Setting sights

SHARON, Pa. -- Decked out in neon yellow T-shirts, 16 children took a field trip to the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.
"Keystone Kids ... We're outta sight," the shirts read, heralding the arrival of the visually impaired youngsters.
The trip to Carnegie was just one of the activities the Keystone Blind Association planned for the pupils as part of its second annual Career Caravan.
Specialized program: Kids from Youngstown, Poland, Meadville, Greenville, Sharon, New Castle and Hermitage participated in the day-camp-style program, which began June 13 and ended Friday. Kathie Preece, program coordinator, said the eight-day camp focused on the special needs of students with visual impairments.
"It's a pretty common concept in the world of visual impairments," Preece said of Career Caravan. "There are several Career Caravan programs throughout the country."
Activities offered: The program provided participants ranging from age 7 to 18 with opportunities to visit a fire station in Hermitage, play a "beeping" baseball game and swim in the pool at Buhl Park. Other scheduled events included making crafts and lunches, eating at restaurants and learning table skills.
"We're teaching these kids by getting them out in the community," Preece said.
The summer program was the first KBA activity Philip Fisher, 8, of Hermitage, attended. The youngster enjoys playing baseball, drawing and listening to old-time radio programs. His favorite books are the "Sugarcreek Gang" novels. Philip also likes to dress up as a cowboy, a soldier and the Lone Ranger, and he wants to be a baseball player when he grows up.
His mother, Kim, said he was born with a macular degenerative disease.
"I think it's good he's getting a chance to be exposed to other visually impaired kids," she said. "He's going to learn things that visually impaired kids need to learn."
Preece said the children all have different levels of vision. She is an orientation mobility specialist at KBA and a certified teacher for the visually impaired.
Concept development: A visual impairment makes understanding concepts more difficult, so the camp provides experiences to stimulate concept development. Concept development leads to better writing skills and literacy, she added.
"We need to give them the experiences so that they have the concepts on which to build," Preece said.
This is the second year Jonathan Hearn, 18, from New Castle, has been involved in the summer program.
"I enjoy it and all the activities we do," he said. "It is just a lot of fun."
The program's goal is for the kids to have fun and learn skills.
"We kind of bombard them, but they don't realize it because they are having fun," she said.
Through the camp, the children also visited visually impaired adults who have established careers, and Preece thinks these adults can be role models for pupils.
"One focus of our program is to look to the future," Preece said. "Eighty percent of visually impaired people are unemployed because they don't realize what kinds of jobs they can do."
Letting go: She thinks that parents often don't let a visually impaired child work because they don't think he will be able to hold a job, or they are afraid their child will get hurt.
"If too many people tell them they're helpless, they'll begin to believe it," she said. "We try to motivate kids to want to get out there and do things on their own."
She added that the kids enjoy being together.
"This is the only opportunity they get to spend time with peers who are visually impaired," she said.
Dawn Vakasy, 14, of New Bedford, who is blind, has been a part of the program for two years.
"We're all friends," she said. "The program gives you more time to socialize, meet new people and find out what you can do with your life."
Dawn will be a freshman at Wilmington Area High School in the fall. She is thinking about attending Westminster College and becoming a nurse when she graduates.
Career Caravan is just one of the programs KBA offers. The association is a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of services to the visually impaired. KBA offices are at 1230 Stambaugh Ave., Sharon, and 312 Chestnut St., Room 103, Meadville.

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