After the fires at Enchanted Hills Camp, we were flooded with kind words and fond memories from campers throughout our 68 years of operation. In honor of the many memories we all share from Enchanted Hills Camp, as we get ready to rise from the ashes, we’ll be publishing regular stories from campers and members of the EHC Community on our blog. Here’s the first in a series of three, by longtime camper Maycie Vorreiter.
Summer’s Finest Moments: An EHC Reflection
By Maycie Vorreiter
“I want to wake up at Enchanted Hills, where the songbird sings “hello”. And the sun comes a creepin, into where I’m sleepin’, and the redwoods whisper low. I wanna wander through the wild woods, where the rippling waters flow. And come trickling back to Enchanted Hills, to the camp that we love so!”
– Enchanted Hills Camp theme song
My introduction into the world of Enchanted Hills camp, (EHC) began at the age of six, when I attended my first family camp. It was my first time meeting other blind people, kids and adults alike, though at that time, I only remember the kids. The first activity I did was boating. My Dad, brothers and I all got into a paddle boat and paddled around the pristine lake. I didn’t know then how big a part of my life EHC would become. Every year I was pulled back, both by my excitement to see everyone I’d met the year before, to meet new people and to do so many of the activities I enjoyed; arts and crafts, boating, horseback riding, swimming, and later, OJ Radio.
EHC is where many bonds have been created, and today, those bonds are stronger than ever. I met my best friend of twelve years at my second family camp. At first she didn’t want to talk to me because she thought that I was a boy, but that’s another story for another time. We used to love running up and down the ramps of the Lakeside cabins, mostly because of the clattering sound our canes made as they rattled over the planks.
In 2007 at the age of nine, I attended my first youth camp, along with my best friend, who was scared initially. Somehow, I managed to talk her into going, and I will never forget that first no parent camp experience because it was my first time being away from home by myself. Two memories from that week stand out to me. The first happened one night when all the counselors in our cabin (we were in the Shoshone cabin) left for what was probably a staff meeting. I was attempting to fall asleep, but I couldn’t. It was too quiet, and something about how silent it was just made me start laughing. I tried to stop because I knew someone would tell us that we needed to be quiet, but I couldn’t. Soon, the rest of my cabin mates were laughing, and I’d say we laughed for a good five minutes before a counselor came in and said, “You’d better stop, or I’m gonna put you all in separate cabins.” Instant silence.
The second memory from my first youth one session took place near the end of that week. We were all gathered near where the campfires were held, and we were told we would be making a time capsule. A Perkins brailler was passed around, and we were given sheets of paper. What I wrote that night I cannot recall, but I know that whatever it was was a page long. Many years from now, I hope to read that again.
Every year new memories were made, every year new counselors came and went. Every year new activities were added, such as woodworking, new people were met and EHC found it’s way into my heart, where it always will be. What makes EHC special are the campfires, hay rides, (typically at the end of family camp) talent shows (where I performed many times) campers, staff, activities. What makes EHC the place to be is the laughter, the music, hanging out with new friends and old friends, and the wishes that everyone makes at the end of a youth session closing campfire.
I’d like to conclude with a memory that, as of this writing, happened just a few months ago. Just two months before the fire. In August, I attended Music Academy for the first time, and this was one of the best sessions I’ve attended. On the evening of the EHC performance, I stood on the stage at the Redwood Grove theater, and as I was getting ready to sing, I was asked to talk a little about Music Academy. As I talked, I could feel my nervousness for the performance I knew was about to happen, but I also felt contented. Everything at that moment was so peaceful around me, and the sense of togetherness was in the air. It’s a moment I will carry with me forever. It’s a moment I will keep as EHC begins rebuilding. It’s a moment I look forward to experiencing again when I return.
This weekend marks our very first session back up at camp since fires destroyed a large portion of Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa. Thanks to the hard work of the firefighters up at camp, our Tactile Art Barn survived and continues to be a venue for workshops and camp sessions. From February 1 through 4, we’ll be joined by students and woodworking hopefuls from all over, who will learn from internationally renowned woodworker Jerry Kermode and blind woodworker and construction manager George Wurtzel. George works up at camp year round, and in addition to his woodworking expertise, he has plenty to teach us about a life well-lived:
This session is all booked up, but if you’re interested in taking part in future woodworking or tactile art workshops, please contact EHC Program Coordinator Taccarra Burrell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 694-7318.
