St. Croix camp helps hearing-impaired children experience summer


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ST. CROIX - The tranquil sounds of waves rolling up against the sand, the buzzing of a busy bumble bee or the sounds of roosters crowing in the morning calling the sun to rise, are sounds that 19-year-old John James has never been able to enjoy.

To help bring those experiences to James and other hearing-impaired youth, Deaf Camp St. Croix was created.

James is one of four vibrant young people who are a part of the summer camp based in Little Fountain that is in its first year this week.

Camp director Norma Lee Oldfield said it is her goal to break the communication barriers between the hearing-enabled and the hearing-impaired to allow hearing-impaired to live a fuller and more inclusive life. She said the resources that have been available to adults who have been deaf or hard-of-hearing over the years were almost non-existent, but she is hoping to create doors of opportunities.

On Tuesday, James was busying himself looking over the younger children as they played on the trampoline, zip-lined across the back yard and threw a small ball around. He stopped the children and redirected them when they were playing too roughly, but he took some time out himself to have some fun by gliding across on the zip-line.

As Oldfield interpreted through American sign language for him, James said he is very excited about the camp and being the oldest so he could be in charge. He said it is a lot of responsibility, but it also is a lot of fun.

James said he had been enjoying the water sports on trips to the beach and outdoor activities that they do with animals. He said he enjoys helping to prepare meals at the camp and by the end of the day, he is exhausted and ready for a good night's sleep.

Oldfield said many young people like James have been growing up in homes or school environments where most of the people are not capable of teaching them how to communicate, and they themselves do not know how to communicate with hearing-enabled people.

"When it comes to communicating with them, there are a lot of people who are intimidated and avoid them, rather than try," Oldfield said. "That's not good for them, and we are striving to get more inclusion for them."

She said she has invited siblings and parents of the campers to also be a part of the camp and has activities daily so that they, too, can learn more about communicating and feeling more connected.

"It's open to the children and to their circle so that they too can learn to make their lives fuller," she said. "It's no fun when people around you are talking and you can't be a part of it because they don't know how to share the words. We want to change that."

A typical day at the camp includes indoor and outdoor activities, beach trips, craft projects, cultural projects and lessons in healthy living and eating.

As Lori Edwards showed the group how to make personal-size pizzas for lunch on Tuesday, Betsy Hoke stood nearby signing the directions to the group. James was comfortable and in his element, tossing and spreading his pizza dough, which he quickly crowned with some of his favorite toppings.

He placed his right hand over his heart and made small circles, indicating that he was enjoying the activity, then gave a thumbs up and a smile.

"We have had tremendous support from the community, with people coming in to teach us crafts, cooking, quadrille, and even for some of the games," Oldfield said. She said the group is going to Buck Island on Thursday, and the children are all very excited.

Oldfield said she hopes to build on the foundation of the program for next year and make it available to more children and include more artists to come to the camp to work with students next summer.

"While they can't hear the music, they can feel it and they respond very well to drumming and dancing that are in ways communication too," she said.

For more information about Deaf Camp St. Croix, contact Oldfield at normaleeoldfield@hotmail.com.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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