Building bonds of friendship

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 8, 2004

LAKE GASTON – The rain held off at Lake Gaston as 14 Visually Impaired Persons (VIPs) joined with their 4-H partners to fish as the 3rd annual VIP Day Camp concluded July 29.

VIP Day Camp is an &uot;intergenerational learning experience designed to create education and understanding for vision so that the 4-Her learns about vision impairments,&uot; said Rose Massey, Director of the Northampton County office of North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

Over the course of two days, VIPS and their 4-H partners painted shirts, which they wore on the fishing trip, made key chains, and participated in other activities.

&uot;The activities we did involved sensations of touching and working with your hands, things you can do without vision,&uot; Massey explained.

VIPs were met with many sensations on Thursday as they traveled to the home of Ann Boyd Smith to fish and have a cook out.

&uot;My children were in 4-H and they learned a lot, so I try to help 4-H when I can,&uot; Smith said.

Four boats awaited the VIPs and for some, this was their first experience on a boat. Thad Harris, James Hardee, Greg Fussell and Wendy Woodruff served as captains of the pontoon boats as they took the VIPs to fishing holes across the lake.

&uot;I work with Larry at Social Services and was drafted to help last year,&uot; Woodruff said.

&uot;It was fun, so I decided to help again this year.&uot;

4-H member Lindsey Bridgers fished with her VIP, Virginia Staples.

Over the two days, Bridgers learned Staples was a long-time friend of her grandmother, Marian Bridgers.

Over a lunch of hot dogs and chips, VIPs Staples, Jessie Bailey and Mildred Stephenson talked about the benefits of participating in VIP Day Camp.

&uot;This makes us get out of the house and we realize we can do things we didn’t think we could still do,&uot; Staples said.

&uot;I think the 4-Hers get satisfaction out of helping someone,&uot; Bailey said.

&uot;Lindsey has already asked me if I was coming back next year,&uot; Staples added.

Larry DeBruhl, a social worker with the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind in Halifax and Northampton counties, sees many benefits to VIP Day Camp.

DeBruhl has been blind since age seven, &uot;so it’s normal for me.&uot;

However, many of the VIPs have lost their sight later in life, which can be &uot;a devastating change in lifestyle,&uot; DeBruhl said.

&uot;It’s a sighted world so when you lose your sight it’s scary.

This camp shows the VIPs that there is life after sight,&uot; DeBruhl added.

VIPs are not the only beneficiaries of the camp.

According to DeBruhl, &uot;One thing the 4-Hers get is a better understanding of people with disabilities.

&uot;The sighted world functions on eye contact and you can’t do that with VIPs, all the normal rules are gone.

&uot;For the rest of their lives, if they (4-H members) run across someone with blindness, they’ll know what to do and how to handle the situation,&uot; DeBruhl said.

4-H member Ashley Harris echoed DeBruhl comments.

&uot;I’ve learned it’s hard being blind.

Being able to get this experience has made me more comfortable around blind people,&uot; Harris said.

&uot;I’ve learned never to take for granted that you’re able to see,&uot; Harris added.

The two-day camp is held once a year and coordinated by the Northampton County office of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and Northampton County Services for the Blind.

Other sponsors included the Roanoke Valley Low Vision Clinic, Seaboard Lions Club and Jackson Lions Club.

The program fits with the Lions Club mission, according to Seaboard Lions Club member Thad Harris.

&uot;The main function of the Lions clubs across the state is to work with the blind through a number of different outreach programs,&uot; Harris said.

&uot;We sponsor people that can’t afford glasses, hold a VIP fishing tournament in Nags Head and support Camp Dogwood, a camp for VIPs.&uot;

As the camp drew to a close, VIPs and their 4-H partners received a &uot;fishing license&uot; with their pictures, another memento of the friendship they developed and the lessons everyone learned.