One year ago, we launched the first annual Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, and embarked on a journey to change the public face of blindness and empower people worldwide to challenge the status quo and reject naysaying narratives around blindness. It’s been an incredible year getting to know and following along with our 2017 prizewinners, Penny Melville-Brown, Ahmet Ustunel and Ojok Simon.
James Holman was not your average nineteenth-century blind explorer. Safe to say, “nineteenth-century blind explorers” is not really a reliable dataset. Traveling the world alone is not unusual for blind people today, so today we view James Holman as an outlier—a sign that we’ve made some progress in these couple hundred years. In the future, the strivings of today’s outliers will seem similarly achievable, and we will thank them for breaking the mold. This year, we saw the launch of The Holman Prize, dedicated to pursuing and promoting the passions of blind people everywhere, and it’s my pleasure to introduce you to the prize’s first three winners. First, though, you need to know a bit about James Holman.
James Holman was born an unremarkable middle-class baby in Exeter, England, in 1786. The second son of a local merchant, he was more or less expected to lead an unsurprising life, making himself a career in the British Navy, and like a dutiful second son of the time, he eventually set about doing just that. That was just about the last unsurprising event of his life. He first surprised himself in 1812 by becoming very ill and later going blind. Later, he surprised the rest of England (and possibly himself again) by ignoring the usual sorts of restrictive expectations placed on blind people and setting out to do marvelous things. After recovering from his illness, he wriggled out of a stultifying religious order for disabled military men (which was supposed to keep him safely at home and out of trouble) and set forth on a series of solo adventures. He began by booking passage for himself on a ship, not worrying much about where it went. From there, in a time before paved roads and reliable vehicles, he traveled alone through Europe, was run out of Russia (suspected of being an international spy), and returned to England to publish his first set of detailed books describing his adventures. He later circumnavigated the globe, noticing everything, restlessly trying to be everywhere and to do all there was to do. Holman’s fame spread; eventually Charles Darwin himself referenced observations of the natural world made by the “blind traveler.”
You can (and should) read about him in the exquisitely detailed biography by Jason Roberts (available on both NLS and BookShare). I sincerely promise that it will reshape your assumptions about what blind people could accomplish in the early nineteenth century.
So when the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco announced a competition for the first annual Holman Prize at the beginning of this year, they must have known they were setting a pretty high bar.
It was a prize clearly intended to reward the doing of splendid things: audacious things that startle, delight, and challenge.
As hoped, the announcement brought forth a glorious deluge of entries literally from around the globe. Asked to submit ninety-second YouTube videos describing an ambitious project on which they would like to spend $25,000, over 200 blind people responded with entries which ranged from the adorable to the impressive and from the truly beautiful to the unapologetically weird.
Once you finish reading the Holman biography, I heartily recommend that you spend a long, fascinating evening streaming some of those videos. We are, it turns out, a pretty audacious group of people.
But, in the end, only three could be chosen: the “Holmanest” of this year’s “Holmanesque” entries, if you will. It is my delight to introduce them to you here:
Let’s begin with Penny Melville-Brown. You would know immediately if you were in a room with Penny, the mastermind behind the “Baking Blind” project, because you would hear her signature laugh. Gregarious and confident, Penny has no doubt about what she wants to do. Like James Holman, she is a native of Great Britain, and like James Holman, Penny went blind while serving in the British Navy. She also shares Holman’s urge to travel. Penny intends to conquer the world kitchen by kitchen, exploring the cuisine from Costa Rica to China and filming cooking shows with local chefs as she goes. But this isn’t only about, maybe isn’t even mostly about, adaptive cooking techniques.
