The East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind recently held its second annual Camp Lighthouse last week focusing on independence.
The camp is a way for blind and visually impaired high school students to have an opportunity to safely experience a week of independence, confidence, and connections with friends like them, according to Vice President and Chief Mission Officer Alicia Lansford.
“We had only girls this year, but it is open to both boys and girls. Students entering ninth through 11th grade can attend, completely free of charge,” said Lansford. “Students stay in dorms at UT Tyler and explore the Tyler area all week. It is a fast-paced, activity-packed camp, where we also introduce the students to Tyler and all it has to offer.”
Lansford said activities can vary year to year, but all are designed to encourage students to be independent and confident despite their vision loss. All activities are accessible, so students get to experience a space designed for them, not having to sit on the sideline like they do sometimes in non-accessible activities.
“While they have loads of fun, they are also learning skills designed to help the transition into adulthood and making lifelong connections with friends with vision loss,” she said.
Lansford said the purpose of the camp is all about independence.
“Our mission at East Texas Lighthouse is to empower, and we strive to do that daily at our training center; camp is no different. People with vision loss expectedly face barriers throughout life, but our goal is that they develop the confidence, experience and critical thinking skills to navigate those challenges with dignity,” she said. “Additionally, most activities of our camp reinforce the Expanded Core Curriculum which are concepts and skills that often require specialized instruction with students who are blind or visually impaired in order to compensate for decreased opportunities to learn incidentally by observing others.”
This year the camp added a new event at Pine Springs Golf Course where students got to drive golf carts with chaperones.
Camp Lighthouse is the only camp in East Texas designed specifically for students with low or no vision, but accepts students from all over the state.
“We work hard to plan events that introduce the students to Tyler as a whole, because Tyler is such a good place for people with vision loss. We have great public transportation, several colleges to choose from, many jobs, and the support of specialized services through the East Texas Lighthouse,” she said.
“It’s important for others to understand the value this camp provides; it is a lot of fun, but it can truly be life changing for a student who doesn’t get opportunities like this,” Lansford said. “Many kids are the only student at their whole school with vision loss, so a week around a whole group of students like them can make a world of difference.”
East Texas lighthouse is a local nonprofit serving the needs of the blind and visually impaired community. It has a manufacturing division, Horizon Industries, which converts and sells wiping towels to the federal government.
Funded partially by those proceeds, it serves anyone who is blind or visually impaired here in its own 40 counties but has also been serving people across the nation for the past five years.
“We are even training someone from South Africa at the moment. We want to serve others beyond geographic boundaries and this camp is an example of that,” Lansford said. “We hope to create more creative partnerships in the community to keep this camp free of charge for our students and families.”