Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Summer of 08': My Experience At the Helen Diller Vacation Home for the Blind

Life! Life is a daily struggle to get over your demons of yesterday to embrace your angels of guidance for what tomorrow has to bring.  Its unfortunate though that some people may never shake their misfortunes in life.  Today, I am going to take you back into my past to when I was 18-19 years old.  During that summer, I worked at this Group Home called The Helen Diller Home for the Blind which if i remember correctly was on 26th Street in Avalon, New Jersey.  I remember the phone call that I got from the director while I sat in the lounge of St. Basil's dormitory at La Salle University.  It was in May around this time, the baseball season was winding down, and all the spring athletes were put into one residency.  I pressed the green answer button on my phone and got the good news that she hired me as a camp counselor for the summer.  My girlfriend at the time was going to work there, so she got me the job so we could be closer together, and she knew I was good with children because of how I hung out with and interacted with her younger brothers.  I was so excited for this new experience that I couldn't wait to get down to shore and really experience life from a new perspective.  Here's my story about the summer of 08' and my time at the Helen Diller Vacation Home for the Blind.

We'll begin this journey into the memory stored within my brain's hard drive on my first few days on the job.  During the first week, we had to get our medical certifications in CPR and First Aide at the Fire Station around the corner.  Once we got our certifications, the director and her assistant told us we had to experience life as a blind person by wearing these blacked out sunglasses and walking around the adjacent streets with a partner holding onto our arm as a means of guidance.  The second I put on those glasses and began walking without knowing where i was going gave me one of the biggest reality checks I had ever experienced at that point in my life.  I really grew a great amount of appreciation for how fortunate I am, while simultaneously growing a great amount of empathy for those who's birth and existence in this life isn't so easy.  We ended up spending an hour or two working on that before the day was complete.

That summer was by far one of the best experiences of my life.  I met so many children that were so happy even with being at a disadvantage in life, and it really made my problems and daily depressions seem so minuscule.  During that summer, we spent most of our days at the beach, and even to this day i have no idea how anyone who can't see, can run in the ocean that fast without a fear in the world.  We took them to the water and amusement park at Morey's Pier in Wildwood, the Cape May Zoo, and the random walking outlets around the town of Avalon and Stone Harbor.  My favorite part of the summer was watching this blind Chinese boy put in work on the Guitar Hero in the video game room.  I could barely play it on Medium with the Rage Against The Machine song, but he was playing it on the highest level on the hardest song and was still doing it with ease.

As we dive deeper into my memory, i reminisce about this one boy who was born with no eyes and Cerebral Palsy.  He was such a happy child and it really brought happiness to my soul.  Watching a person struggle in life yet always keep a positive attitude will make anyone want to be a better person when one is around them.  Every morning we would have to clean his eye lids out and put his false eyes to get him ready for the day.  As i sit hear writing this, I think about the day we took the group to the boardwalk in the morning, and how he always wanted to go on my shoulders to feel on top of the world and i don't think anyone enjoys being pushed around in a wheelchair.  I always tried to do whatever it took to make him happy because in my mind I considered the week they spent at the home as a vacation and one should be pampered and pleased while on it.  Unfortunately, by the end of the summer by girlfriend broke up with me through the phone while i was at the beach with my family, and it broke my heart because although i've been in quite a few relationships, this is the first time i experienced love, even if it was young love.  As a result, I drove from Ocean City to Avalon via the Garden State Parkway and explained to the Director that I was sorry for letting her and the children down, but I couldn't work there anymore.  in hindsight, I should not have ran away from my problems and I acted really selfish.  A few weeks later, I was playing in this charity softball tournament for my friend and teammate who was killed by a drunk driver earlier that summer, and the boy called me and said that he was wondering where i was and that he missed me, and that conversation is something i will never forget.

So there was this young boy Sean.  Sean was a really young African American boy from Philadelphia.  Sometimes we had to drive to pick some of the campers up from two locations: one of which is down Route 1 South past St. Joe's University and the other is up Garden State Parkway.  On this particular day, I was chosen to take the ride with the director to Philadelphia.  Upon arrival to pick Sean up, he was very shy and would not talk to anyone.  After he got in the van and we put music on, I started to pick his brain to get to know him, and eventually he opened up to me.  Sean, had ADHD and had night blindness.  I guess because I was there from the beginning, he became attached to me because I give people a feeling of comfort when their in my presence, or at least i try.  As i envision this memory into a picture in my mind, i begin thinking about this one night Sean walked into my room at the home.(We all lived at the home, campers and counselors)  He said he couldn't sleep and he wanted to hang out with me.  I told him a few times to go back to his room and try his best to fall asleep, but to no avail he came back and wanted to play my FIFA soccer game on my Xbox.  I did not want to get in trouble, so I walked downstairs from the second floor to the main level living room where the assistant director was watching TV, and I asked her if it was okay if Sean played video games with me because he could not sleep?  She said it was fine as long as he goes back to his bed to sleep.  I rushed back upstairs so we could get this game rolling and his eyes lit up with happiness.  We played for a few games and I really don't know if he really couldn't sleep or he just wanted to hang out with me because he didn't want to be by himself.  Nonetheless, we had fun and he ended up falling asleep in my bed and so I picked him quietly and carried him to his bed and tucked him in.  The next day, my girlfriend and I were going to AC because i was taking her to eat at this restuarant, Carmine's, and then I was going to take her to see The Dark Knight.  When Sean found out I was leaving for the night, he grabbed onto my leg and said, "I'm never letting go, I'm never letting go!  Take me with you please?"  I never realized how attached a child can become to you when you do nice things for them.

That summer taught me a lot about myself and the world.  By spending time with those children, it made me appreciate the small things in life that we all take for granted everyday.  It allowed me to broaden my horizon as a consciously aware person by seeing life with no light.  I think every child should get to witness the light because no one wants to live in the dark, although none of those children never made an excuse about being blind.  I don't think i'll ever be able to comprehend how a blind person can run into the ocean that fast with no fear especially when its only 68 degrees.  Then again, you either jump in or get off the dock!  I guess the thrill and happiness of being free, on vacation, at the beach without a care in the world would make just about anyone want to run as free as their mind was.  Although I allowed me selfish puppy love to get the best of me, the summer of 08' will live in my mind and memory forever.

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