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June 23, 2005

Deaf Connections Summer Camp opens new world to deaf children in safe setting

From: - KS,USA - Jun 23, 2005

A place where no one stares

The Wichita Eagle

It's called the Deaf Connections Summer Camp -- a place where deaf and hard-of-hearing children ages 5 to 12 can discover the joys of day camp. Organizers describe the camp, held at Eberly Farm, as a place where no one stares. And it's a place where everyone's hands speak the same language -- American Sign Language.

"It's fun," Iris Wigley, 11, said. "And it's pretty important because all of the kids are about the same age and all of us are deaf and we're able to communicate."

The four-day camp, which started Tuesday, is the first community activity of the Elizabeth Connection.

Co-founder Janet Porter said the local grassroots organization, which formed in January, will provide educational and social activities to those who are deaf or hard of hearing throughout the city.

Taking charge and connecting everybody is a priority, said Porter, who named the group for her daughter, Elizabeth, who is deaf.

"It's a big job," said Porter, who is not deaf. "I'm not so sure I'm the perfect one to do it, but it's a passion."

The group is applying for nonprofit status.

Other goals for the organization include creating a resource directory of services, organizing a parent support group -- by fall, they hope -- and scheduling social activities especially for deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Organizers said the camp expands the options for deaf and hard of hearing children who want to have a camp experience.

Activities this year include swimming, walking along nature trails, creating artwork and experiencing a petting zoo with ducks, goats and a horse.

Jeremy Rolofson said that the petting zoo helped bring to life the animals his son, Jaeden, reads about during his homeschool lessons.

"He gets to see the animals and smell the animals," Rolofson said. "You can't get that from books alone."

The North Wichita Optimist Club helped sponsor this year's camp. Club president Gaye Erwin said it was important to let the kids know that "people outside of their own group care about them. They're not alone out there."

Kim Enos, a camp director and co-founder of the Elizabeth Connection, said she expects about 25 kids this year. All of the kids have various degrees of hearing loss, she said.

The organization recruited adult volunteers who were deaf or hard of hearing to be counselors for the camp, according to Enos.

"It's very important for these kids to have role models and to see adults that communicate and live in a similar way in which the kids do," said Enos, who is not deaf.

The camp also eliminates any communication obstacles that the children would face in other settings, said James Clark, a camp counselor who is deaf.

"It's open communication," he said. "Making sure you have an interpreter is not an issue here."

Contact Janet Porter, co-founder, at

Reach Christina M. Woods at 269-6791 or

© 2005 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.