Alumna’s sports camps for children with visual impairments continue to expand, change lives globally
Teaching a child to do something they’ve never done before — catch a Frisbee, kick a ball, dive into a pool — is something to celebrate. Teaching a child who is deaf or visually impaired to do something they’ve never done before is something life changing.
UWL Alumna Lauren Lieberman, ’88, finds this kind of life-changing teaching addicting. She has empowered children worldwide to try physical activities they didn’t think they could while training educators in the best practices for teaching adaptive sports and physical education.
Lieberman, a professor of adapted physical education at The College at Brockport, has founded 21 Camp Abilities programs in the U.S. and seven others internationally since 1996. These developmental sports camps for children with visual impairments open up opportunities for underserved children to socialize, build self esteem and improve overall quality of life.
As a Fulbright Scholar, she’ll be setting up three more educational sports camps in Brazil, Ghana and Ireland in this fall. One of the hallmarks of her camps is that they also trains parents and teachers, so the program becomes sustainable in new places.
Lieberman says building this worldwide network of educators is necessary.
“Every where I go, I still hear stories of kids who are visually impaired and blind being marginalized and left out of physical activities,” she says. “We have so much work to do.”
Lieberman has seen how Camp Abilities can make a difference. Often children arrive at camp with a tight hold of their parent’s arm, uneasy about being away from the familiarity of home.
But at camp, these children are able to discover their abilities. A simple activity like getting ready to swim at the pool becomes an exploration of independence. They pick out their own locker and hang their towel in a place where they’ll be able to return to find them — instead of having someone to assist with every step.
Along the way, the child meets new friends and gains greater self esteem. By the end of camp, the same child doesn’t want to leave.
In addition to the experiences for youth, starting Camp Abilities gave college students at Brockport and other universities around the country experience working with children who are visually impaired or deaf, explains Lieberman. That was an experience she valued as a UWL graduate student in what is now the adapted physical education program.
Lieberman models a lot of the programming she develops for Brockport students after the training she received at UWL. As a student, she gained a variety of hands-on experiences through activities such as running an adult fitness program in the community and supervising undergraduate student practicums.
UWL’s program was both prominent and challenging, she says. That is likely why many graduates have become leaders in the field, she adds. Lieberman is grateful to faculty in the department who have fostered connections between students and alumni.
Emeriti Professors Pat DiRocco and Lane Goodwin pushed her to work hard while also nurturing her interest in the field. And more recent faculty members, such as Garth Tymeson, have continued to create opportunities for alumni to connect through events such as the SHAPE National Convention.
Learn more about Camp Abilities at www.campabilities.org.