Penny’s project is about community and about the generous and welcoming spaces that open out when people share food. Penny’s positive nature and her humor draw people around the dining table where she presides, and the gastronomic wonders she creates make them sit down and stay put. As people break bread together, (and such bread you have rarely tasted) barriers fall, and they talk. With her recipes in hand, (and perhaps wielding a wooden spoon if necessary) Penny will weave these communities together as she goes. The chefs will learn from the blind cook, the blind cook will learn from the chefs, and everyone at table and watching on the videos will learn to trust one another just a little bit more.
Ojok Simon is a gracious, dignified man from Uganda whose gentleness and soft-spoken demeanor at first seem strangely at odds with his project. Ojok is a bee keeper: not just any keeper . . . Ojok Simon is a keeper of Africanized bees. Where many of us skitter anxiously away at the near approach of even a single honeybee, Ojok regularly sinks his hands and arms into billowing swarms of them, moving them about, adjusting their hives, and deftly making off with quantities of their honey. When I asked (admittedly in some alarm) about how this was done, another blind bee keeper from Northern California, Aerial Gilbert, helped make sense of it for me. Bee keeping, she explained, is a gentle endeavor; the keeper becomes known to his bees and learns to move deliberately and easily among them. It’s not a contest; it’s a dance. Ojok does wear protective gear and he does get stung, but he explains that he is not afraid of his bees because they have no desire to hurt anyone. If approached calmly, they will react calmly. This is remarkable enough, but Ojok’s Holman Prize was not awarded because of how handy he himself is around an apiary.
In a country where jobs are hard for blind people to find, Ojok’s project is to teach other blind Ugandans what he knows. At this writing, he has thirty-eight blind students ready and willing to learn from him, and he has established a small foundation to help purchase the startup gear each will need to become his or her own boss, selling beeswax and honey. Ojok nimbly avoids the problem of convincing Ugandan employers to hire blind people by setting these blind people up as their own bosses. In what has become the Holman tradition, his method is both startling and extraordinarily clever.
The third Holman prize winner, originally from Turkey but now living in San Francisco, is a special education teacher named Ahmet Ustunel. Ahmet is that high school teacher who wins the kids over with a combination of steady confidence and a touch of playfulness: the kind of teacher who’s cool without making too much of it. He exudes an insuppressible, quiet joyfulness. Still, because he is actually a little bit shy, you might walk right by him at a party without knowing he’s there. If you want to draw him out though, I suggest leaning over and whispering “ocean!” or “fishing boat” or better still “pirate,” and you’ll have his full attention.
He becomes very animated quickly, and will delight you with his stories about his times on, beside, in, and (sometimes temporarily) underneath various kinds of boats. Ahmet happily tells the story that his first career choice as a child was to become a pirate. When his parents described the standard eye-patch-sporting pirate to him, he was delighted; to quote four-year-old Ahmet: “If this is a successful pirate, and he has one blind eye, I’m going to be the best pirate ever . . .because I have two blind eyes!”
Ahmet’s project involves a kayak, a ton of very cool high tech equipment, and the Bosphorus Strait: a narrow body of water that separates Europe (on the west) from Asia, on the east. Ahmet plans to paddle his kayak solo across the strait: no mean feat when you consider the currents, the wildlife, the traffic buoys and, not to put too fine a point on it, but also the merchant ships (which are larger than most houses) that thunder along the Bosphorus on their way to the Black Sea. Ninety percent of his project, he says, undaunted, is in the preparation: the physical training, the testing of the technology, and working out logistics.
His kayak will be outfitted with all the cool gear a geek could dream of: GPS, radio, and all manner of obstacle detectors. That along with his sense of the sea, his hands in the current, and his knowledge of the wind direction will guide him safely across. And, if our own cool tech doesn’t let us down, we’ll get to follow along when he makes the crossing in July 2018.
The thing that distinguishes this first set of Holman Prizewinners is not their jobs or mastery of blindness techniques or their eloquence in discussing philosophy of blindness. Like all the rest of us, they sometimes drop things or come up short when a stranger on the street asks them some ridiculous blindness-related question. The spark that they all share is their conscious, enduring belief in blind people and their willingness to share that belief as part of their community, offering and accepting strength along the way. They reminded me that we all have a bit of James Holman in us. Over the next few months, we’ll cheer them on as they embark on their adventures. Next time, it will be someone else.
