After a virtual 2020, Camp Helen Keller successfully returns in-person

After COVID-19 turned Camp Helen Keller into a virtual experience last year, Owen Neyland is glad to have his longtime friends back by his side. 

"I'm really happy being back in person," Neyland said. "When I'm here it just makes me feel like a completely different person. I feel like I'm exactly who I know I can be."

The camp, located at LIU Post in Brookville, Long Island, started more than 60 years ago as a way to give blind and visually impaired kids an opportunity to build their self-esteem, self-confidence, and social skills. Camp enrollment and roundtrip transportation are provided completely free — the costs are funded by state grants and private donations. 

"I feel like everyone at my school, I try to feel normal, but there is still a barrier," camper Samantha Palmese said. "Here everyone is the same, everyone respects each other, it's just a magical experience."

"I go to school with kids who don't have the same disability as me and some people are not very nice about it," camper Louisa Lopez-Taitt. "So when I'm here I get to be myself because all the kids around have the same disability." 

Nicole Mauro has been at Camp Helen Keller since she was 5. Now, she's the assistant director. 

"A lot of our campers have the same eye condition that I have, achromatopsia," Mauro said. "So I like being able to share what I've learned about my own eye condition with the kids and to be able to give them an opportunity to see people just like them."

This Friday is the last day of camp for the summer and the big farewell show that the kids have been working so hard on. 

There are 36 kids enrolled this summer. The camp expects to be back at full capacity with 50 kids for next summer. 

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