Light the Campfire!

By Emily Burke, DHH Infusion Co-Coordinator, Hands & Voices

June 21, 2023

The author, age 17, with her Nana who came by for a surprise camp visit as a Lions Club member

Growing up, my favorite movie is the 1960s version of The Parent Trap. Why? That movie took place at a summer camp. Remember when Sharon and Susan (both roles performed by Hayley Mills) met for the first time, it was in the dining hall at Camp Inch? Certainly, you can also refer to the Lindsay Lohan version if you prefer. Anyway, let’s chat about camps for the Deaf/HH children here!

I was only a puny six-year-old kid with a near- mullet haircut when my parents drove for three hours to drop me off at Wisconsin Lions Camp for the first time. I remember putting on my ruffled, pastel striped one-piece swimsuit and carrying my towel down to the swimming area, where my parents left me at the beach with my counselor and cabinmates. Why that camp? It was a camp specifically for Deaf/HH kids. For the next twelve years, I did not miss a session. Eventually, my grandparents joined the Lions Club (which hosted fundraisers to support the camp) because they knew the value it had on Deaf/HH kids, including me. My other set of grandparents always took me on a special shopping adventure to the Drug Emporium so I could pick out my own camp shampoo, soap, deodorant, and that fancy glittery toothpaste. I met my best Deaf/HH friends at camp, and many of us are still friends today.

When camp was over, I came home and carefully pulled out the film from the camera and begged my mom to drive me to Walgreens to get it developed IMMEDIATELY (it was a luxury to have TWO films to process). It was a pain to wait a few days (or in later years, one hour at an additional cost) for the film to be processed. A bunch of pictures turned out okay, thankfully! I missed camp so much that I stuck a copy of the The Parent Trap in the VHS machine to watch the movie over and over. I also became pen-pals with my Deaf/HH camp friends (hey, that was before texts were possible!) and made multiple long-distance calls on the TTY (hey, that was before videophones and smartphones!). When the pictures were done, I had to show EVERYONE my camp pictures, and mail double copies to friends. As a matter of fact, my camp album continues to be easily accessible to this day (yes, my kids laugh at our 80s-90s fashion choices).

The author, age 10, with Jennifer Francisco, FL H&V Board member, at Wisconsin Lions Camp

Each summer, Deaf/HH camps all over the country are building and lighting up the campfires while awaiting the busloads of Deaf/HH campers! Because many Deaf/HH kids are solo-mainstreamed, attending and participating in Deaf-led Deaf/HH camps and programs remains fundamental to the development of their identities as Deaf/HH individuals as it was for me. Deaf/HH adults KNOW the value of these camps and programs for Deaf/HH children and their families, so many take the lead in implementing and maintaining such opportunities for many generations.

Our family is preparing to travel out of the state this summer exclusively so our daughter can attend a Deaf camp in upstate New York called Camp Mark Seven. Last summer, she attended the TechGirlz STEM program at nearby RIT/NTID. I cannot emphasize how often I throw encouragement to families to send their Deaf/HH children to a camp designed for Deaf/HH children. It is a huge, beneficial investment in the wellbeing of your Deaf/HH children.  

My husband worked at Camp Mark Seven, among others.  I have worked at Aspen Camp and a Sertoma camp for Deaf/HH in Minnesota. My husband is serving on the board of Camp UBU – sponsored by Sertoma Club of Great Plains, with a great group of Deaf/HH and hearing allies, so D/HH children from Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa, and Nebraska can attend camp with peers just like them. I remember my old camp counselors who were also Deaf/HH. I keep in touch with a few of them, actually! When our Deaf daughter came back from Camp Sertoma for the Deaf/HH in Minnesota, she told us a well-known campfire story thinking it was new. Nope, we told the same campfire story when we were counselors at the same camp, then these campers became her counselors! Camp is one place where Deaf/HH people can pass on our language, culture, and incredible stories, humor, and poetry from generation to generation. Language development happens at camp. Social/emotional development happens at camp. This is an incredible way for Deaf/HH children to grow proud of who they are as Deaf/HH individuals. Camps are also a way for Deaf/HH children to thrive under leadership of other Deaf/HH individuals, so they can become our future Deaf/HH leaders.

So, we lit the campfire, and we are here waiting for you. Being deaf doesn’t mean we are trapped alone in silence and darkness, because around the campfire is a whole world of amazing Deaf/HH individuals who can thrive together, sharing language and culture. 

Find a blazing campfire, so all Deaf/HH children can shine brightly!


Plan ahead for next year with Hands & Voices Shine Bright Camp Scholarships: https://handsandvoices.org/services/shine-bright.html

Contact your Hands & Voices Chapter or Family-based organization supporting families with deaf/hard of hearing children to learn more about local camp opportunities.

Research from the National Deaf Center about the impact of Deaf Youth Summer Programs. Learn about 12 positive impacts summer camps have on youth development, education and career development.

Camper Stories:

Education from the Inside Out: A young woman who is deaf shares her story about attending both mainstream and school for the deaf programs, with lots of summer camps in the mix

There’s No Place Like Camp: A young woman who is hard of hearing shares her first experience attending camp and later becoming the camp director. https://handsandvoices.org/deafhardofhearingchildren/alyssa-pecorino-theres-no-place-like-camp/

Different Perspectives on Raising a Deaf Child: Rachel Kolb, a deaf woman who has a Ph.D. in English Literature, looks back on summer camp and exposure to DHH kids and DHH counselors as important to her “learning how to be deaf in the world.”


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