So, heads up, all blind adventurers, inventors, dreamers, artists, musicians, scientists, builders, healers, troublemakers, and all the rest of you daring, merry, audacious believers: it’s not too early to start thinking about next year. Applications for the 2018 Holman Prize open on January 16, 2018. Visit www.holmanprize.org to learn how to apply.
Sheri Wells-Jensen is a linguistics professor at Bowling Green State University, a curious connoisseur of insuppressible blind living, who served on the judging committee for the inaugural Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, held in San Francisco in June 2017. The Holman Award is granted to those who have an idea that, if funded, will expand the possibilities for blind people. Submit your pitch video starting January 16.
Yet a good part of camp did survive, thanks to the courage of Los Angeles Fire Engine #98. These firefighters risked their lives to save as much of camp as they could and are now, as we write this, in harm’s way as they fight the treacherous fires in Southern California.
We can never thank these brave firefighters enough for the perilous work they did to save Enchanted Hills for blind campers. But in mid-November, we tried. Camp staffer Chris Lawyer and his partner, Jessica Marenoff visited LAFD #98 to give thanks in person on behalf of the LightHouse. The couple’s feelings for Enchanted Hills Camp run particularly deep: not only did they meet at the camp, but, tragically, they lost their onsite home and all their possessions in the fire.
“It was very important for us to thank them, not only on behalf of the LightHouse and Enchanted Hills, but for me and Jess personally, for saving the camp we love so much, that has so much meaning to our story,” says Chris, who has since relocated to Fairfield with fellow EHC site staff member Matt Beard and their partners.
They arrived at the Los Angeles fire station with hearts full of gratitude for what was saved and had an eminently satisfying conversation with Alexander Hermann, one of the first responders at EHC. Hermann told Chris and Jess about the fire crew’s efforts to save EHC, describing the first thing the crew saw when they arrived: the Staff House (Chris and Jess’ home) had already burned down and was still smoking.
He recounted how the crew worked their way through the camp, extinguishing as many flames as possible, despite obstacles like large trees blocking the road that had to be cut up and removed. They got to the Redwood Grove Theater just as fire was destroying the stage, but were able to save the hand-carved benches made by blind woodworker George Wurtzel. Alexander felt compelled to leave a touching note at the entrance to the theater: “We saved this, wish we could have saved more.” Alex wrote the note himself and went to post it on the sign, to which his fire chief laughed and said, “You can’t leave that with the bad handwriting.”
As Chris told him of camp’s history and founder Rose Resnick and described all the site staff do at Enchanted Hills, Alex and his team were amazed by everything that camp offers and symbolizes for the blind community. They expressed to us their sadness for what we lost: “We really wish we could have done more,” he said, echoing his sentiments from the handwritten note.
We’re so thankful for the work of these valiant firefighters, for everything they fought to save and everything they succeeded in protecting. Now it’s our turn to do the work. So many of you have expressed your sorrow for the destruction at camp. So many have asked what you can do.
p.s. Every dollar donated is tax-deductible and will go to ensuring that the coming years will bring new growth and opportunity for blind campers. Donate or contact Jennifer Sachs at 415-694-7333 or email@example.com and tell her you want to help “Rebuild EHC.”
This past weekend, we hosted one of the largest Youth Employment Series programs ever, with 23 blind and visually impaired youth from throughout the Bay Area and California. It was a packed couple of days, with students arriving on Friday evening and many staying in our guest residences until the weekend wrapped up on Sunday.
Starting Friday night, the students ventured out into San Francisco to visit this year’s Rainbow World Tree of Hope at San Francisco city hall and get in the holiday spirit. Saturday was a packed day of Construction and Maintenance Basics with Enchanted Hills Construction Manager George Wurtzel, who gave students a detailed run down of household tools from wrenches to screwdrivers to hammers, and how to use them. Many of the students got the thrill of building a piece of furniture for the first time. Later, students delved into hospitality and how to organize and host an event by decorating and preparing food for our YES Mentor Appreciation Dinner, covering the basics of food safety and handling.
