Thanks to generous donations from the Lions Club, Tennessee School for the Blind continued its tradition19 Summer Camp Group Photo of hosting three weeks of summer camp in 2019. The camps were held during the month of June. The school has altered the lives of hundreds of blind and visually impaired students from across the state through its summer enrichment programs. The camps have been held each summer on the school’s campus for several decades. The past two summers, Mr. Andy Joiner and Dr. Tammy Parsons have served as directors.
Each week of camp comes with a different emphasis and focuses on particular ages and abilities of the children. This summer, the first week of camp brought together elementary-age children and also focused on those needing 
to learn CDC/Life Skills. 
 
Athletics was the focus of week two and was geared for kids of the middle and high school age. During the finalweek of camp, this same age of students focused on learning in the areas of orientation and mobility. “I am grateful for all of the amazing friendships that I’ve made while at camp.” said Graham Walker of Erin, TN. Graham has been plugged into TSB’s enrichment opportunity now for six years. “I keep in touch with the friends I’ve made at camp throughout the whole year by texting and social media. We all look forward to meeting up again at camp during the summer for two weeks of fun.” He went on to put things into perspective by saying, “I love my community and friends at home, but I have something huge in common with my friends from summer camp.”  Graham, who will be graduating from high school this coming spring, hopes to return next summer as a volunteer to mentor some of the younger campers.  
 
Bryan Johnston came to camp for the first time this year from Greeneville, TN. A portion of his day was spent participating and learning skills of orientation and mobility with the assistance of TSB’s O & M instructors.  Bryan’s mom said, “Bryan learned how to find things and their logical locations in a store, how to cross an intersection, and how to build operational tools with Legos. He even learned how to keep his space clean.” Bryan was overheard saying that he was having so much fun he wants to come to TSB throughout the school year, too! “He learned so much, and we’re so proud of Bryan and how he made friends because he has always had a hard time with socializing,” she said. Bryan seemed to fit right into the program from the moment they arrived on campus. “It was amazing! Thank you so much for giving Bryan this opportunity,” his mother said. The camp staff all passed along how excited they were to see Bryan in camp and they really enjoying having him here, too! 
 
The McKibben family from Oak Ridge, TN, experienced all three weeks of camp as three of their children were able to attend this year!  “Elijah (attending week 3) and Judah (who attended week 1) had such a great time at camp; they are still talking about it,” said Ms. McKibben. She went on to say, “The kids connected with other students their age and made friendships that they are still continuing by keeping in touch. My kids enjoyed all of the places they went and had a lot of new experiences they would not been able to do if it were not for TSB. For this we are so grateful.” Mariah, the eldest of the bunch, was in attendance in both weeks 2 and 3. She was an enthusiastic participant in all the activities throughout the week. Her time was so enjoyable that she has already set her thoughts on attending next summer. She already misses many of the kids with whom she made a special bond. 
Each week of camp began with the kids arriving at TSB on Sunday evening. Campers staying on campus throughout the week were given cottage assignments. Staying in the cottages afforded them a chance to experience what dorm life at the school might be like. For some, this was the first or only time they had been away from home for an entire week. Parents anxious about leaving their child had an opportunity to meet and become familiar with the school’s Youth Service Workers, who staff the cottages. The experienced house parents do a wonderful job of making the campers feel at home.
 
This year, the camp days were jam-packed with great activities. After breakfast, the stage was set to engage the campers in events out of the ordinary. New adventures and experiments within the classroom explored activities supporting STEM and the arts. Then there were adaptive games, sports, and swimming. There were also many social opportunities to engage the staff and interact with other campers. Refreshments were provided and even the making of cotton candy. 
 
Day trips included outings to the Nashville Zoo, Mary’s Magical Playground, and an opportunity to go ice skating. Friday mornings culminated in fun at a water park with a trip to Nashville Shores.
Depending on the campers and the week attending, the evenings hardly were a time to catch your breath and rest. Campers found themselves occupied with field trips, meals at area restaurants, train rides, family fun center trips, and planned activities on campus. This year, campus events included cook-outs and cool water fun with water slides. 
Camp was successful in part because of the efforts of the wonderful TSB staff. Teachers and para-professionals give their time each summer to participate and lead exciting events. The medical staff at TSB cares for the students’ health care while on field trips and on campus. This year’s volunteers, Ms. Meghan from Vanderbilt and Mr. E, from Chicago, were such an asset to camp.  Anna, Ms. Meghan’s guide dog, was able to attend camp many days as well!  TSB strives to form partnerships with local universities which enables them to build a great volunteer base for future camps. 
 
This summer, camp filled up in record time. While we look for as many students to attend as possible, there are limits on the number of and levels of support staff that can be provided for the campers and those staying on campus. The deadline for 2020 applications will be in early April  to allow proper planning. Campers in grades 2-6 will again attend week one. Campers going into grades 7-12 will have two opportunities: one week of sports camp and a middle and high school camp which operates concurrently with the orientation and mobility camp. Anyone interested in attending should look for details on TSB’s website in February of 2020.
Summer camp at Tennessee School for the Blind allows students from across the state to meet with other students who, like them, are blind or visually impaired. For some, this is the first time meeting someone else with a similar condition. Camp activities are designed with accessibility, allowing many of our students first-time experiences in a safe environment away from home.