O.W.L. Camp is not only a place for kids to grow and have fun experiences; it’s just as fun for buddies. This year is my third year of being a visually impaired buddy, and I’ve been able to see a lot of change in the sighted buddies that come in. The day before campers arrive, everyone goes through blind sensitivity training. As our session progressed, I noticed more buddies and counselors asking questions that most people would be too afraid to ask. This was also a great opportunity for the buddies with a visual impairment to open up and share what their lives are like. Then it was time to put on the blindfold! Everyone partnered up and practiced sighted guide techniques on the way to dinner. At dinner, it was an option to take off the blindfold, but some kept it on as an extra challenge. I sat with the two interns, one who had been to camp many times and the other was a first timer. After a while of talking, the veteran decided it would be a fun idea to turn the newcomer’s plate as she’s trying to eat blindfolded. As funny as it was to hear her say, “Why is there cottage cheese everywhere?”, it was still a great teaching opportunity. By the end of the night, there was a huge change in how the sighted buddies interacted with the visually impaired ones. They put trust in us that most people wouldn’t, from putting on a blindfold and letting us guide them around campus to asking questions most would be afraid to ask. This gives me hope for our campers and the week ahead.
Today was the day that everyone’s been waiting for—the day we met our campers! The pairing of buddies and campers is a long process, but the reveal is so much fun! I still remember being a camper and meeting my buddy for the first time. There was so much excitement in looking around the room, wondering who would be my built-in friend for the week. Now I’m a buddy, waiting anxiously for my camper to arrive and for the activities to start. The excitement of the ever-changing activities and bonds I’ve made has kept me coming back for 5 years, so I couldn’t help but ask some of the other buddies and campers why they chose O.W.L. Camp.
Some people came because they wanted to make a difference in someone’s life. One of our counselors came from Wisconsin at the last minute because, “there was an opportunity and I took it.” And my favorite response was from one of our youngest campers, who said, “I just got signed up, but I’m excited!” He then did a little dance to show that excitement. The same energetic 8-year-old shared with me that he was most excited about bowling. Thinking he may not have known what all was in store, I asked him why. He said it’s because he always wins! Then when we went bowling, the little stinker beat me by 3 points! He may not have won the entire game, but he had the most fun playing and jumping up and down for everybody else. This is what we learn all week: to be confident in who you are and what you’re capable of, and to cheer others on along the way.
It’s safe to say that between our campers, buddies, and NewView staff, we rode every single ride at Frontier City today. From riding the carousel to the Brain Drain, so many campers conquered their fears. My team has the youngest campers, but you couldn’t tell by how quickly they pulled us to the big rides. As we passed by other teams during the day, the excitement on their faces said it all. Riding rollercoasters isn’t something most of these kids has experienced before. I know I hadn’t. But the way they encouraged each other and kept our energy going got us all through the day.
One of the special parts of being a buddy is watching your camper grow during the week. And today was the day I got to see a whole new child. This very shy 11-year-old who was a little on the timid side last year wanted to go on the brain drain FIRST, braving every ride without hesitation and with a huge smile.
You can’t have something big and great without little things to build it up. The smallest things make the biggest difference. These are the things I think about when I look at day 4 of O.W.L. Camp. I look at the rock walls we climbed, knowing that each small rock helps just as much as the big ones. I got to see campers go from total fear to total domination in just a few tries. Once they understood that every rock can help, big or small, they could conquer any wall.
Maybe I’m just tired and felt the need to write about rocks, but I felt like this was a lesson we all needed to learn. Being on a team with the younger campers reminds me of my years as a camper. Our younger ones have really kept us going all week long with nonstop energy and funny stories we’ll remember forever. Since I’ve been a part of O.W.L. Camp for a while, I’ve gotten to see some kids grow into amazing individuals who are determined to let nothing stop them.
Justin Salas spoke to us today about his success as a rock climber who is blind. Meeting other adults who are blind or visually impaired and are very successful is so important for campers, because it allows them to see that nothing is impossible for them. It also lets the buddies see that people with a visual impairment are capable of a lot more than most people think.
Every person trips and falls, every person scrapes a knee at some point, and every person will fall trying something new. It doesn’t matter if you’re blind, deaf, sighted, hearing—it’s impossible to get through life without a few bruises. Today we tried indoor skydiving and ice skating, and while there were a few falls, I am still so proud of everyone for giving it their best effort.
Growing up with low vision, I was very sheltered. Even now at 17, my family is still very protective of my activities. But this is one of the main reasons I fell in love with O.W.L. Camp. Every year, we do something that a blind child doesn’t normally get to do, from small things like going to the zoo or water park to big things like indoor skydiving.
It’s fun to break through stereotypes and people’s expectations of what someone with a visual impairment can do. And I hope that’s something that campers continue to do after this week.
As I’m sitting in the audience watching the campers perform on stage at the annual talent show, I can’t stop thinking about what O.W.L. Camp means. Oklahomans Without Limits: that’s who these kids are. That’s what they come here to prove year after year. O.W.L. Camp is more than a camp for visually impaired children; it’s a chance for them to prove everyone wrong—from doctors to teachers or anyone who’s ever told them, “no, it’s impossible”. They come to show off their skills and prove that they CAN do whatever they put their minds to. If they want to make it to the top of a rock wall, you can bet they’re going to make it to the top. If they want to try ice skating, they know they have people around to help them up when they fall. They know they’re in a safe place with people that believe in them 100%, and that gives them a confidence you’ll never find anywhere else. They’re surrounded by a community of people they know will be around even after this week is over. They can go back to school with a new-found confidence and show those people that told them that they couldn’t just what they did at O.W.L. Camp 2019.