Camp mixes disabled, other kids for fun, friendship

July 18, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

Jermaine Brown couldn't hear the ball leave his tennis shoe during a game of kickball last week, but he certainly saw the excitement on the faces of his opponents.

The 11-year-old boy is deaf, and through Howard County Recreation and Parks' licensed Summer Escapades camp program, he can play, socialize and learn with nondisabled children.

Under the blistering sun Tuesday, Jermaine managed to score a run against his hearing opponents outside West Friendship Elementary School on Frederick Road.

Each weekday, he and 60 other physically and mentally disabled children enjoy one of 21 summer integration camps around the county.

The purpose is to involve disabled children in regular camp settings so they can meet new friends, said Gina Wagner, who heads recreation and parks' therapeutic programs.

"What we try to promote is that the person is the first thing. Not the disability," Ms. Wagner said. "I think the most important thing is that they're not separated from the other kids."

At the summer camp Jermaine attends, camp director Alex Arthur arranges activities for 40 children. The campers participate in arts and crafts, sports, games and community outings. They also do one special event each week, such as learning sign language or how to do the achy breaky dance.

The six-week camp, which costs $180 a child, is designed for first- to fifth-graders, and runs weekdays through Aug. 6.

Each Tuesday, Tina Diggs teaches the campers basic sign language.

Jermaine and the other attentive campers responded to her in class Tuesday by signing the answers from their orange chairs. Some went on stage to help her define new words. For instance, they learned that two hands locked in front of the body in a cradling motion means a baby.

Learning sign language helps hearing children realize they shouldn't fear deaf people, Ms. Diggs said. "It's good for them to get exposed to it."

Jermaine and Amy Dwyer, 7, who both attend or plan to attend a school for the deaf in Frederick, attend camp at West Friendship. Both said they enjoy the camp.

"I like to be with my friends," Jermaine said through his interpreter and integration camp companion, Brookeann Jenkins. "I don't have any problems."

Amy admits that sometimes other children have difficulty understanding her. "The other campers can sign a little bit, but it's kind of hard for them to communicate," said Amy. "But I'm doing pretty good."

Heather Cole, 7, agreed. She said she likes Amy and Jermaine, but "it's hard to know what they are saying."

To help her when she plays, Amy says she reads lips and gestures.

Campers learn acceptance

L Mr. Arthur, 22, said the children learn not to discriminate.

"They look at children who are disabled and say, 'They're just like me, except they cannot hear or are mentally retarded.'"

During camp activities, Ms. Jenkins serves as Amy and Jermaine's companion, making sure they are having a good time. The senior at Oakland Mills Senior High School is deaf herself, but is helped by two hearing aids.

"I feel glad they have the opportunity to feel what it's like in the hearing world," Ms. Jenkins said.

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