Another Year of Enriching Opportunities at the ISBVI Summer Camps
By: Seth Johnson
Every June, Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) hosts a pair of summer camps uniquely catered towards children with visual impairments. The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation is a proud sponsor of these camps that continually enrich the lives of children with vision impairments, providing youth with so much more than just a weeklong adventure.
Open to children ages 9-15 who are blind or have low vision, Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) Camp welcomes campers to take part in a wide variety of adventurous activities, including archery, horseback riding, axe throwing and more. Aligned with both ECC and STEM standards, the common thread of this weeklong, overnight camp is that it pushes children with visual impairments outside their comfort zones and supports every student in accomplishing each particular activity with adaptations best suited for that child. As a result, children learn to see themselves as successful, and in a variety of roles ranging from climber to engineer.
Between the ages of 10 and 15, Eleanor Habecker was a regular attendee at EYH Camp, only missing out on a few years during that time span due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In looking back on all the fun she’s had, Eleanor fondly remembers the trips she and her fellow campers took to a local waterpark.
“Last year, and then a few years before COVID, we went to a waterpark, and it was a whole lot of fun,” says Eleanor, who has very limited vision due to optic nerve hypoplasia. “That was probably my favorite activity because there was a lot of stuff to do. I had a lot of fun going down the waterslides and floating down the lazy river.”
While taking part in these fun activities, Eleanor also managed to make a lot of new friends at EYH Camp. “I have some of my closest friends from going to the camp — one I still have sleepovers with today,” Eleanor says. Reflecting even further on this point, Eleanor’s father is grateful for the ways in which EYH Camp has positively impacted his daughter’s social life.
“I’ve appreciated that Eleanor gets to hang out with more kids who are blind,” says Philip Habecker. “I think it’s good for her to be around other kids who have an understanding of who she is and what life is like in her shoes.”
Being from Goshen, Indiana, the Habecker family has also felt plenty comfortable sending Eleanor to ISBVI in Indianapolis for EYH Camp each year.
“We always know that she’ll be really well taken care of,” says Eleanor’s mother, Liz. “We know she’s got great people there for her.”
Much like the Habecker family, Pauline Valvo has found that the ISBVI summer camps best suit the needs of her daughter, Stella. Having attended ISBVI since the age of 3, Stella has SOX2 anophthalmia syndrome and was born without eyes. As Stella has grown up, Pauline says she’s had trouble finding summer camps that meet her daughter’s specific needs. This all changed, however, when Stella was of the age to attend Camp Abilities at ISBVI.
Also held every June, Camp Abilities is a one-week comprehensive educational sports day camp for students ages 7-15 who are blind or visually impaired. Students experience a variety of health and fitness activities that can inspire lifelong dedication to valuing fitness, while learning about blind/low vision specific sports such as beep baseball, goalball, and five-a-side soccer.
By attending Camp Abilities, Pauline says Stella discovered her love for track, which has positively impacted her life in more than one way.
“She got exposed to track through Camp Abilities, and she loved it,” Pauline says. “So she ended up participating on the track team at school this fall. It’s something she can do anywhere. When we go to parks, she wants to practice running. Participating on the track team has now helped her with her social skills. I’ve seen her grow in terms of developing friendships.”
Prior to attending Camp Abilities, Stella was able to attend some other summer camps in the Indianapolis area with the help of a one-on-one aide. Ultimately, though, Camp Abilities has been the summer camp experience that best meets her needs.
“There’s just something different that happens when you’re in an environment that’s designed for your unique abilities,” Pauline says.