GOSHEN — For most of the kids involved, this camp means more then having fun and playing games. It means being able to fully communicate with other kids during rounds of “duck, duck, goose” or freeze tag and watching a TV show where the characters use their language.
This is the first year College Mennonite Church in Goshen has organized a day camp for deaf and hard of hearing children.
It’s a part of the deaf ministries at the church, which sets on Goshen College’s campus.
“Most hearing children get to go to camp or hang out at their friends’ houses,” Renae Weaver, the camp’s coordinator, explained, but hard of hearing children can miss out on those experiences.
College Mennonite’s camp aims to bring those kids together “and to have complete access to what’s going on using a visual language,” she said.
Weaver, of Ephrata, Pa., is a Goshen College student studying psychology and American Sign Language interpreting and is participating in the college’s Ministry Inquiry program, through which students volunteer at a church during a summer.
Weaver hoped to incorporate her interest in sign language into her summer position and so got connected with College Mennonite’s already-established deaf ministry programs.
This is the second week for the camp, which meets every Tuesday and Thursday through July 20.
Weaver said organizers were originally planning on including 12 kids in the program, but not wanting to turn anyone away, have 16 signed up.
“There’s more of a need than we thought for this,” she said.
Sheila Yoder, College Mennonite’s deaf ministries coordinator, originally had the idea for the camp in Goshen. Yoder and deaf and hearing members on the church’s deaf ministries advisory committee put together a handful of events throughout the year.
She emphasized how deaf and hard of hearing children often live far from their deaf peers.
“We know that deaf people as a population are very scattered,” Yoder explained. The deaf community, like other minority groups, has its own culture and its own language, she said. Since deaf children are often born to hearing parents, deaf individuals — unlike most other minority cultures — are not in concentrated communities.
The camp is led mostly in American Sign Language and the group spends time inside or nearby College Mennonite Church playing games, doing crafts and making snacks. They’ve already visited some local parks and have other field trips set, including to Maple Lane Wildlife Farm in Topeka and Lake Wawasee. There’s also time to watch parts of a television series called Dr. Wonder’s Workshop, which is delivered in American Sign Language.
One of the highlights of the camp so far for 8-year-old Ben Ramer of Goshen, though, is just seeing the trains that cross Goshen College’s campus, he said with articulate fingers.
Thursday, Ben smiled throughout the group’s wheelbarrow race, games of freeze tag and “duck, duck, goose,” where he excitedly helped prompt others to run or to grab a seat in the circle.
He’s enjoyed the camp, he signed to Weaver.
“He likes interacting with deaf kids,” she translated.
The camp is going well so far, though Weaver noted that it’s just starting up, with today, June 19, the third day of camp.
Yoder said she had expected more of the camp kids to be from the immediate Goshen area, but was surprised when families from Bremen, Wolcottville and South Bend signed up kids.
That speaks to the need in the area for a camp like this, Yoder said. She and Weaver hope that the camp will become an annual event.
For more information about College Mennonite’s deaf ministries, contact Sheila Yoder at email@example.com.