Camp Lions of Illinois for Blind and Deaf Youth, DeKalb, IL
Camp Lions of Illinois for Blind and Deaf Youth is a nonprofit organization that improves the quality of life for state residents through medical and community services that meet vision and hearing needs. The camp is guided by its core philosophy of youth development, building socio-emotional and life skills that empower disabled children. Youth development starts with its programming and truly takes form in its premise as a space by and for d/Deaf/HoH and Blind/Low Vision communities. By creating safe spaces for children to meet peers with similar experiences (and experiences drastically different from their own), the camp acts as a support network and helps normalize disability for campers that might come from backgrounds with little to no exposure to disability.
My relationship with Camp Lions goes back almost a decade as a camper, but assuming a staff position reframed my experiences and inspired me to pursue a more hands-on role in programming and administrative management. I leaned on my familiarity with the camp to create programs that incorporated camp traditions, were fully accessible to a variety of disabilities and disabling experiences, and acknowledged the common thread of experience and understanding we all shared in these spaces. As a Deaf person, the need to create programming that worked for campers of all backgrounds was especially rewarding, as it meant expanding my limited perspective and having critical conversations with staff about how we could empower young people who might otherwise feel excluded from the camp experience.
In my day-to-day experiences with campers, I became more familiar with the obstacles facing my community, especially when it came to education, representation and peer support. The experience I gained working in the nonprofit sector has reaffirmed my interest in combining my scientific interests with disability advocacy and youth development. Drawing from my personal experiences and conversations with campers, avenues to scientific fields are complicated by inaccessible laboratory design, poor curriculum emphasis on STEM in schools and programs for d/Deaf and Blind students, and a higher education landscape designed for only the hyper-able, most capable students. I hope to involve activism and visibility in my future coursework—potentially through an independent study on disability theory—and take a more critical lens to the accessibility of my fields of study.
I am grateful to the Class of 1972 and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for the opportunity to work in an environment and community I value. With your generosity, I was able to spend my summer bonding with a phenomenal group of kids and developing a greater appreciation for the depth of expression found in sign language, the friendship bracelets that proudly adorn my wrists and the tight-knit community and unwavering kindness I hope to emulate in my future work experiences.