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Camp Courage offers opportunities to students

Students from across the area will soon have an opportunity that many never had before.

During a press conference Thursday, University of North Alabama, American Optometric Association Foundation and Helen Keller Birthplace Foundation officials announced plans for a one of a kind camp that they hope will grow beyond northwest Alabama.

Officials with the American Optometric Association Foundation presented the Helen Keller Birthplace Foundation board with a check for $10,000 for the group’s first Camp Courage,  which will be held Oct. 24-26 at Ivy Green, the birthplace of Helen Keller, in Tuscumbia.

According to UNA officials, Camp Courage is an intensive, broad-based three-day program designed for hearing-impaired and visually impaired children between the ages of 7 and 14. It is currently available to students from Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale counties as well as Fayette, where the first camp member resides.

Fayette second-grader Grace McClellan was selected to participate in the inaugural camp after she submitted a winning entry in this summer’s Helen Keller Festival art competition.

“The idea for Camp Courage came about as a result of my visiting the Helen Keller birthplace over the past several years and seeing children with disabilities inspired just by visiting Ivy Green,” said State Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow.

“So I had the idea of expanding this into a camp so that other children could find the Helen Keller story just as inspiring. I presented this idea to the Helen Keller Birthplace Foundation, who had the vision to see the possibilities. And I think Helen Keller would be pleased to know her legacy is being used for such a noble purpose to inspire children with a disability.”

The camp is sponsored by the Keller Birthplace Foundation and the American Optometric Association Foundation, in conjunction with UNA and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“We are extremely excited about Camp Courage and the partnership with UNA and the American Optometric Association,” said Mike McMackin, president of the Helen Keller Birthplace Foundation.

“Camp Courage is a great program. There’s plenty of places where children can attend a camp, but this is the only one they can attend where Helen Keller first experienced her miracle.”

The campers will learn skills such as pottery and candle making. In addition, they will go fishing and learn about nature and music. They will visit several Shoals area attractions, including Cypress Moon Recording Studio in Sheffield and Cypress Cove Farm in Red Bay.

There is no charge for children to attend the camp.

Students will also pump water from the same well that Keller herself used as a child with the help of her teacher and friend, Anne Sullivan.

Elementary education students from the University of North Alabama will work the camp serving as the “Anne Sullivans” to the camp participants.

“The Camp Courage program will pair a UNA student from the College of Education and Human Sciences with a camper who has a visual and/or hearing impairment,” said Dr. Vicki Hulsey, who chairs the UNA Department of Elementary Education.

“The intention of the camp is to give campers a Helen Keller experience that is fun and exciting and hopefully inspirational as well. We want the campers to celebrate their abilities and come away with a sense of accomplishment.”

UNA students chosen as camp counselors will participate in a day of orientation and training at Ivy Green on Sept. 21.

Three Helen Keller Scholars – nationally recognized master teachers of students with visual and hearing impairments – will conduct activities for Camp Courage participants. In the process, UNA students will receive direct, hands-on training from nationally recognized experts in this highly specialized field.

“The goal of Camp Courage is for the campers to have their own personal Helen Keller experience,” Hulsey said.

“My goal is for our student to have their own personal Annie Sullivan experience.”

Instructors and students from UNA and UAB will be directly involved in planning and conducting the camp.

“Camp Courage is a fine example of what wonderful things can happen when the right blend of individuals come together to help others,” UNA President Dr. William G. Cale said.

“UNA is thrilled to work with Rep. Morrow and the Keller Foundation to bring into being a program to benefit children with a hearing or vision impairment.”

One student from Russellville Elementary School has already been chosen to participate in the first Camp Courage.

For details on Camp Courage, call the Helen Keller Birthplace at 256-383-4066 or the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau at 256-383-0783.