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It's friends, it's fun



Published: Sun, July 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The camp is rewardingfor directors andcampers alike.

By JENNINE ZELEZNIK

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

A group of teen-agers stood in the shade near the church entrance, laughing and teasing one another, hands flying in silent communication.

Nearby, Freddy Seitz, 9, of Poland, stood with his back against a pillar, peering around the corner.

From his other side, Slade Williams of Poland tapped Freddy on the shoulder. Freddy jumped. And with a smirk, Slade ran.

A smile on the mobile side of his mouth -- Freddy has a condition that affects control of half his facial muscles -- the boy raced after his 9-year-old opponent.

Slade formed the T sign with his nimble hands for time out.

Both collapsed in laughter, then wandered over to look at crabapple tree in the yard of Howland United Methodist Church on Howland-Wilson Road.Standing nearby, Nancy Resh, co-director of the Super Deaf Camp, snapped her attendance sheet in the air, then checked off in red ink the campers who'd made it for the day.

Going places: Soon, the bus would arrive, and the kids would be off on another adventure. The destination: Amish country.

Founded in 1990, the camp helps kids from several counties get together during the summer.

"Most of these kids would never get a chance to see each other during the summer if we didn't provide a camp like this," said Cindy Landrum, camp co-director and counselor for the deaf with Community Solutions Association in Warren.

At first, the camp was open only to elementary pupils, who met for a few hours once a week to play, Landrum said.

"They enjoyed it so much that we expanded to a full day," she said. "Then as the elementary students grew up, we extended it to middle school, then high school."

Now, the camp meets two days per week for children of all ages.

Grants: Grants from Forum Health Trumbull Memorial Hospital and the Ridgecliff Foundation pay for it.

The bus pulled into the parking lot of Byler Greenhouse in Middlefield. Though it was closed, owner Kathryn Byler agreed to let campers in for a tour.

Stepping down from the bus, Slade instantly wrinkled his nose.

Vanessa Brown, 11, of Howland, laughed. "Cows," she signed to the boy, holding her nose. She laughed again at his disapproving face. "We're on a farm," she signed. Slade just shrugged.

After the tour, Byler led the group to the barn. Instead of cows, the barn housed the family's plow and buggy horses and four miniature ponies.

For a treat, Byler had her husband, Elmer, hook up their buggy.

"Would anybody like a ride?" she asked. Landrum interpreted for the kids, then laughed as they left the barn en masse to stand in front of the black buggy.

The younger ones -- Slade, Freddy, and Lauren Albaugh of Champion, wormed their way through their taller companions to claim first ride.

Resh, who also works at Youngstown's Community Center for the Deaf, stood with the rest of the campers in the driveway, protected by the bus's large shadow.

She watched as some teens took turns riding in a tiny pony cart driven by Elmer Jr. The rest stood in small groups, signing.

"This program is so important for the kids," Resh said softly. "It gives them an opportunity to go places, see the outside world. I wish I'd had something like this when I was growing up."

Resh was not always deaf. She lost her hearing when she was 3 because of a baseball accident. Until she was 13, she attended public school, though no programs for the hearing impaired were available in Virginia."Deaf students didn't have any help in the classroom until 1973."

Federal law: Congress that year passed the Equal Opportunity Act, which mandated equal access to education for all pupils.

Most campers go to Champion Schools, which has a program for deaf pupils.

About 50 kids from Trumbull, Ashtabula and Portage counties are in Champion's program. Teachers can always tell which pupils attended the camp.

"Their language and social skills have developed," Landrum said. "Their personalities have blossomed, where otherwise they'd have a bit of regression during the summer months."

And seeing other, older deaf pupils in the camp succeed -- going on to college, for example -- especially helps the younger kids.

"For the little children, the role modeling that takes place -- the ability to identify with other deaf kids -- is priceless," Landrum said.

Interpreter: Greg Mendenhall, 14, of Leavittsburg, interprets for campers even though he's deaf. He has attended the camp for several years.

"I have a lot of friends here," he said, laughing. "And I pick on them all."

The best part about camp for him is that he can see his friends during summer.

"Hearing friends can talk to each other on the phone," he said as the dyed blond tips of his hair gleamed in the sun. "But some of us don't have a TTY, so we can't talk on the phone. Here, we get to talk a lot."

TTYs are typewriter-like devices that permit the hearing- or speech-impaired to use the telephone. The receiver fits into an acoustic coupler on the TTY and permits the users to type messages back and forth.

Campers also learn a lot. The directors try to plan educational excursions, or something that will expose the kids to different careers or cultures.

"We're going to make the kids learn something this summer," Landrum said and signed, laughing. "It's not all fun."

"Maybe we should make them take a test," chimed in Julie Young, an interpreter for the group. "I'm sure they'd love that."

Enthusiasm for the program keeps the kids talking year-round, Landrum said.

Landrum isn't deaf but always has wanted to be an interpreter.

"When I was in sixth grade, I was watching a TV church program on a Sunday morning," she said. "There was an interpreter, and the signs were so beautiful. I decided right then to be an interpreter."

She studied American Sign Language for years, going to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the only university in the world for the deaf.

Landrum said it's easy to learn signs, but to learn the intricacies of the language takes time.

"I love my job," she said. "I feel so fortunate to have the position I have. It's exhausting, but it's also really rewarding. It makes it worth doing."

jzeleznik@vindy.com




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