Students also had opportunities to practice adaptive techniques, problem-solving skills, independent travel methods, literacy and organizational and household management, with time to socialize and reflect on some of the lessons about teamwork and self sufficiency learned throughout the day.
But it’s not all business: thanks to the fun-loving spirit of Youth Services Coordinator Jamey Gump, YES is full of fun, laughter and experimentation. This weekend, that included students trying their hands at Jamey’s family’s famous fudge recipe, with Jamila mixing in the Marshmallow fluff a little too soon and Andy making it clear that he would be the one licking the spoon when the time came. The students also had a good laugh at the several helium balloons that floated just out of reach while they were trying to prepare for the Mentor Appreciation Dinner. Check out photos from the weekend in the gallery below:
Each YES workshop offers an array of vocational, transitional and enrichment curricula empowering students to strive toward future employment, post-secondary educational success and full independence. The YES Program provides direct access to successful blind and low vision mentors and incorporates structured lessons in self-advocacy, adaptive technology, career exploration and daily living.
In 2017, the Prize’s inaugural year, we received more than 200 applications from two dozen countries. We couldn’t be prouder of our three winners, who encompass a wide range of ambition, daring and creativity:
Ahmet Ustunel is training to kayak Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait, completely solo; Penny Melville-Brown is taking her YouTube baking show to six continents; Ojok Simon is teaching his fellow Ugandans to become self-sustaining beekeepers.
Named after the 19th century blind world travelerJames Holman, the Holman Prize empowers blind men and women from around the world to complete the journeys and projects of their dreams.
What would you do as a Holman Prizewinner?
Applications for the prize open on January 16, 2018.
The program will be yet another tool in the toolbox for people who are blind or low vision to easily get around town on RTD. It’s a step toward independence and self-reliance for thousands of San Joaquin County residents who are blind or have low vision.
“I’m just unbelievably grateful,” says Joni Bauer, a mobility specialist at CCBVI and a board member at the San Joaquin Regional Transit District. “I’ve been around a long time, and none of this was in anybody’s vision 40 years ago. It’s really amazing.”
The “Talk To Me Maps,” as they’re known, have been in the works for a couple of years. Bauer had heard about our accessible maps for BART stations in the Bay Area, so she met with experts from our Media and Accessible Design Lab, who put their heads together to create the maps over the course of nine months.
“For those with low or no sight, taking steps into new areas requires a high degree of confidence and is often daunting,” says MAD Lab Director Greg Kehret. “Access to information about the streets and paths around public transportation hubs is exceptionally useful. One methodology that has proven useful are tactile maps.”
For braille readers, the talking aspect of the map is extra, but serves as a helpful tool for non-braille readers who are blind or have low vision. Manufactured by Oakland-based Livescribe, the pens include cameras that capture information from the books and share it out loud through a speaker. It’s just a matter of holding the pen at an angle over the book and tapping.
“Everyone at RTD is thrilled to work with our friends at CCBVI, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and our sister transit agencies to make life a little easier for those traveling throughout San Joaquin County,” says RTD CEO Donna DeMartino. “This program will make ‘The Places You Can Go on RTD!’ even more accessible than before.”
RTD Talk to Me Maps are available for checkout at multiple transit hubs in San Joaquin County, including:
Development of RTD Talk to Me Maps was a collaboration among the following: Community Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CCBVI) proposed the project. RTD Director Joni Bauer spearheaded the project. San Joaquin Regional Transit District developed and implemented the project. The LightHouse MAD Lab is available to produce similar maps for governments, transit districts, schools or any other place where tactile maps would help the blind traveler. Click here to learn more about our MAD Lab’s braille and accessible design services or contact our specialists at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you walk into the LightHouse teaching kitchen on any given day, you’ll find our Cooking Instructor Sydney Ferrario cheerfully bustling around the kitchen, hoisting giant tubs of flour or dicing mounds of plump vegetables. We’ve seen a lot of gourmet concoctions from the LightHouse kitchen thanks to Sydney’s patient guidance.
Not only is she lively, informative, and knows her way around a stand mixer, but she also has plenty of adaptive techniques for cooking and baking to share with her students. She’ll show you that there’s nothing to fear about the kitchen, the oven, or even chopping unwieldy apples with a very sharp knife (hint: it’s all about curling the fingers away from the sharp blade).
