CNIB families return to the Lion Max Simms Camp
© Renell LeGrow photo
Six-year-old Layla Tulk moulds her play dough into a “circle for her friend” at the CNIB Family Camp this past week at the Lion Max Simms Camp. Tulk has been blind since birth. She’s one of the many children who attended camp with their families.
Six-year-old Layla Tulk of Springdale has an infectious laugh that lights up a room – a love of the water, her family, and summer vacation; perhaps her favourite time of the year.
She has all the energy of a six year old, and can keep up with her brothers. Unless she's holding her small walking cane, you'd never notice Layla is blind. She has been since birth.
"Optic nerves," her mother Jennie Tulk explains. "The nerve didn't develop from her eyes to her brain.
"I was only 21 years old and I didn't know what to expect," Jennie recalls. "I was terrified of what the future was going to hold for me and my family."
Four years ago, at the advice of the CNIB, Jennie, Layla and family made their first visit to the CNIB Family Camp, held annually at the Lion Max Simms Camp.
They haven't missed it since.
"From the time we leave this summer until next (year), that's all (the kids) will talk about, all year, is how much they can't wait for camp," Jennie said.
Because it's a family camp, Layla doesn't go alone – she brings along her brothers, seven-year-old Lucas and four-year-old Rylan – who get to spend time with other children who have siblings with vision loss.
The family camp is a place to belong – a place for parents to find the support they need, a place for the children to make new friends, and for siblings to find strength in each other.
It's a camp that gives everybody some time to be together, talk about their situations, and just be themselves, according to Jennifer Hynes of the CNIB.
"We've got some new families that have been exposed to (the camp) this year and they say it has been excellent because they've gotten in contact with other parents that they can probably, throughout the year, keep speaking to until camp rolls around again," Hynes said. "It's somebody to talk to and confide in."
They've all become family, Hynes said, friends they look forward to seeing back each year.
"Everyone has grown so much and changed so much, and everyone is doing well," she said.
Especially for families in small, rural communities, Hynes said, it lets them know they're not alone.
"Being here, it's like a support system...they come back together the next year, and it's like no time has passed...it's a good place to go to get that support that they need," she said.
But above all else, Hynes said, this when the families can let their hair down, and have some fun.
"For a lot of people, it's their vacation time. And it's a camp; they want to be able to swim and play and have fun and eat and have campfires and things like that."
They try to change it up each year with different activities, like this past weekend, when they did Zumba with the children.
"Something totally different than what we usually do!" Hynes said.
Six-year-old Layla will certainly be back next year with her mom and brothers.
When asked what her favourite part of the camp was, she didn't hesitate.