FREDONIA, Wis. - The JCC Rainbow Day Camp in Fredonia is the place to be.
"Lots and lots and lots of fun," said campers Valerie and Eleanna. "We went swimming today, and guess what? We went fishing, too."
The camp partnered with Vision Forward with one goal in mind: To let these kids play.
"That’s really part of the point of this camp, allowing children who are blind or visually impaired who, unfortunately, in other circumstances, may not have the same access, to be able to fully engage in a camp opportunity," said Jaclyn Borchardt, Vision Forward Association's director of operations. "I think that’s really what allows us to kind of open up the doors in terms of showing our kids all of the things that are possible or available to them."
From archery to goalball to swimming and fishing, there was something for everyone.
"I think it’s a great opportunity for kids with vision impairments and other disabilities to have a good time, and enjoy life and just kind of get a break from usual everyday life," said David Oleksy, a former camper and current camp volunteer.
On average, about 70% of school-age children who are blind have never participated in any sports or physical activity, so Vision Forward and the Albert & Ann Deshur JCC Rainbow Day Camp aimed to change that for these kids, who range from 5-18 years old.
"With the support of the camp staff, and our volunteers and Vision Forward, we really were able to create an environment where they can see that they can do these things," said Borchardt. "That really is transformative and allows the kids again to see all of their abilities as opposed to focusing on a disability."
Katie was one of the campers who made sure to take advantage of her time and do a little bit of each activity.
"She did archery, and she got a bullseye," said Kay Steinoff, Katie's mother. "We played goalball this morning, and she caught a fish. She has been pushing through everything, and it’s just unbelievable. I totally never thought she could do some of these things, so it’s amazing for all of us."
As transformative as this camp has been for its campers, the staff gets that same feeling.
"When I saw a child for the first time be able to play sports, and she came and said, ‘I’ve never played sports before, and I scored three goals,’ you would’ve thought she just won the Olympics," said Lenny Kass, director of the Albert & Ann Deshur JCC Rainbow Day Camp. "That what this camp is all about."
Through the power of interaction and the comfort of familiarity, these children got to be themselves, all while experiencing something they never had before.
"I can’t wait to go and tell all the people that I know that have children with visual impairments," said Steinhoff. "They encourage the children to be everything they can possibly be."
When kids can just be kids, these smiles are what make it all worth it.
"They are themselves, and they’re completely uninhibited," said Steinhoff. "This is the most amazing thing there, and it’s wonderful."