This summer, I was lucky enough to have one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life, literally. I worked with a summer camp program for teens who have lost all or part of their vision. Although the program is only a few months long, it has definitely been one of the most inspiring things I have ever done and continues to reassure me that I am following the right career path.
Each time I leave work, I am amazed. The students in this program do not dwell on what they have lost. They continue to challenge themselves and work hard to regain their independence. During the day, they each have classes to learn crucial skills such as using the subway or doing laundry. At night, they are able to connect with each other and share their stories. Boy, do they have interesting stories!
These students are from all over the United States, and many of them are the only visually impaired student at their school. They share what it is like being treated differently because of a disability. Yet, from where I stand, they each seem to push past that and maintain a positive outlook on life. These teens do not let their lack of sight limit them.
Part of what I do for the program is helping out with field trips. I am there to share my eyes. When I first started the job, I figured we would take trips to a park every once in a while or something along those lines. I could not have been further off target.
With this students I have: gone all over Boston (using the subway to do so,) explored the woods on hikes, embraced the chilly Massachusetts waters at the beach, traveled through historic forts, taken on a ropes course 25 feet in the trees, fished (I was in charge of the worms,) gone for horseback rides, and so much more! Next week, we plan to go to an amusement park!
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how much independence they had when the program started. I figured I would be running around lending my eyesight to help lead them everywhere. Although I am happy to do that, I only have to do it occasionally. Almost every one of the campers asks me if they can try whatever task they are facing alone before I help them. They take the time to learn as opposed to relying on my vision. That is something that leaves me in awe- they fight for their independence in a world that is so reliant on sight.
I have gotten to know each student very well- their likes and dislikes, their future plans, some of their past. I will miss them when the program is over, but I am confident that they will go on to live their lives fully. Each of these teens sees the world a little differently, but they don’t let that stop them- despite the doubts of others. Aside from their eye sight, they are just like any other teen and I am thankful for the lessons they have taught me.