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'Now I'm out of my shell,' Camp Abilities attempts to make summer fun accessible to all kids

The west-side camp is in its 21st year, catering to local kids with hearing and visual impairments.
Camp Abilities
Posted at 3:07 PM, Jun 03, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — As summer camps start up all over Tucson, one camp on the west side is making sure all kids are able to have their fun in the sun.

Camp Abilities is kicking and swinging into its 21st year of making sure kids with hearing and visual impairments get equal access to sports.

"The goal of Camp Abilities is to empower kids with visual impairments to live physically active lifestyles," Camp Director Maria Lepore-Stevens says.

Other camps in Tucson can accommodate kids with disabilities, but Lepore-Stevens says Camp Abilities offers a unique experience for their athletes.

Kids play soccer at Camp Abilities

"We hire a lot of staff with visual impairments," Lepore-Stevens said. "[The athletes] really see themselves in their peers and the leadership."

The equipment on hand helps the athletes play sports. On the soccer field, the ball has beads in it so the player knows where to find it, and in baseball, the bases make a noise so the players know where to run.

Enrique Lomeli is going to be a Junior at the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind. His favorite subjects are math and social studies.

He has been coming to Camp Abilities for two years, and says his favorite sport is "Goalball".

Enrique Lomeli up to bat

Lomeli was born legally blind and with club feet. He says Camp Abilities helped him build up the confidence to play sports.

“I was scared to do it, but now I’m brave to do it," Lomeli said.

Some of the coaches lending a helping hand are former camp abilities athletes.

Mackenzie Whalen says the connections off the field are what she cherishes most.

“Camp has really helped me come out of my shell," Whalen said." Now I have lifelong friends.”

Camp Abilities

While camp abilities is just one week in the summer, the goal is to create an impact all across Tucson, all year long.

“Many of our kids come from school districts where they may be the only ones in their school or district with an impairment. They may be excluded from P.E. class or not have sports teams that serve their needs," Lepore-Stevens said. "I’m not fighting alone to make sure they’re included. I’m fighting with a whole group of people to make sure they’re included."

Many of the athletes receive financial assistance thanks to local sponsors and donations. You can read more about Camp Abilities on their website.

Adam Klepp is a reporter for KGUN 9. At his previous station in Yuma, Adam focused on a range of local issues including the border, water rights and healthcare. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan, and attended both Loyola University Chicago and Syracuse University. Share your story ideas and important issues with Adam by emailing or by connecting on Twitter.