and even had a spa night!

A Parent’s Perspective

One of the unique aspects of the virtual experience was parent involvement. Each camper was required to have an adult assistant. For Samantha, it was a wonderful bonding experience and a chance to start exercising. 

“It was a real learning experience for me. When the girls go to Camp, I get to see the results but not the teaching. I didn’t realize what went into each sport. I had no idea. I got a little taste – just a little taste – of what my girls do but also the complexities of running a camp. It’s one thing to teach your child fine motor skills, such as holding a fork. But to teach gross motor skills with someone else’s body? We played goalball inside so I got to see it up close I never realized there was so much technique involved. It was cool to see.”

“The girls kept such a good attitude. They were cheerful and enjoyed every minute.”

“My girls showed such skill and patience. They are special, special girls with an amazing set of skills.”

What I Wish the Sighted Community Knew

“I want people to take me for me. Not my visual impairment.” ~ Isabella, age 15

“People underestimate me. ‘Oh, you can run?’ I want to say, ‘Of course I can. Why is that a surprise?’” ~ Angelina, age 15

“It’s a disservice to the sighted when they underestimate my girls. When someone focuses on the visual impairment, they miss the awesome kid. I want to take the veil away. Visual impairment is a trait – like brown hair. My kids are exactly the same as all other kids.” ~ Samantha, mother to Isabella and Angelina

Thank you, Angelina, Isabella and Samantha for taking the time to talk with me about Camp Abilities and life. You are delightful young women. To Angelina – you’ll make a great teacher. To Isabella – I’ll hear you on the radio someday. ~ JAC

Virtual Camp Abilities

We could write pages and pages about how to run a virtual camp. We could show you schedules and lists of needed equipment. But camp is about people. It’s about Angelina and Isabella and Braiden and Zack and Ronan and Elora and all the other kids. Parents, coaches, advocates, sponsors. Camp Abilities is about inclusion and potential – whether in person or in the virtual world. In case you were wondering if Virtual Camp Abilities was a success, listen to the campers:

“I am most proud of running a mile in 13 minutes and 43 seconds.”

“I am most proud of running a mile in 8 minutes and 10 seconds, and I am also proud of improving the dribbles in 5-a-side soccer.”

“With camp, I’ve learned what I want to continue through the summer. So, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I’ll do Body by Dotty. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I want to do soccer, and I will do a mile once and a while too.” 

“I made it across my grandparent’s pool yesterday without having to stop.”

Next Year

COVID is a worldwide war. Camp Abilities can’t win that war. But we can – and did – win this battle! We Believe We Can Achieve! 

We’ll be together in 2021  – one way or another.

Gratitude

“Thank you to all the athletes and families. We couldn’t do this without you!” ~ Lauren Lieberman

Organizing and managing a Camp Abilities requires a great deal of support. We’d like to thank the following people:

Presenters

  • Heidi Macpherson, President, The College of Brockport
  • Kevin Broussard, Paralympian
  • Terry Kelly, singer and songwriter
  • Megan Fink, CIT
  • Ray Zylinski, Assistant Technology Instructor
  • Martha Reuther, Paralympian
  • Griffin Pinkow, elite tandem cyclist

Camp Volunteers and Coaches 

  • Alex Stribing, Assistant Director and Yoga Specialist
  • Matthew Farwell, Graduate Assistant
  • Jasmine Bradwell, Graduate Assistant
  • Cristina Iannacchino, Graduate Assistant
  • Kelsey Sammon, Graduate Assistant and Assistant Team Leader
  • Lizzie Weaver, The Shooting Stars Team Leader
  • Erin Scheno, Green Gators Team Leader
  • Ali Weaver, Red Rovers Team Leader
  • Sara Koppenhaver, Blue QuaranTEAM Leader
  • Peter Rifenburg, Assistant Blue Team Leader
  • Rachel Sherman, Assistant Green Team Leader
  • Jeffrey Hart, Track and Field Specialist
  • Dorothy Niemira, Fitness Specialist
  • Emily Gilbert, Soccer Specialist
  • Jess Parfitt, Goalball Specialist

Sponsors

  • Lions Clubs in 20E-1 District
  • Lavelle Fund for the Blind
  • Gibney Foundation
  • Golisano Foundation
  • Theresa Foundation
  • Wilmott Foundation
  • Delta Gamma
  • Rochester Press Radio
  • Ralph C. Wilson Foundation

Other Virtual Camp Abilities were conducted around the globe, including:

  • Florida
  • Nebraska
  • Pennsylvania
  • Arizona
  • Saratoga, NY
  • Utah
  • Ireland

More Information

For more information on Virtual Camp Abilities please check out the following:

https://www.campabilities.org/newsletters.html (2020)

~submitted by June Converse

~A Loss of Sight, Never a Loss of Vision~

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