Healthy Spirit

VIKING Program help visually impaired kids

Written by Leigh Neely
Children ages 6-13 get a chance to try new adventures with the VIKING Program at New Vision for Independence.

A comprehensive program called Visually Impaired Kids Investigating New Ground, or VIKING, is helping children ages 6-13 to develop independent living skills.

The program is part of New Vision for Independence, a community organization that provides rehabilitation, education, and support services to people with low vision or blindness in Lake and Sumter counties.

An intensive summer camp featured six participants, all boys, who are involved in VIKING all year. The kids bonded with each other as they discovered there were other kids just like them, says Chantel Buck, president and CEO of New Vision.

“These are kids who may not necessarily know any other kids who have a visual impairment. They go to school and may be the only one in their classroom who needs accommodations, or special equipment, or meets with a special teacher to help them perform in a standard classroom,” she adds.

The children are unaccustomed to being with other children who understand the obstacles they face. “As soon as you put six kids on the same level in the same room, the visual impairment is the least of their worries,” Chantel says.

Two of the participants are visually impaired because of albinism. “Those two boys in particular are not used to seeing others who look like them,” she says.

All the activities were adapted for exactly what participants need. “We focused a lot on daily activities. We have a small kitchenette in our office, and they prepared their own breakfasts, cleaned up after themselves, and got ready for the activities of the day.”

“We tried to make all of the life skills fun,” Chantel says. “We had an activity called Laundry Olympics, where they practiced folding towels and clothes and we made it a competition of who could fold them the neatest.”

The organization was very pleased with the results of the program and the extensive community support that included volunteers talking with the children about jobs and other opportunities for visually impaired individuals.

A florist from Umatilla taught the boys how to make floral arrangements, a sensory activity. A businessman discussed sales, and Walt Disney World representatives spoke about job exploration and donated tickets to Epcot, which was the group’s end-of-summer trip. Thrivent Financial provided funds for groceries.

“We are so grateful for all of the support we have gotten to make the program successful,” Chantel says.

The offices of New Vision for Independence are at 9501 U.S. Highway 441 in Leesburg on the campus of Lake-Sumter State College, Room 140. Call 352.435.5040 for information.


About the author

Leigh Neely

Leigh Neely began her writing career with a weekly newspaper in the Florida panhandle, where she not only did the writing but delivered the papers to the post office and dispensers. She has been writing ever since for a variety of newspapers and magazines from New Jersey to Leesburg. With her writing partner, Jan Powell, Leigh has published two novels as Neely Powell.

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