The Fairfax Host Lions Club recently welcomed Nancy Yeager to speak about the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL). The BELL program began in 2008 in Maryland. Last year there were two BELL programs in the state of Virginia, one in Richmond and one in Northern Virginia. Six students attended the 2-week Northern Virginia BELL program last summer. Due to the success of last year’s program, there will be four BELL camps this year. The two new program sites will be located in the Tidewater area. The program has grown exponentially and this summer the Bell Program will be held in twenty-nine states across the country.
The BELL program provides children, ages four through twelve, with two weeks of concentrated Braille instruction through fun, hands-on learning. This program is for all blind children who could benefit from Braille enrichment over the summer. This includes low-vision children, children who have recently lost their vision, children who have been blind since birth, and children who have additional disabilities.
The program is designed to run Monday through Friday for approximately seven hours each day. Not only do the students learn how to read Braille they also develop daily life skills such as cooking, cutting, money counting, reading and writing. They also learn to draw, color and do other arts and crafts. Most of these children have never drawn or colored a picture before. Each day also includes a physical activity or game, such as red light/green light, Frisbee and some sort of ball game. They played these games like sighted children except: they use canes when playing red light/green light; use a beeping Frisbee, and use a ball with a bell inside of it. At BELL, learning doesn’t stop for lunch.
Children make their own sandwiches of meat, cheese or peanut butter and jelly. They learn to spread condiments and cut their sandwiches. In addition to braille crafts, games and other engaging projects, children may also enjoy field trips related to the BELL curriculum. One or two trips are provided for each program. One trip takes the students to a local deli after a lesson on identifying paper and coin money. Each child uses his/her cane to walk to the deli. The children order their own lunch at the counter and then pay for it with money provided by the program.
The second trip is a horseback riding adventure. The children have an opportunity to check out the saddles and actually take a short ride with the assistance of the owner of the horse farm. Needless to say, the horseback riding is the favorite activity offered by BELL. At the end of the program, there is a graduation, where the children serve lunch to their parents and other guests, followed by a short closing ceremony.
Regardless of the financial situation of the parents, the NFB wants all blind and visually impaired children to have the opportunity to participate in the BELL program. With the help of the Lions organization, the program here in Virginia will continue. To learn more about the NFB BELL program, visit www.nfb.org/BELL. Should you wish further information about this valuable program, or wish to make an individual contribution, please contact the NOVA BELL Program Coordinator, Nancy Yeager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (703) 283-2524.