It’s never too early to have one of the best experiences you’ll ever have in your life. Wendy Fagan, the executive director at Envision Blind Summer Sports Camp, has created an incredible environment with the help of an amazing staff and a horde of volunteers that bring a unique athletic opportunity to children who are blind or visually impaired.
The Envision Blind Summer Sports Camp is a weeklong experience for children who are blind or visually impaired children and teens from the ages 5 to 18. Camp is held in the summer at Slippery Rock University, in Slippery Rock, PA. The camps expect 70-80 athletes to attend and will be supported by over 40 full time volunteers and endless part time volunteers, many who have returned to help at camp for multiple years in a row.
This sports program for blind and visually impaired children and teens started out as an idea to bring the benefits of sports to those who may not have as many opportunities as they should.
“There are a lot of kids that are blind/visually impaired that are just not getting the opportunities to be physically active and they’re not getting the opportunity at school, they’re not getting the opportunities in competitive sports, and I’m mad, you know?”
Wendy is a rough and tough kind of gal who enjoys the outdoors and competitive sports. She has had a love for sports for such a long time, she knows the benefits that sports have and is very passionate about giving all children the opportunity to experience those benefits.
“I just see what sports does for anyone, that how it empowers and… it’s such a force… there’s so much to sports and so we wanted to build a program.”
You don’t go to the Envision Blind Sports Summer Camp to dip your toes in the water, they encourage each blind athlete to completely dive in to any and all activities. This camp offers 24 different sports from rock climbing to horse riding to paddle boarding and if they think of a sport they don’t have, they are willing to try it. If you think you can’t do it, Wendy and her team of experts are there to show you that you can. No child walks away feeling like they failed or couldn’t do something, this camp won’t let that happen.
“…The mission is just to provide opportunity, and we’re constantly stretching and pushing ourselves to say, ‘Okay, what sport haven’t we tried, what sport do we need to put more energy into,’… we want them to get in the mindset that they have the same opportunities as their brothers and sisters, they just have to have some modifications to make it doable.”
While it may feel a bit daunting walking into a whirlwind of activities, many of the children who have attended have more than surprised themselves and been an inspiration to the staff. One young camper was a huge surprise to Wendy, and another great reminder of why she does what she does.
“…she was just such a phenomenal athlete and I did not know until right before the gala, that she wasn’t an athlete before camp and that she was struggling in school…”
This young girl went on to become a competitive cheerleader after starting the Envision camps and was able to believe in herself enough to start working toward a degree in recreational therapy and adapted physical activity. She is now an avid snowboarder and gives back to Envision as a counselor where she encourages young athletes to step outside their comfort zone and get involved with more sports and activities.
Some of the children will go home and join their sighted track team at school or try out to be a wrestler or join the marching band. Some students have even brought to their school’s attention the need for activities and sports for the blind.
Bringing education to schools is also another huge project that the Envision team is working toward. They will go to schools and teach the sighted and able-bodied children about blind sports and educate them on all the amazing and fun things people with or without sight.
This is especially rewarding when a student at the school is blind, getting the opportunity to experience these sports for the first time or play a sport with their sighted friends and feel included. Wendy says all the children are always interested in learning, making these visits a great teaching moment.
The Envision Summer Sports Camp has been changing lives and having a blast doing it. If you would like to volunteer or sign up for the camp, you can check out their website at www.envisionblindsports.org or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 724-967-4712. Envision Blind Sports is always searching for new athletes and volunteers to join our program.