Sunday, March 21, 2010

MN Disabled Camp

I annually tow my Flying Scot (, )sailboat to Northern Minnesota (only an hour from International Falls...) because it is very stable and roomy for our campers, and can be launched off the swimming beach at Camp Courage North, near Bimidji, Minnesota.

The main purpose of Handiham Camp is for the campers to get their entry level ham radio license, or to upgrade their current license to a higher level -- which gives them additonal privileges to enjoy while operating their ham radio equipment back home and in future travels. We teach for 5 days, and the campers are tested on the 6th day by representatives of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), who donate their time for the ham radio exams.

Here you see me with 3 "happy campers," about to shove off on our 2 hour afternoon break from the 6 hours per day of classes in ham radio (aka Amateur Radio).

For the past 15 years, I have volunteered as an instructor to teach ham radio licensing courses to the severely disabled -- and I have received far more than I have given. Everyone, able-bodied or not, should volunteer a little time somewhere !! I've been interested in working with the disabled ever since helping my high school ham radio friend with his homework as he deteriorated with Muscular Distrophy. Most folks with MD pass on before they leave High did my friend, K9FLJ. His Mom gave me his Morse Code key upon his passing and I still use that "straight key" when I'm not communicating world-wide by voice or some digital mode, on or off the internet.

The Handiham (short for "Handicapped Hams, ) campers typically are physically disabled in some way from Cerebral Palsey, Muscular Distrophy, or brain injuries received at work or play -- or are also blind, and/or deaf either from birth defects or due to an accidental injury later in life. Most campers (and many of the regular camp staff) suffer from multiple disorders, which can be very challenging...AND REWARDING !

Because of their disabilities, some campers and staff cannot speak or write... , so they might use a computer punch board (often attached to an arm of their power chair) to spell phrases that a syntesized speech program will pronounce -- even when operating "voice mode" over ham radio equipment at home and at camp.
On breaks, campers have the opportunity to go back to their cabins to rest(many do...) -- or they decide to enjoy the usual camp activities. Campers can choose to waterski, fish, swim, drive a power boat or a Gator 4 x 4 (yes, even the blind campers -- with proper supervision at reduced speeds...) and SAIL because I bring my Flying Scot.
Teaching the blind to sail was easier than I thought possible the first year, once I got the campers to be totally aware of the heel (tilt) angle, wind direction (pressure), and the sound of the water gurgling past. I have also become a better sailor by closing my eyes to pay more attention to my senses other than sight.
(I pass this technique on to my SailNow students during lessons back home in Illinois...students really "tune in" to the boat and what it is doing as they make adjustments!)
Our Handiham Camp Courage Motto is "We can do that..." and we all do our best to make "wishes come true" at camp.
I look forward to Handiham Camp every year, eager to renew friendships and create new relationships.
If you know someone with a disability (or someone "completely normal") who would like to explore ham radio, and possibly get licensed, either on their own or at Handiham Camp -- have them contact me...and I'll show them how to get started !
Bill Vokac - K9BV
(217) 369-0015