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July 11, 2004

Camp Has Signs Of Fun

From: Miami Herald, FL - Jul 11, 2004



Special to The Herald

For the first time in his life, Ivan Mendez, 12, who is deaf, is a summer camper.

''I used to stay home for summer vacation, help my mother clean the house or sometimes visit a friend,'' said Ivan, of Margate, through a sign language interpreter.

This summer, Ivan joined 28 other Broward deaf children for a typical summer camp experience at South Plantation High School.

Like thousands of hearing children, Ivan and his pals play sports, ride buses to field trips, do arts and crafts, cook tasty snacks, try their hand at theater, and get a bit of academics with mathematics and reading.

It's all free thanks to a $54,000 grant from the Children's Services Council based in Broward, said Shane Williams, camp supervisor and a director for the Broward chapter of the League for the Hard of Hearing, which hosts the camp with the Alliance for Families with Deaf Children.

The eighth annual camp is called the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Summer Enrichment Program.

''These children would be sitting at home all summer if not for the camp. Here, the children have a peer group in a deaf and hard-of-hearing culture,'' said Williams, who also is a psychologist for the League for the Hard of Hearing, a 94-year-old national nonprofit organization.

Round-trip transportation is provided for all campers from their homes to South Plantation High School, which is Broward's cluster high school for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Jennifer Jones, director of the alliance and a specialist for the program at the school, said about 300 deaf children are enrolled in Broward schools.

Children use American Sign Language and halted, muted speech to communicate with each other and camp staffers.

Activities can begin only after each child is signaled to attention and all campers face front, where a counselor gives direction in signs and speech.

Joshua Metlellus, 10, of Pembroke Pines, said he had no idea how much fun basketball -- or math -- could be until he attended the camp.

''I thought I was the only deaf boy and I didn't like it at all,'' Joshua said.

''Now I feel OK about being deaf. I know I'm not the only one.''

But the most important part of the camp, Jones said, is exposing the children to deaf role models.

Jones said more than 90 percent of the staff, teachers and student counselors are deaf, including Elke Weinbrenner of Pembroke Pines, who recently earned a master's degree in education from McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., and Henry Nokey, 18, a 2004 graduate of South Plantation High who will study engineering in the fall at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, N.Y.

Jones said Nokey proves that deaf teens are just like kids with perfect hearing. Nokey shrugged when asked why he works at the camp.

''It's a job. I get paid. I need money for college,'' he said.

Katicia Hawkins of Davie, whose son, Kei' Youn Hawkins, 6, attends the day camp, said it is priceless because he is obviously happy and because Kei' Youn's communication skills are improving daily.

'I was afraid at first to let him go far from home, but Kei' Youn has a chance to be with kids who are just like him. Kids have to grow. There is a first time for everything,'' Hawkins said.

© 2004 Miami Herald