This is Kim Flanagan’s favorite time of the year.
As the youth program coordinator for IFB Solutions, she’s ready for about 30 children who are blind or visually impaired to arrive for Student Enrichment Experience (SEE) Camp, which begins July 8 at Tracy’s Little Red Schoolhouse.
“The children’s excitement fuels this place. When they come bounding off the bus, I feel like we’re doing something right,” says Flanagan. “Hearing them being happy keeps us motivated.”
The children can come from anywhere, but most live in the Triad and attend typical elementary, middle, or high schools. SEE Camp is the one opportunity many of them have to be surrounded with blind or visually impaired students, focusing on literacy as well as the skills they will need to learn how to live independently.
IFB is a nonprofit supporting the employment of people who are blind or visually impaired. Tevin Price, who works at IFB Solutions as an HR representative and recruiter, attended SEE Camp as he was beginning high school.
“I had a lot of classes where I was the only one who was visually impaired. It’s easy to feel singled out and have a ‘Woe is me, no one understands me’ attitude until you’re around only blind and visually impaired students,” Price says.
As one of the older students at SEE Camp, he had his first experience as a mentor and leader to the younger students.
“I learned more about myself and people like me,” Price says. “The younger kids look up to the older kids and see they’re OK. They see adults who are blind or visually impaired functioning successfully. It creates an immediate connection because I could relate to what they’re going through.”
A camp for the senses
Since 2012, SEE Camp has been held in Tracy’s Little Red Schoolhouse, a facility designed to teach children who are blind or visually impaired, life skills such as doing laundry, dishes, and making a bed, as well as enrichment activities including pottery, music, technology, and gardening.
From September to June, about 15 students attend an after-school program at the schoolhouse, and there are also overnight camps throughout the summer on the Nantahala River and along the shores of Lake Norman. The community’s financial support, as well as grants, enables IFB Solutions to offer both the after-school program and SEE Camp at no cost to parents.
“We do a good job of disguising learning as fun,” Flanagan says. “Learning to sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ is fun, but they’re also learning to sing it while they wash their hands to make sure they’ve rinsed all of the soap off.”
At SEE Camp this summer, students will “visit” 15 countries. As they visit, they will receive a tactile passport stamp they can feel. They’ll hear music, feel cloth, learn traditions, and taste food. In Egypt, they will make a camel with cardboard tubes and cotton balls, standing in a sandpaper dessert.
“Most parents are thrilled with the progress their children make in the program,” Flanagan says, since many of the students who attend the schoolhouse have multiple disabilities in addition to being blind or visually impaired. “We have students who can’t feed themselves who leave being able to make a simple meal. They come in diapers and leave potty trained,” Flanagan says.
A welcome home
IFB Solutions is the largest employer of individuals who are blind or visually impaired in the country, and other facilities such as the Gov. Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh and Camp Dogwood on Lake Norman have built North Carolina’s reputation for accepting and supporting people with disabilities.
“People in North Carolina are just a cut above to welcome those who are perceived as different and give them opportunities to be successful,” Flanagan says.
Price agrees. As a child, his family moved to North Carolina to have access to more services for those who are blind or visually impaired. After graduating from East Forsyth High School and UNC Charlotte, he returned for an internship and then a job at IFB Solutions.
“IFB is one of our community’s hidden gems, and many don’t understand everything we do. Being located in Winston-Salem makes our community more diverse,” he says. “I have a heart for kids with disabilities, and SEE Camp sparked this passion and taught me how to be successful later in life.”