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10:00 pm, Jul 23, 2024
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Visually Impaired Youth Experience Nature at Weedon Island Preserve

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Visually Impaired Youth experience nature at Weedon Island Preserve. In a heartwarming initiative to promote equity in outdoor access, the Friends of Weedon Island recently hosted a group of visually impaired youth from Lighthouse of Pinellas at the Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg, Florida. This event was made possible by a $20,000 grant from the REI Cooperative Action Fund, aimed at creating more inclusive outdoor experiences.

The outing, part of a summer camp program for blind and visually impaired youth, allowed participants to engage with nature using their other senses. Fifteen children of various ages explored the preserve’s diverse ecosystem, feeling the different textures of pine, oak, and sable palm tree bark, and listening for the calls of mockingbirds, blue jays, doves, and laughing gulls.

Malia Bassant, an 18-year-old camper with Peters Anomaly, a condition causing blurry vision, found the experience particularly enlightening. At the preserve’s cultural and natural history center, she was able to interact with replicas of tools used by Florida’s indigenous people, bringing history to life through touch.

The program offered a range of sensory activities designed to help the children connect with nature:

  • Exploring animal pelts from white-tailed deer, bobcats, river otters, and other local fauna
  • Learning about frog calls through creative sound simulations using everyday objects
  • Participating in a “frog concert” where campers emulated different frog sounds

Danielle Johnson, a program supervisor at Lighthouse of Pinellas, emphasized the importance of such hands-on experiences: “It’s different than learning in a textbook. It brings everything fully into perspective, to be able to look up close, or have descriptive language.”

Bill Fehring’s Instrumental Role

The success of this initiative can be largely attributed to Bill Fehring, the president of Friends of Weedon Island. Fehring has been a pivotal figure in securing the REI grant and orchestrating the program’s logistics. His dedication to making Weedon Island Preserve accessible to all has been evident through his efforts to host various groups, including veterans and low-income youth, using the grant funds.

Fehring’s vision extends beyond this single event. He plans to use part of the grant money to install braille signs at the center’s exhibits, further enhancing accessibility for visually impaired visitors. His commitment to inclusivity and education is a driving force behind the organization’s mission to promote public understanding of Weedon Island Preserve as an important ecological and cultural resource.

Christian Aikin, a 7-year-old camper who is completely blind, particularly enjoyed the frog call activity that Fehring set up. Using everyday objects to mimic frog sounds, Christian and his peers participated in a “frog concert,” which left a lasting impression on the young campers.

Fehring’s leadership and passion for inclusive outdoor education have not only provided memorable experiences for visually impaired youth but also set a precedent for future programs aimed at making nature accessible to all.

This initiative highlights the importance of inclusive outdoor education and the positive impact it can have on visually impaired youth. By providing opportunities to engage with nature through non-visual means, initiatives like this help ensure that the wonders of the natural world are accessible to everyone, regardless of visual ability.

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Citations:
[1] https://ppl-ai-file-upload.s3.amazonaws.com/web/direct-files/15242803/6a0d00f8-b3d1-4356-9e8e-3b400b11c8d7/At%20Weedon%20Island.pdf
[2] https://ppl-ai-file-upload.s3.amazonaws.com/web/direct-files/15242803/c3be0078-bcfc-4501-b7a5-3646cf3e4f83/TBT%20240707.pdf
[3] https://www.tampabay.com/news/education/2024/07/02/weedon-island-campers-absorb-sounds-sensations-nature/
[4] https://friendsofweedonisland.org/board-of-directors/
[5] https://www.floridabirdingandnaturefestival.org/2021Festival/Festival%20Program%202021.pdf

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