Banner: Iowa Department for the Blind

Orientation Newsletter
Summer 2003
Vol 23, No. 1


Table of Contents

A Spring Day Hike At the Ledges
Giving Back
Meet the Transition Staff
Going To Sea
July 2003, Dear Alumnus

Spring and summer bring warm weather, and with warm weather comes a flurry of activities. Field trips are planned to take advantage of the pleasant days. Some students end their stay at the Center, ready to move on with their lives, while others prepare to begin their sojourn. The average age in the Center becomes considerably younger as the Transition Program gears up for another whirlwind summer, and college students take advantage of the summer’s College-Prep Program to gather tips and learn blindness techniques that will improve their college performance.

Come along with us, through the pages of this newsletter, on some recent outings. Also meet the summer staff for the Transition Program, and learn about the plans for the upcoming Alumni Day scheduled for October 4.


By Sandra Braaksma

On April second, the Orientation Center went on our first warm-weather field trip of the season. It was a beautiful day--warm and sunny--and everyone was thrilled to get outdoors. The place chosen was the Ledges State Park. On the way, we talked Dave Hauge into getting his dog, Sam, to spend the day with us. The trip took about 45 minutes, but we were so busy talking and laughing it seemed only a few minutes and we were there.

We all climbed noisily off the bus and started walking on the road—a nice cement path. I thought this was going to be easy if it was concrete all the way. But, of course, I was wrong and the trail soon turned into a dirt path complete with leaves, rocks, sticks and other debris. At first, I was a bit nervous about hiking there and thought I might lag behind the others but, as it turned out, my concerns were unfounded. As we walked, we seemed to divide into three groups and I am proud to say that I was towards the front of the pack in the middle group.

We climbed up hills and down hills until we got to a lookout over a valley. After standing there a few minutes catching our breath, we started the long trek down what seemed like a thousand stairs incorporated into the hillside. These steps were of varying sizes--some were steep while others were quite shallow, some were barely broad enough to step on, and others were so wide you thought you were done with the steps. About halfway down, the stairs took a fairly sharp turn, which made it even slower going for a few minutes. But then, one by one, we came to the bottom and soon we were all sitting at a picnic table enjoying the snacks we brought with us.

After resting there for a time, we all loaded back onto the bus and headed to Boone for lunch. Soon everyone had eaten their fill and was starting to feel relaxed. But our day was not over, and we headed back once again to the Ledges for round two of the hike. This time, it was decided we would just go for a short walk on level ground. In fact, we walked along side the road. This, of course, brought about its own challenges. Not only did we have to watch for traffic, but we were also met with the challenge of crossing several sections where the creek flowed over the road. We had a few options for fording the water. We could take off shoes and socks and wade across or, stepping as carefully as possible, walk across the so-called steppingstones. These were actually good-sized blocks of concrete strategically placed across the water along the side of the road. However, this proved to be no easy feat as the blocks were fairly tall and some distance apart.

I first attempted to cross using the blocks, since I didn’t want to take off my shoes and socks. But when I got up on the first block and went to step to the next one, I decided it was too far between blocks and I chickened out. Now, this left only two options: do I take off my shoes and socks or just walk through the water and get them all wet? My choice was to wear them and walk through anyway. The sensation of water hitting my feet was cold and squishy. I laughed when I thought about what my mom would say, or even what I, myself, would say to my children. However, onward I went, and sure enough, as soon as I thought my feet had squished out all the water they could, there was another stream of water, then another and another. Some were deeper than others and, by the time I got through them all, my pant legs were wet, too.

At the end of our hike, we all laughed and talked about which methods we preferred for crossing the water. Most had at least tried the blocks, and some used them to cross over all of the water, but most of us ended up just walking through. We loaded on the bus all worn out from our busy but very successful day and returned to the Department ready for the next big adventure. 


This summer, blind youth between the ages of 16 and 18 had an opportunity to participate in a variety of “camps”-- each designed to help them build a strong foundation to prepare them for the next camp to follow.

