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Camp opens up playing field

Congratulations to those who staged and staffed the recent Camp Abilities in Denton to give youngsters with big challenges an opportunity to flex their minds and bodies.

Having the confidence to try new things, connecting with the outside world and knowing what it’s like to be independent are all experiences that most of us take for granted, but many young people with visual and/or hearing impairments aren’t so lucky.

That’s the point behind Camp Abilities, which originated in 1996 at the State University of New York at Brockport and later spread to communities throughout the country. This was the third year a program has been held in Denton.

Hosted by Texas Woman’s University, the camp gave 17 youngsters an opportunity to have fun and stay physically active through tandem biking, beep baseball, track and field, goalball, swimming and rock climbing.

Lisa Hanson, the camp’s director, said many of the students had never been exposed to physical activities like those featured at Camp Abilities. The goal is to provide a safe atmosphere that makes campers comfortable and boosts their self-esteem.

The campers — half from Denton schools and others from various North Texas communities — stayed in TWU dormitories. A state agency that assists visually impaired people paid tuition and campers’ families had no out-of-pocket expenses, officials told us.

Hanson said campers go through the week and become so focused that they forget about home. Some parents struggle with being separated from their children during camp so she texts them about their children’s progress and sends photos.

Volunteers who specialize in helping disabled children come to Denton each year to work with Hanson and her 17 counselors — one for each child. This year, the counselors came from TWU and Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches. They earn college credit for their efforts.

They also gain valuable experience by working directly with campers, which surpasses anything that can be gained from textbooks, participants told us.

The camp also has an eye to campers’ future welfare. Each child is assessed at the beginning of camp and reports are sent to parents and the physical education teacher at the child’s home school. The idea is to help the PE teachers keep the progress going and work the youngsters into campus sports programs.

The camp is not just about helping the child develop capabilities, Hanson said. It also helps parents see abilities in their children that they might not have recognized.

Just because an activity has to be modified for campers or just because they learn tasks a little differently doesn’t mean they’re not capable of achieving success, she said.

We need more programs like Camp Abilities. This unique effort combines education with caring to succeed on many levels.

It shows what can be accomplished when we look at challenges and see opportunities.