SARATOGA SPRINGS In August of 2014, Camp Abilities Saratoga hopes to bring a sense of hope and self-esteem to blind, visually impaired, and deaf-blind children and teens.
The camp hopes to offer professionally adapted sports and recreation programs with an emphasis on confi dence building, both athletically and socially. But more volunteers are needed to get the project off the ground.
Camp director Tiffany Mitrakos took on her position at the Saratoga location after working for fi ve years at the Camp Abilities Brockport location.
She was approached by the Saratoga Springs Lions Club to found the camp as a local, independent service project. Mitrakos jumped at the opportunity to expand her work in the Capital Region. But her excitement is all about the kids: “They’re great, and unfortunately in a school setting, they aren’t pushed to do the sports we know they can do. Not all their P.E. teachers know how to modify the activities or realize how far they can be pushed.”
The Camp Abilities program, started in 1996 by Dr. Lauren Lieberman of the State University of New York College at Brockport, aims to have a continuous effect on its participants. Lieberman, who worked at the Perkins School for the Blind before her current position at Brockport, hopes that Camp Abilities will help kids participate more actively in sports at school and in their communities.
“Our goal is to give the kids an opportunity to learn these adapted sports and also how to modify games like soccer and basketball. And we teach self-advocacy so they can show their teachers and coaches how they can play and be as successful as their peers,” Lieberman said.
The camp will offer adaptive sports such as Beep Baseball, which is a completely audible version of the classic American game featuring beeping balls and buzzing bases, as well as adaptive rowing, ice skating and horseback riding and other modified camp sports such as tandem biking and track activities.
For many, Camp Abilities provides participants with their fi rst encounters with other visually impaired adults and children, many of whom are the only blind students at their respective schools.
PEER GROUP EXPERIENCE
President of Camp Abilities Saratoga Inc., Richard Reeves, started the organization with a group of Lions Club members with an interest in helping the visually impaired. “It’s so good for the kids to have a peer group experience. They’re competing equally against their peers and no one is left out,” he said.
The nonprofit organization still has a way to go in terms of organization, fundraising, and planning, but Reeves says it’s on its way. They are beginning to reach out to local businesses and community members to create additional social programs as well as to fund the existing activities.
The Camp Abilities program now has 17 independent locations around the world, including the new location at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. The Saratoga location will be the third in New York state and Mitrakos hopes the varied locations will allow participants to form friendships locally.
At the end of the weeklong program, the Camp Abilities staff provides participants with an assessment of their progress in hopes to encourage continued physical activity at home and at school.
“They get to see their success and find new activities they’re interested in that encourage them to stay active for the rest of their lives,” Mitrakos said.