First up was Camp Stepping Stones. In this one-week camp, blind and severely visually impaired teens who need intensive one-on-one training took steps toward becoming more independent. The camp provided the basic foundation necessary to prepare them to participate in the more challenging phases of Camp Discovery.

Camp Discovery, Part I—The ABC’s of Blindness—was designed to help participants learn to have a positive attitude about blindness, develop self-confidence, and learn blindness techniques that can help them feel more at ease in social situations. Camp Discovery, Part II—Giving Back--gave the youth an opportunity to discover the meaning of volunteering and being part of a team. Teens took part in a number of volunteer activities, including doing yard work for a lady no longer able to handle the job, cooking and serving a meal to other young people in a homeless shelter, and caring for abandoned pets at the Animal Rescue League. Camp Discovery, Part III—Moving Forward—provided participants with the opportunity to further develop the skills and techniques learned in the previous camps and put them to use in real-life situations through career exploration, college planning, and such outdoor adventures as camping and water skiing.


By Kallie Smith

Pool parties, hot dogs, and summers on the beach are things that usually preoccupy a teenager’s summer break. However, this summer blind teens from around Iowa took part in a very beneficial week in Des Moines. I was myself among those who took part in the transition programs summer camps, and found this week to be a very big step in the mountain I am continuing to climb to adulthood.

During the first camp of the summer, we as students made very nice duck houses as a project in shop class. This was a very important confidence builder as well as an opportunity to make a contribution to environmental preservation.

During Discovery Camp II, also called Giving Back, we did many activities that involved volunteer work. During the first day of camp we hung our duck houses and stained picnic tables at a park right outside of Des Moines. One thing that stuck out for me, personally, was a remark made about our duck houses. It was stressed that our duck houses were some of the best they had ever seen at the park. It was amazing to me to hear that coming from a sighted person. Usually I, as a blind teen, am criticized by my sighted peers, and it was nice to hear that I could do something just as well, or better than a sighted person.

On the second day of the program we began a very big project. We were given the task of cleaning a yard that belonged to a client of the Department. This was not an easy job by any means. This task involved mowing grass, pulling weeds, trimming trees, and, of course, gathering all the excess and hauling it away. This was the first time I think that I had ever gotten dirty and really put hard work into a yard. By the time we were finished this lady had the best looking yard on her block!

The fourth day of the program was the most rewarding as well as the most tiring of all. On this day we were challenged more than any other day that week. That night we were to serve a meal to an estimated 60-80 homeless youth in downtown Des Moines. Now in order to serve it we, of course, had to plan and cook the meal. Anyone who has ever had to cook for this many people will know what hard work goes into every single detail. We spent the majority of the day in the kitchen preparing. We made ham and turkey sandwiches, beans, fruit salad and brownies. I can still remember what those kitchens looked like when we finished making ten batches of brownies!

That evening while serving dinner to those kids I realized just what precise message we were supposed to receive. The cooking and preparation was, itself, a good experience. But when you look into someone’s eyes, or talk to someone who is so much less fortunate than you, and has issues that never began to boggle your own mind, it makes you stop and really think for a minute. Some of those kids had kids of their own. Some had rags for clothes. Some just wanted a place to live, and handing them a plate full of goodness really made us feel good in our hearts. The last day of the program we made care packages for those homeless teens. They included the necessary toiletries that most of us just take for granted.

On that last day we also visited the animal rescue center and spent a great deal of the remainder of the time relaxing. By the end of that week we accomplished more than most kids our age would have done and learned in a whole year. We left with a better understanding of what we as blind teens could accomplish for ourselves and, also, what we could do for others. When all was said and done the pride we felt in ourselves was well worth all of the hard work. 


Now that you’ve learned a little about the Transition Camps, let us introduce you to the summer staff who dedicated themselves, and their summer, to these youth.

Hi, my name is Alan Bickell. I am a Des Moines native, having lived here all my life. In the fall I will be returning to Drake to finish my Business Administration degree. Meanwhile, I am spending the summer teaching in the Transition Program. I recently completed my training at the Adult Orientation Center in Des Moines, and I am proud to have been presented this opportunity to work for such a fine agency. I am also, I believe, ready for the challenges of teaching travel class. I hope to help our students develop a sense of independence and maybe a little better appreciation for travel. I know you all wish me luck in my endeavor.

