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Trussville camper experiences the life of Helen Keller at Camp Courage

Special to the Tribune

Most students learn about Helen Keller, a few get to experience her life first hand.

Owen Hemrick of Trussville examines a bluegill he caught while fishing on Pickwick Lake at Camp Courage. a Helen Keller Experience.

A group of fourth through sixth graders, who are visually and/or hearing impaired, attended Camp Courage, a Helen Keller Experience Sept. 14-16. Most of the activities for the intensive camp were held at Ivy Green, Keller’s birthplace and childhood home in Tuscumbia. The camp teaches the young campers to use their abilities to make a difference in their school, their community and the world, just as Helen Keller did.

Keller overcame losing her vision and hearing as toddler to become an author, lecturer, advocate for the disabled and inspiration to people around the world. During Camp Courage, the students learn about

Keller and how she helped change the world.

Local students attending the camp included Owen Hemrick of Trussville.

The campers watched scenes from “The Miracle Worker” play, toured Ivy Green, created crafts, participated in self-esteem and team building activities, went fishing on Pickwick Lake, and toured Cypress Cove Farm in Red Bay. There were also activities for their parents.

Sue Pilkilton, executive director of the Helen Keller Birthplace in Tuscumbia and an organizer of Camp Courage, said it’s heartwarming to see how the children interact and help one another.

“The children start bonding as soon as they get here,” Pilkilton said. “The vision-impaired children will form bonds with the hearing-impaired and begin helping them and the hearing-impaired children will start helping the vision-impaired. They do this on their own. We don’t pair them up that way.”

Pilkilton said the campers form lifelong friendships. This is the fifth year for Camp Courage, a Helen Keller Experience and many of the campers from previous years remain close friends with people they met at the camp.

There is no charge to the campers or their families who attend Camp Courage. Generous donations from sponsors make the camp possible.

Student teachers from the University of North Alabama serve as counselors for the camp. They are supervised by a team of Helen Keller Fellows, who are highly-qualified teachers of the deaf-blind. The camp is very intense, but the smiles and laughter of the children are non-stop. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who is having the most fun, the campers or the staff.

The concept for Camp Courage originated with state Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow of Red Bay.

Morrow said almost every time he visits Ivy Green, he meets parents of a child that is visually or hearing impaired. “I will ask them, why did you bring your child to Ivy Green? They always say, ‘There’s magic here. This is where the miracle took place’.”

Morrow said Camp Courage preserves the legacy of Helen Keller and the miracle that occurred at Ivy Green when she first communicated with her teacher Anne Sullivan. “I think Helen Keller would be proud of what we are doing with her legacy,”

Hemrick, 9, said he had lots of fun at Camp Courage. “The most fun I had was going fishing and getting to ride in a boat.”

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