CNIB shutters camp for blind children, citing ‘ financial challenges’
For Matthew Alvernaz, the world is about to become a little smaller. The 13-year-old, blind since birth, has just learned that the CNIB’s summer camp programs for kids at Bowen Island Lodge will be shut down due to funding shortfalls.
“ It’s hard to explain how I really feel — it’s bad,” said Matthew.
His mother Tracy Alvernaz said that since Matthew was a toddler, the summers on Bowen have meant everything to her son and other blind kids.
“ Imagine how difficult it is to fit in as a teenager with a vision problem. Bowen Island brought the normalcy of being a teenager to these kids. They didn’t have to try and fit in, they could just be themselves.”
The Bowen Island Lodge summer camp for the visually impaired offered programs for families, children, and youth that included opportunities for outdoor adventures, arts, peer support and transition to independent living.
Families were shocked to receive a letter last Friday from the CNIB, an advocacy and support organization for the visually impaired, announcing the closure.
Alvernaz said her son has gained independence, confidence, life and social skills through the camp, and the most precious gift of all: friends.
“ I was livid when I heard. I was angry,” said Matthew’s friend, Clement Chou, 16, who lost his vision at the age of three due to a genetic condition.
Every summer the Bowen Island camp gives him a break from the stresses of fitting in with “ sighted” kids.
“ In high school there is a whole group mentality — and no group is willing to take in a blind kid. The best part about Bowen is being included in a group, being able to express your thoughts, and just be yourself.”
Rob Sleath, CNIB board chair, said the decision was made “ because of unprecedented financial challenges.”
CNIB is slashing in many areas, including library services, research commitments and staff salaries, said Sleath.
The CNIB gets just 10 per cent of its funding from government. The remainder comes from donations and investment income.
“ We’re facing a reduction in donations as a result of global economic turndown… Everything took a hit.”
Sleath said the only hope for the camp would be if a private donor stepped forward.