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Silver Spring Camp Caters to Vision Impaired Children

Camp Lighthouse gives vision-impaired children chance to do typical camp activities -- with a few special provisions.

Mckenzie Warren is an 11-year-old girl who, like many little girls, attends a camp for one week every summer.

Camp Lighthouse isn’t your typical summer camp, however. It’s hosted by Columbia Lighthouse for the blind and visually impaired, and it caters specifically to children between the ages of 6 and 12.

Mckenzie has been coming to the camp for the past four or five years. She has albinism, a genetic disorder that can affect skin pigment, hair color and eye color, as well as causing vision problems, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

“I love that they know about the conditions,” she says. “I’ve been to a lot of summer camps before this, and they always ask about my condition, but the people here know it and are familiar with it.”

Michelle Miller, the director for community services for Columbia Lighthouse, says the camp, which was held at the , is to help children learn independent living, participate in sports and activities and learn to interact with their peers.

Miller says she’s worked with similar camps for the past 10 years and currently serves as director for Camp Lighthouse. She’s also blind, which she says allows many of the children to accept her as a mentor and someone they can talk to.

The camp runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day this week, and each day the children have different activities to do that range from arts and crafts, to braille skills, to independent living, to social skills, Miller said. 

“All the activities have a purpose,” she said. “We show them that with a little bit of activity and thinking outside the box, anything’s possible.” 

One activity Mckenzie says she enjoys is a game called beepball, which is a version of baseball but the ball and bases make beeping sounds, allowing the campers to use their ears to play the game. 

“People that are blind use their ears to see things,” Mckenzie explained. “We all have the same five senses, but they work differently for everyone.” 

Many of the campers, like Mckenzie, enjoy the chance to be surrounded with people who have similar conditions and can relate to one another. But Miller said that occasionally there will be children who don’t want to be there. 

“We’re challenging them to try something new, and that’s sometimes uncomfortable,” Miller said. “It stems from fear.”

The camp operates with counselors who are assigned children to work with one-on-one. There also are group leaders who direct counselors and children.

Supavinee Phanngoen, a leader of a small group, says it’s her job to keep everyone organized, take care of the kids and be there to support them.

Phanngoen has worked at the camp for the past three summers and says she’s always loved working with kids.

“I love that they kind of look up to you for direction and help, and being here is different because they need you in a whole different way,” she said. “They’ve taught me things as well.”

Phangoen says she loves seeing the campers in the pool because they’re very different in the water. 

“They can do whatever they want, and it makes them more independent, like the person that they’re going to be,” she said.

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