Sydney is now offering one-on-one lessons and ongoing by appointment. If you’re connected with the CA Department of Rehabilitation and looking to develop skills in the kitchen (from labeling and organization to knife, stove top and oven techniques) individual trainings in our kitchen and final lessons in your home kitchen are available. These trainings will help you shop and prep healthy meals that work with a busy schedule and independent lifestyle.
If interested, please contact your counselor immediately to get the ball rolling! All interested students can call Sydney at 415-694-7612 or email email@example.com to schedule a preliminary phone appointment and lesson times. Bon Apetit!
Have you ever wanted to get to know the lay of the land before heading to a new city, campus or neighborhood? Wish you could just generate a quick, raised-line aerial map the way others do with Google? Whether it’s the blocks around your kid’s new school or a conference in San Diego — it’s not always easy to get a quick overview of a neighborhood before visiting. And unfortunately, mobile web mapping systems like Google or Apple Maps tend to fall short for blind users when it comes to getting the “big picture.”
Thanks to a collaboration between the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute and our Media and Accessible Design Lab, we’re pleased to announce that you can now order on-demand tactile maps of the area of your choosing for just $19 (plus shipping and handling) from our Adaptations Store. The tactile street maps depict the area around a user-specified address or intersection, using raised lines along with a circle marking the point of interest in the center of the map. Braille and large print labels indicate street names and other critical area information like cardinal directions, scale, and main streets. For those who are new to tactile maps, this is a great way to get started with this invaluable, always dependable tool for blind and low vision travelers. And for O&M teachers, or those learning how to travel with a dog or cane, this new instant service will make a tremendous difference.
To order a map, just call our product specialists at the Adaptations Store at 1-888-400-8933 and specify the destination of the map you’re interested in. Within two business days we’ll place your order, ship it or make it available for pick up at the store.
What’s in the package?
3 signature Tactile and ink-printed Maps, generated by the MAD Lab at LightHouse for the Blind, of the area surrounding your point of interest: printed at simple, moderate and dense map scale ratios
A tactile map key
An explainer page
All materials are printed on 11” X 11.5” sheets of embossed paper and include ink / large print labels in addition to braille
Never used a tactile map before? Stop by the Adaptations Store in person and take a look at our pre-printed maps of the area around LightHouse Headquarters at 1155 Market St. We’ll help you get a feel for using tactile maps and you can even take a pre-printed tactile map with you for $19.
This week, LightHouse partner Actiview is delighting blind and low vision movie fans across the United States with the announcement that the app will provide audio description tracks for Thanksgiving’s biggest theatrical releases. The app is now supporting five current theatrical releases, both for independent and major Hollywood films.
Actiview put out word this week that the platform will carry description, amplified audio and foreign language support for Disney•Pixar’s new musical adventure Coco and Bleecker Street films’ Dickensian origin story, The Man Who Saved Christmas, in addition to more late-2017 studio releases such as Dealt, Breathe and Wonderstruck.
Starting with this summer’s theatrical release of Cars 3, Actiview has been pushing theaters and consumers alike to think differently about what movie theater accessibility looks like. Calling it “a broader platform” for movie access, TechCrunch profiled the startup back in July, noting that it may be an uphill battle to convince a very established industry to accept a new, smartphone-based system, despite the obvious advantages for blind and hard of hearing moviegoers.
“The accessibility content already exists for all these movies,” says Paul Cichocki, who left Pixar last year and now works at Actiview, ”most people just don’t know how to deliver it to the audiences who need it. We’re the platform that simplifies access, so that everyone can pay for movies knowing they’ll get their money’s worth.”
In 2015 the LightHouse partnered with Actiview as they started their venture, incubating the company in our Market Street and Ed Roberts offices. The partnership continues, as we are dedicated to full video description for all. Here’s why LightHouse community member Aerial Gilbert uses Actiview:
See below for full details about this Thanksgiving’s new films, and stay tuned for more information about local December screenings of Dealt, co-presented by the Roxie Theater in San Francisco!