Camp Abilities Field of Dreams Brings Sports to New Jersey Blind Children

Over a three-day period, campers participated in track, blind soccer and other sports with one-on-one instruction.

When Christian and Mary Kane began searching for a public park or playground that could accommodate their son Gavin, they were shocked to discover no such facility existed for special needs children in the tri-state area of New Jersey where they lived.

Gavin, who suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) following a 2012 car accident, was used to being active and playing with his siblings. Instead of giving up, Gavin’s parents decided to build a complex specifically designed for special needs children and adults.

It took five years, and the Kanes mounted a fundraising campaign that eventually raised $3.6 million for the construction of the facility they named Field of Dreams.

The RWJBH Toms River Field of Dreams complex opened in 2022 and has already grown to serve over 2,000 special needs families in Ocean and Monmouth counties. The complex contains an accessible playground that includes a swing set for individuals in wheelchairs, basketball and bocce courts, a turf field for baseball and other amenities. The venue also holds events for art and music appreciation and organized leagues for special needs baseball and basketball.

After moving to New Jersey last year, Dr. Alexandra Stribing approached Christian Kane about hosting a three-day Camp Abilities event. Stribing, an assistant professor of elementary and PE/Health Education at Kean University, was first introduced to Camp Abilities by its founder, Dr. Lauren Lieberman. Stribing studied under Lieberman while at the College at Brockport and became a graduate assistant for camp Abilities Brockport and currently serves as its assistant director.

Since Camp Abilities was not present in New Jersey, Stribing believed the Field of Dreams complex would be the perfect spot for a three-day camp. When she pitched the idea to Kane, he was eager to help.

“When I met him, I told him immediately about Camp Abilities, and he was like, ‘let’s do it’,” Stribing recalled. “He has a great complex for everything that we wanted to do. Everything we needed was right there.”

Camp Abilities provides a week-long educational sports camp for children with visual impairments. Unlike other camps for the blind and visually impaired, Camp Abilities is designed for one-on-one instruction.

Instead of the usual week-long model Camp Abilities uses at Brockport and other locations around the country, Stribing opted for a three-day event.

“This was the first camp I ever started, so three days was perfect. Also, parents have to gain that trust in you. They don’t know who I am and they don’t know my staff, so it’s a great way to build that relationship.”

The camp took place August 22-24 from 9 Am to 3 Pm with 10 participants ages 9 to 21. Stribing recruited 25 volunteers to coach the campers.

Mornings began with track and field and blind soccer instruction. After lunch, other sports were introduced on specific days including golf, basketball and football.

Later in the afternoon, kids were allowed to choose two sports they wished to learn. On the final day, campers got the opportunity to compete in a track meet and blind soccer game. The camp concluded with a talent show featuring singing, a clarinet player and taekwondo.

“We had a vast array of talents. It was awesome.”

The Foreseeable Future Foundation has sponsored numerous Camp Abilities events over the past several years. Stribing applied for a grant for the Field of Dreams camp and was accepted last spring. The money was used to purchase sports equipment for the campers’ instruction.

Most of the participants were not regularly involved in physical education classes at school, so learning motor skills such as running, kicking and throwing provided a great way to encourage them to be physically active.

“Even though the camp was three days, you could visually see the improvement from all the 10 athletes who were there… Seeing the skill development, the confidence they have was tremendous.”

Stribing has already lined up another camp for next summer to once again be held at Field of Dreams on August 21-23. Her goal is to double the number of participants. Putting an event of this magnitude together is hard work but also rewarding, she says.

“Camp Abilities is my passion. We had a parent (who) was emotional because he’s never had this experience for his daughter. Parents saying how much this is needed… That’s the impact the Foreseeable Future Foundation has given us. We were able to provide a sport opportunity for youth in the community who don’t have this.”