UNA Partners With Helen Keller Birthplace, American Optometric Association for “Camp Courage”

Sep. 5, 2013


Camp Courage CamperBy Terry Pace, Communications and Marketing

TUSCUMBIA, Ala. – Elementary education students from the University of North Alabama will soon have a chance to perform some first-hand fieldwork on the hallowed ground where a world-famous “miracle” occurred.

Camp Courage – an intensive, broad-based three-day program designed for hearing-impaired and visually impaired children between the ages of 7 and 14 – will take place Oct. 24-26 at Ivy Green, the historic birthplace of Helen Keller (1880-1968), “America’s First Lady of Courage.” Keller overcame total deafness and blindness to become a college-educated, universally beloved author, humanitarian and tireless champion for people with disabilities.

“The idea for Camp Courage came about as a result of my visiting the Helen Keller Birthplace over the past several years and seeing children with disabilities inspired just by visiting Ivy Green,” according to State Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, who represents the 18th House District that includes portions of Colbert and Franklin counties in northwest Alabama.

“So I had the idea of expanding this into a camp so that other children could find the Helen Keller story just as inspiring,” Morrow explained. “I presented this idea to the Helen Keller Birthplace Foundation, who had the vision to see the possibilities. And I think Helen Keller would be pleased to know her legacy is being used for such a noble purpose to inspire children with a disability.”

The camp is sponsored by the Keller Birthplace Foundation and the American Optometic Association Foundation, in conjunction with UNA and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“Camp Courage is a fine example of what wonderful things can happen when the right blend of individuals come together to help others,” UNA President Dr. William G. Cale remarked during a news conference today on the university campus in Florence. “UNA is thrilled to work with Rep. Morrow and the Keller Foundation to bring into being a program to benefit children with a hearing or vision impairment.”

The camp schedule will encompass educational, social and inspirational activities, including arts and crafts, music, drama, field trips and discussions of Keller’s life and work. Instructors and students from UNA and UAB will be directly involved in planning and conducting the camp.

“The Camp Courage program will pair a UNA student from the College of Education and Human Sciences with a camper who has a visual and/or hearing impairment,” according to Dr. Vicki Hulsey, who chairs the UNA Department of Elementary Education. “The intention of the camp is to give campers a Helen Keller experience that is fun and exciting and hopefully inspirational as well. We want the campers to celebrate their abilities and come away with a sense of accomplishment.”

Since she was a teenager, Hulsey herself has had a deep personal and professional connection with the Oscar-winning film The Miracle Worker, the dramatic and inspiring story of 7-year-old Helen Keller’s fateful first encounter with her determined young teacher, Anne Sullivan.

“It is truly what inspired me to become a special educator,” Hulsey observed. “One of the most powerful experiences ever portrayed in any film is the water pump sequence when Helen finally understands and she is no longer a prisoner in a dark and silent world. I've wanted to be Annie Sullivan ever since.”

UNA students chosen as camp counselors will participate in a day of orientation and training at Ivy Green on Sept. 21. Three Helen Keller Scholars – nationally recognized master teachers of students with visual and hearing impairments – will conduct activities for Camp Courage participants. In the process, UNA students will receive direct, hands-on training from nationally recognized experts in this highly specialized field.

“The goal of Camp Courage is for the campers to have their own personal Helen Keller experience,” Hulsey concluded. “My goal is for our student to have their own personal Annie Sullivan experience.”

A total of 10 children from across the northwest Alabama region will be selected to participate in Camp Courage free of charge. The first child chosen for the camp – 7-year-old Grace McClellan (pictured here), a visually impaired second-grade student at Fayette Elementary School – was the winner of this year’s Helen Keller Festival art contest. To date, five more campers have been chosen from schools in Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale counties.

“The camp is designed to be a pilot program that can grow and become national or possibly even international – and it’s all starting at Ivy Green, on the site where so much history was made,” noted Russ Darracott, assistant director for graduate admissions at UNA and a member of the Keller Birthplace board of directors as well as the Camp Courage committee. “It’s a wonderful chance to give these campers hope and encouragement by teaching them about the tremendous difference Helen Keller made in people’s lives through her courage and determination. Ideally, the Camp Courage experience will inspire them to make a big difference in the world, too.”

For details on Camp Courage, call the Helen Keller Birthplace at 256-383-4066 or the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau at 256-383-0783.

High-resolution photos (by UNA Photographer Shannon Wells) from today’s Camp Courage news conference are available on the UNA Gallery at: http://www.unalionsden.com/archive/album.php?album=Camp%20Courage&year=2013