Camp Abilities, a summer sports camp on Adelphi University's Garden City campus, helps youngsters with visual impairments as well as students pursuing degrees in physical education and exercise science.
When most people think of a summer sports camp, traditional games like soccer and baseball might come to mind. But for children with visual impairments or other disabilities, the options can be harder to find.
Seeing the need for more adaptive sports options here on Long Island, Lisa Inella Santos ’08, M.A. ’11, combined her love of sports and passion for teaching to begin Long Island’s first Camp Abilities chapter—held on Adelphi’s Garden City campus.
She credits her experience as a student at Adelphi with giving her the foundation needed to get a program like this off the ground and with inspiring her to pursue opening her own camp.
“Professor Ellen Kowalski told me about the opportunity to work at Camp Abilities’ Brockport location upstate, which was the first location founded in 1996,” she said. “After working at the Brockport location, I wanted to bring that back to Long Island.” In 2018, her dream will mark 10 years of being a reality.
And Dr. Kowalski is now a part of that dream. An associate professor of Physical Education, she also serves as the associate director for Santos’ Camp Abilities Long Island chapter.
The camp is run entirely through volunteers, many of whom are Adelphi students pursuing degrees in Exercise Science, Health Studies, Physical Education, Sport Management and even Nursing. The program gives them experience working with children of all abilities and gives the campers a chance to have fun participating in sports that often aren’t accessible to them. The cost of running the camp—officially known as the Long Island Sports Camp for Children with Visual Impairments, Inc.—is about $24,000 a year. Fundraisers, donors and sponsorships help defray those costs.
“Every camp is different based on the location and students, and we build activities around what the kids request,” said Santos. “Next year, we’ll be adding lacrosse since that’s what they’re asking for now.”
There are now 26 camps, including seven abroad. A few others also use college campuses, such as Texas Women’s University.
To help the students navigate the field, the activities are adapted to use sound rather than visuals. Current camp favorites among its many offerings include beep baseball, goal ball, tandem biking, basketball and yoga.
In 2016, Camp Abilities had a record-breaking season, with 25 children enrolled in the summer program. This year, a number of applicants had to be waitlisted. In July 2017, 22 campers took part in Camp Abilities Long Island on Adelphi’s campus. Because the camp provides a 1:1 participant-to-staff ratio, the number of campers is limited by the number of volunteers.
The benefits aren’t restricted to the participants. The camp also trains undergraduate and graduate students—hundreds so far—how to teach sports and recreational activities to visually impaired youngsters empowering them to take on leadership roles. Santos also brings many of the activities back to her students in the New Hyde Park/Garden City school district, where she teaches physical education during the school year.
“It’s about building ability awareness,” she said. “We focus on kids’ abilities–not their disabilities.”
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