By Frances Wang

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Lighthouse just opened for the first time since March for its summer camp programs.

The 90-year-old organization is improving the lives of visually impaired children and addressing the specific challenges they face during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enoch Brown is a beginner bass player. He’s among a group of blind and sighted teens in the Miami Lighthouse’s Better Chance Music Program where he gains skills in performance, songwriting, and sound engineering.

There are other teens playing the piano and getting instruction on sound engineering. Damian Palacios is playing the drums, he, like Enoch, is visually impaired.

“I’m playing two instruments, learning two instruments – the bass and the drums,” said Palacios.

Virginia Jacko is the first blind president and CEO of the Miami Lighthouse. She explains the challenges ahead for them in the working world.

“It is a sighted world, when a musician doesn’t know how to play with sighted musicians and only wants to perform solo, that’s limiting in their career,” she said.

The summer camp, funded by The Children’s Trust, includes programs for children with visual impairments from teenagers to toddlers. There’s art, exercise, and literacy as well. Lessons on making slime and making toothpaste. As with any summer camp, there is an emphasis on fun but because of the coronavirus pandemic, the approach is quite different.

“Social distancing is very difficult because blind people are tactile, we touch, touch, touch. We have to teach everyone six feet of separation. That is very difficult for the blind,” Jacko explains.

Every classroom in the building is dedicated to kids, there is no adult programming offered for these seven weeks in order to adhere to the social distancing guidelines. Some clever tools have been employed.

“One thing you may have noticed is our tactile silhouettes which are actual children, ponytail, backpack,” Jacko refers to these life-size figures affixed to the walls. “So we teach the children to stand in front of your new friend, to adhere to social distancing.”

The teens are instructed on coronavirus, how positive cases are tracked, how it relates to each of them. There is a map with the zones showing positive cases and the teacher looks up each students’ zip code. Students have on masks and are six feet apart, no more than eight people and two teachers in any room.

In addition to keeping the visually impaired safe and empowering them, the camp serves to build a bridge for them, with the other half, the sighted campers who become their allies.

“The kids develop empathy, they learn how to work with people that are different, and blind students work how to function in a sighted world,” said Jacko.

You can click on the link here to find more information on the Miami Lighthouse.

Frances Wang

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