Fun and Friends at West River Camp
By Angela C. Orlando
The activities vary from swimming to giant swings, to motorcycle rides to arts and crafts. There are tandem bikes, games, a hay ride, camp fires and so much more. Campers all agree. Deaf-Blind week at West River Camp is FUN!
From June 7th-12th campers travelled across the nation to enjoy recreation and companionship at West River, located near Annapolis, Maryland. This was the 10th year that West River has offered a special camp week for individuals who are deaf-blind.
Hillary Bates, 33, enjoyed wall climbing, boat rides and field trips while at camp this year. “I had good experiences trying new things at camp, like canoeing, playing games I hadn’t done before, and a lot of other things. I also learned that I should trust myself and have faith I can do things no matter what, and this year I even got a chance to try to lead the support group meeting one day.”
Bates, who is from Crawfordsville, Indiana, adds, “In arts and crafts, I like to make things for my family. I made a bird house for my grandmother. Sometimes I make things for myself.”
Bates has been attending camp at West River for seven years. “I like West River because it’s not very crowded here. Also, it’s near my state home. Other deaf-blind camps are so far away.”
Thirty-nine deaf-blind campers attended this year’s program at West River. Nearly 90 SSPs volunteered to help make the week a success for all campers. SSPs assisted campers with communication, moving around the camp, getting meals, participating in activities, and more.
Linnette Whalen, 47, from Baltimore, Maryland, is totally blind and uses her residual hearing for communication. Whalen’s SSP helped her to understand what was happening around her while she was at camp.
“They described things to me. They used words to paint pictures in my head.”
Kim Higham, 31, of Glen Burnie, Maryland, praised the volunteers and SSP coordinators who work at camp each year. “The coordinators and volunteers are what make camp happen and they are incredible people.”
Higham used her SSP for assistance with communication. She explained, “My SSP helped me with voice interpreting. She repeated what was said in my ear if needed.”
Higham’s SSP also helped her relax so she could enjoy her time at camp. “She helps me calm down when I’m feeling overwhelmed,” Higham said.
Campers enjoyed the supportive atmosphere at West River Camp. Whalen said, “It’s nice to know other people experiencing the same things. I’m not alone.”
Higham agrees. “One of the best things that come from camp was the chance to meet other people who struggle with some of the same issues that we do.”
Art Roehrig, 66, also enjoys deaf-blind camp each summer. Roehrig, who lives in Washington DC, has been attending camp at West River for six years. “I need a break from my heavy and busy work schedule. That’s why I come here each year,” he said
Roehrig liked the boat rides at camp. He tried both a row boat and a motor boat. His favorite activity, however, was massage therapy. He received two massages from two different people. He explained, “I LOVE massages. It helps relieve the stress of work.”
Yearly themes are a special part of camp at West River. This year’s theme was “African Safari.” Campers enjoyed activities such as African related crafts, an African cooking class, African Culture night and a tour of African Art at the Art Gallery in Washington DC.
Bates was enthusiastic about the tour of the Art Gallery. “I got to feel and touch art work from the museum and gift shop. I love going new places and learning new things.”
West River Camp is a place for fun, recreation and experiencing new things. It’s a place where people who are deaf-blind can find understanding and acceptance. Higham sums up the camp experience, “Camp is wonderful, but it only lasts one week. There are 52 weeks of the year where we are functioning in a world that doesn't necessarily accommodate us or our needs. Camp really is like another world...one made just for us. I guess that's what makes it so special.”