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Reaching new heights at the NAC

Dale Thompson, Of the Record staff
Children from the Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments in St. Louis, Missouri tackle the climbing wall at the National Ability Center.
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Eyesight isn’t always necessary to climb walls, ride a horse or paddle in a canoe.

Youth from the Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments in St. Louis, Missouri arrived in Park City on Thursday to do all those activities and more with the National Ability Center.

Jen Brelsfor, Adventure Learning Facilitator for the NAC, said much of the group’s weekend in Park City will help the children learn about overcoming obstacles while gaining a sense of independence.

"I think more than anything they’re learning they can do things," she said.

The group, ages 7 to 10, cheered each other on as they tackled the climbing wall where small incentives such finger puppets or watches were stashed in the holds to help encourage them along their route.

Before beginning the climb, 9-year-old Andrew expressed some apprehension but muscled his way to the top where he rang a small bell to let the others know he had made it.

Eight children took the trip from St. Louis to Park City. Danielle, 9, described her flight.

"The plane, it was so fun. We flew, like, over the mountains," she said.

Elise, 8, is excited to be here.

"It’s been really fun so far and it’s just nice to be in Utah because I didn’t go on vacation for such a long time," she said.

When asked if it was difficult for her to be away from her parents Elise replied, "Yeah, but I can handle it."

Abby, 10, is looking forward to later tonight when she gets to call home.

"Every night we have phone time and we get to call our parents," she said. "I’m gonna tell them how much I miss them."

For many, it is their first time away from home.

Abby declared that Annie, 9, is one of her best friends in the group and said the two share a secret word together.

Annie laughed at this and said the climbing wall has been her favorite activity so far.

A volunteer goes 100 miles and further

Tina Bauer said she began volunteering with the center about five years ago when the Executive Director, Deborah Naucke, approached her and her husband at the gym. She recruited them to volunteer on a 110-mile bike ride on the Katy Trail in Missouri that runs from Jefferson City to St. Louis.

Using tandem bikes, many of the children got to participate in the ride.

"The trail was a little rough at times and washed out in places," said Bauer adding there was the occasional flat tire to deal with.

Parents waited for their children at the end of the trail with banners and a barbeque. But some of the children weren’t ready to be done.

"I remember there were a couple of kids that didn’t want to get off their bikes," Bauer said.

She loves volunteering for the kids.

"They’re just great to work with and basically they just inspire you," she said.

About the Delta Gamma Center

The Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments is a non-profit organization that started more than 50 years ago.

The local Delta Gamma sorority founded it after raising money by running a Christmas tree lot.

Family Support Services Coordinator, Debbie Chapuis, said at that time not many programs were available to blind children, something that was a service focus for the sorority sisters.

She added founding the center was revolutionary at the time, and some of the original sorority sisters are still affiliated with the organization.

"The agency started over 50 years ago as an early intervention agency," she said adding that it continues to be their primary goal.

The Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments begins interventions at birth and focuses on them through the age of 3.

Chapuis said she has seen statistics saying that between 70 and 85 percent of early learning in children takes place through sight.

"The goal of early intervention is teaching parents how to compensate for this," she said.

Surveying the children climbing on the wall she said many of them have participated in agency programs from an early age. Chapuis noted that while there are variations, many of them are level with their sight-seeing peers in terms of development and added that some are even gifted.

"They meet once a month and their goals are to work on things they don’t get much of at school," she said.

This includes social skills, increased independence and participation in their community, Chapuis said.

In preparation for their trip to the NAC the children practiced canoeing in a swimming pool and feeling for holds on a smaller climbing wall, Chapuis said. Parents were also encouraged to help them work on independent mobility, bathing and dressing themselves.

"They tell their parents, ‘No, you can’t help me with that, I’ve got to do it myself," Chapuis said, adding it is wonderful seeing the children make those kinds of strides.

Helping parents is another goal of the center.

"When parents get the diagnosis for blindness, it’s devastating," Chapuis said. "A big part of our goal in early intervention is to give the parents hope."

Teenagers who also receive services from the center help mentor the younger children. Chapuis said one of them had talked to Andrew about his climbing apprehension before the trip, and offered some good advice.

In addition to programs for the visually impaired they also offer family support services for siblings, parents and grandparents. For more information visit: http://www.dgckids.org .


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