Next week, the summer sessions begin at Enchanted Hills Camp (EHC) with Changing Vision, Changing Life, a week-long “boot camp” for those new to blindness skills training. But that’s only the beginning of a season full of camp sessions for blind campers of all ages.
EHC is a transformative experience for those who attend. One longtime camp attendee is Ellie Kneer, who shared her experiences on the impact and opportunities attending Youth and Teen camp gave her.
Tell us about your history with EHC. When did you start going and how did you hear about it?
“My first summer at EHC was 2016, I was 12 or 13. For three years, my TVI had been begging me, ‘Hey, Ellie, go to this camp for the blind. It’s really close to home. You’re going to have fun. You’re going to make a lot of friends.’ But I didn’t want to go. What did my TVI know? How to teach me blind skills?
“After three years, I finally went, and I had a great time. As soon as I hit the pavement on the first day of camp, I heard the buzz of everyone talking and catching up. I smelled the camp air and the camp smells, and I was so excited. All of a sudden [EHC Director] Tony Fletcher did his ‘Hello EHC!’, and when everyone responded with ‘EHC is the place to be!’ and then did their clap, I knew it would be a great summer.
“I’ve been associated with camp now for eight years, and I’ve worked my way up the ranks. I was Counselor, then Enrichment Area Leader. Now this summer I will be Assistant Director.”
What do you say to campers who might be going away from home for the first time? What about their parents?
“For the campers, you can always call home if it’s your first year, if you’re ever homesick. We also have plenty of counselors who have been campers and plenty of campers who had a first time before. It’s a very loving community that will empower you left and right, and if you know you’re homesick, some of the guide dog users will let you play with their dogs for a minute, especially since a lot of kids miss their [non service] animals. I get it. I miss all my puppies at home, too. I just have my guide dog up at camp. He misses his puppies, too!
“Parents are always encouraged to send mail or little gift baskets up to their kids. But let your kid have fun if they don’t need to constantly check in. It’s their time to branch out and be independent.”
Can you talk about your move up the ranks from camper to Assistant Director? What are some lessons you’ve learned and things that have helped you grow as a person?
“You need to model the behavior you want to see from your students. Even though I may not always want to, I’ve got to always use my cane or guide dog at camp. Also, you have to be willing to share your experiences with the campers and other counselors. Sometimes that’s hard, since a lot of people don’t want to share their story, and it’s very personal to many people, but I find it’s a way to connect with people.
“Also, as you rise up the ranks, you have to have strong personal and professional boundaries with everyone. It’s something that is really hard, because you might have a best friend who is the Art Area Leader or the Kiva Area Leader and you’re Assistant Director. But when it comes to evaluating camp staff, you have to be very unbiased.”
You’ve been interning here at LightHouse for the last few months. Can you tell us more about that?
“I’m currently in my final week as the EHC Administrative Intern. I got this internship through the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR). They are the ones who are funding my internship, and they did a collaboration with Tony and my college. Not only do I get paid for this internship, but I also am getting college credits.”
What are the differences between working in an office environment and at camp?
“To work in an office, I had to learn a lot. I learned how to take public transit at commute times rather than other times when I was going out to meet friends. It’s completely different time management to wake myself up at an earlier time.
“Comparing camp to working at LightHouse: they’re completely different worlds. At camp, you might be doing your office work on the breezeway next to the lake, or you could do it on a picnic table. Whereas my little office at LightHouse was a windowless room that was very quiet, and I didn’t hear nature. I heard traffic sounds from outside, or I’d hear people walking around, and I just had to learn to navigate the completely different realms of office life versus camp life. It was very foreign to me, but I think I navigated it well. I learned a lot of professional jargon and learned what [office environment conversation] volume was appropriate, and how to appropriately talk to someone who works in a different department.
Any final thoughts on why people should come to EHC or things that people should know?
“The most important part about camp is that we are very mission based. The camp was started by a fully blind woman named Rose Resnick in the 1950s when there was no protection of the ADA or Section 504. She wanted to be a teacher, and she couldn’t be a teacher, so she decided she’d make a camp so she could teach blind kids. Throughout the years we’ve had so many staff members who have started off as campers who are blind or low vision, and have risen up the ranks and become Assistant Directors, Area Leaders etc. Some have gone on to the teaching profession.
“You can always find valuable life skills and life lessons from camp by just attending. EHC is somewhere I’ve used to recharge my social batteries after living in a very non-inclusive society. When I go to EHC, I’m not the only blind person, and we can share all of our stories of not being able to find a specific location because Google Maps was outdated, or we talk about teachers who didn’t help us because they didn’t want to give us ‘special treatment’. It’s helped show us that we’re not alone and that we’re not the only people who go through it. That’s something that’s empowered me so much throughout the years growing up. I cannot give camp more than enough credit for everything it’s done in helping me become the person I am today. I’m very grateful for camp, and I know families will be grateful to see what it’ll do for their kid.”
Are you or your kid ready to go to camp? Sign up for an EHC Camp Session today.