Hi, my name is Ross Pollpeter. I was born and raised in Fort Madison, where I have a very supportive family who have helped me grow into the man I am now. I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa when I was 11 years old, and since then I have been learning to deal with my blindness. I am currently going to the University of Iowa where I am a Psychology major with a minor in Computer Science. This will be my second summer teaching in the Transition Program. I will be teaching the Industrial Arts portion of the classes but in many ways my role is to be a "big brother" to the participants. I will be there to teach them, to have fun with and tease them occasionally, and, most of all, to help them deal with their blindness.

Hi, my name is Tai Tomasi. I am originally from Vermont, but I now reside in Utah. I will be graduating with a BA in Political Science this December. Meanwhile, this summer I am working at the Iowa Department for the Blind teaching youth enrolled in the four transition camps. In my exploration of possible summer job opportunities I researched different centers throughout the country and discovered Iowa and the wonderful programs the Department has to offer. I myself have been blind since birth and have attended a similar training center. For quite some time now I have wanted to teach at such a center. I thought working in the Midwest would be a welcome change for me; certainly, it has been quite a change of pace and location. More importantly, the Iowa Department for the Blind is very well known and I am grateful for the opportunity to positively change the lives and attitudes of the blind through teaching here. I am sure the program participants will keep me busy to say the least and I look forward to the educational opportunities that this job will provide.


By Brandon Malin and Jodi George

On June 26, Orientation--along with the students in the first Camp Discovery--took a field trip to tour the “Nebraska Navy”. This navy is actually a collection of World War II ships consisting of a submarine, a minesweeper, and another ship that was covered by a tarp. In addition to the ships there was an ambulance, a jeep, a helicopter and an airplane. The tour was all hands-on so we could walk around touching the various ships and vehicles, which gave us a wonderful opportunity to get a better understanding of just what they were all about. Some were hesitant to explore but most of the group took advantage of the opportunity—some even going so far as to climb on top of the wings of the plane to get a better idea of their overall size and shape!

The Submarine was tiny and very cramped. You had to watch your head in a lot of places. The bunks sure didn’t have much room and must have been pretty uncomfortable to full-grown men. The minesweeper was a much bigger ship with several levels. It was used, as the name implies, to look for mines in the ocean. On the decks of the minesweeper were four big turrets with antiaircraft guns that we were also able to touch. All in all it was a very interesting experience and a good opportunity to discover how much fun this type of trip can be if we are willing to explore with all our senses.

July 25, 2003    Dear Alumnus,

October 4 is just around the corner--the date for our annual Orientation Alumni Banquet. The theme this year will be Industrial Arts. What did you make in Shop? Do you still have it? Do you still use it? Come to Alumni Day prepared to share a fond memory, a humorous anecdote or maybe that break-through in self-confidence you made while making that project in shop.

Following luncheon, which will again be from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the rec room, you will have an opportunity to get together in groups to share your memories. Each group will select the best reminiscence to be presented later that evening at the banquet. The library and Aids and Devices will also be open part of the day for business.

The banquet will, as usual, be in the Assembly Room with doors opening at 6:00 p.m. This year the main entrée will be baked ham with all the “fixin’s”. The dance following dinner will be held this year at Anna’s in the Savery Hotel.

Tickets remain $12 for the day’s events, and we again ask you to make your purchase in advance to help fund all the necessary preparations. Also, remember your ticket must be paid for before you can reserve a room for that weekend in the building.

This notice will be the only reminder sent this year so circle the date on your calendars, remind your friends and families, and join us for another great Alumni Day on October 4.

The Orientation Staff

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The Orientation Center Newsletter is published by the Iowa Department for the Blind. Please direct questions and suggestions to the Iowa Department for the Blind, 524 Fourth Street, Des Moines, IA 50309-2364, 515-281-1333.