Day camp for the blind and visually impaired gives kids joy

Ten-year-old Meredith Day makes her way down the slip and slide in Avalon. Eventually her friends join in on the fun. For the week, the house is their home.

“It makes me feel happy because I know that I have people who are like me,” Day said.

Meredith and her brother Derrick are visually impaired. They’ve been attending the Helen L. Diller Vacation Home for Blind Children for the past four summers. It was established in 1972 by a few members of a nearby Lions Club. The three-story building that’s located a short walk to the beach welcomes 20 campers each week — 10 boys and 10 girls — from mid-June to mid-August. It’s free to all the campers, although it costs about $1,500 a child per week. The Challenged Children’s Charity Corporation, which operates the vacation home, relies on grants, fundraisers and donations.

“That’s what motivates you; to see the enthusiasm of those children,” said Chuck Covington, vice president of Challenged Children’s Charities Corporation. “Probably half of them are blind and the other half are visually impaired. Just getting ready to enjoy a good week at the shore.”

“The great part about the Diller Home is kids just get to be kids,” said camp director Emily O’Donnell.

160 kids attend the camp each year. 12 counselors live in the home. They’re all trained in how to properly guide a visually impaired child.

“Sighted guide is instead of using your cane out in the public, kids can grab onto the back of your elbow. That’s an easy way to move around town, move around at the beach or at the boardwalk,” camp assistant director Jimmy Moreland said.

The week is scheduled with all sorts of activities, like a trip to Wildwood, speedboat rides, boardwalk shopping, beach days and more. They also play adapted baseball and other sports. All the campers wear blindfolds, so no player has an advantage over the other.

“I like all the activities and I like that the people here know what I go through everyday. So it’s easier to make friends with them because they don’t expect you to do things that they know that you can’t do because they can’t do it either,” said 12-year-old Derrick Day.

“Some of these kids are the only visually impaired child in their district, sometimes in the county,” O’Donnell said. “I had a camper in this particular week that that was her goal because she doesn’t know anyone else who was visually impaired. So that just a beautiful thing.”

Derrick keeps in touch with his summer camp friends during the school year.

“Sometimes I call them and I’ll ask, ‘Hey, how do you do this math problem in Braille,'” he said.

He’s already looking forward to next year, and O’Donnell is just as excited to welcome him back again.

“When the last camper leaves, yes, it’s a sigh of relief that we had a successful, safe season. But it’s so fulfilling to know that we provided vacations to 160 kids who are so deserving,” she said.