Lessons From First Encounter with Blind Campers at Tennessee’s Indian Creek Camp
This was my first direct encounter with a camp for the blind. And what an experience it has become!
I braced myself with expectations that it might rain, that there would be plenty of walking and a variety of sport activities, and that being in a Christian environment, I would find new friends and encouragement for the battles of life. My new experience came with meeting 53 people, with a spread from teens to individuals in their 50s, all totally or legally blind. Most of the campers came from Tennessee and near-by states, with a few traveling from as far as California.
This year’s season of summer camps for the blind kicked off at the venue with the longest continuous run in the 45 years of camps organized by Christian Record. National Camps for the Blind® and National Camps for Blind Children® are perhaps the most widely known program of Christian Record Services. The initiative began in 1967 with a single camp at Kulaqua in High Springs, Florida. As a star attraction, this year 14 summer and winter camps span the United States and Canada. Over 50,000 blind campers have attended these specialized camps.
The Indian Creek camp location, near Nashville, was once a home base for the Cherokee Indians. It’s at the edge of Center Hill Lake, with its 700 miles of shoreline.
I was glad to meet someone for whom the camp for the blind was also his first, though he has had considerable experience working with youth. Ken Wetmore, the newly appointed camp director, is the youth director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in much of Kentucky and Tennessee.
“This is going to be exciting,” he told me the day the camp started.
“How challenging is this going to be for you?” I asked.
“Actually, the blind campers are not that different from other campers. If there are special needs that surface, we have counselors or counselors-in-training to assist. My staff is well trained and focused,” he added
This year’s camp had a list of those who wanted to come and volunteer, Wetmore explained. Those who were chosen to be counselors and assist in a variety of camp activities were first shortlisted. Running consecutively with the blind camp was a camp for 51 children ages 7-9. The combined groups had 58 staffers, joined by a group of 20 counselors in training (CITs).
The Indian Creek camp offered many options for the older blind campers but also it was attractive for kids, with their differing attention spans and interests. About half of the 53 blind campers, totally or legally blind, were below the age of 30.
An important feature of the experience was to observe and participate in the camp’s inspirational moments. Matt Evens, the camp pastor, told campers at the first evening’s campfire event that his role was to help the campers find God. His words were greeted with applause and amens.
For Linda, who lives in Lexington, Kentucky, the camp was “almost new” as she returned many years after attending one when she was 12. She came back to see what has changed over the years – and what hadn’t. Now in her 30s and a professional in her own right, the attractiveness of the camp continues to be its Christian atmosphere.
“Sure, there is a difference between then and now,” she commented. “We have changed, and those who run the camp changed, too.” She obviously enjoyed herself, displaying a smile as she was kayaking with gusto.
The positive, caring atmosphere of the camps run by NCBC is appreciated by the blind campers. “We are treated with respect and care,” was repeated again and again. Good planning and careful attention to detail was the work of Tim Arner, Southern Region field director of CRSB, and Bob Clayton, a Christian Record representative for the region and camp coordinator. They told me how inspired they are by the campers’ participation, and also by the Ken Wetmore team of engaged and dedicated staffers. “They all make us proud,” they concluded.
Having fun and being involved with an assortment of activities that led the blind campers to exercise and strive for new heights offered a rich menu for an observer like me. Much of what was going on was aimed at helping the campers grow in self-confidence, and to develop an appreciation for God’s love and care.
It wasn’t difficult to encounter Michael, who was back at the camp again, as his independence and physical vigor stood out. Though totally blind, he was eager to ride a BMX bike, an activity at which he excelled before an accident left him blind. He got his wish realized. Laying out a safe route for him, counselors equipped his helmet with a camera. A film of his experience received a standing ovation by all campers and staff – blind and sighted alike -- at the concluding campfire on Saturday night.
It was Michael who cheered others in a kickball game to keep on going. For him, it seemed, his blindness did not destroy his determination to help himself by helping others. Almost immediately, as the Indian Creek Camp ended on June 17, Michael planned to take part in another camp, the NCBC Blind Biker’s camp which will take the group of tandem bike riders over the course of three days between Nashville, Tennessee, and Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 20-24. The ride will culminate at Ivy Green, the famed Helen Keller’s childhood home-museum.
Observing archery coach Narlon de Oliveira’s would-be-archers made me realize that so often I may be oblivious of the gifts I have and leave them unused. In Narlon’s words, who encourages the blind archers to keep on trying, and teaches them to angle where they would shoot an arrow, “We often complain about things. They could too. But they cheer each other on. If one of their friends hits a balloon, they rejoice.”
I came to the camp to observe, and learn about a world of blindness. But it was what Narlon said about his experience with blind young people that made me think. Simply, the campers taught me much about myself.
*Ray is coordinating marketing for Christian Record