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Junior Blind camp helps build confidence, teaches independence

A boy squints a little as he walks around the gym that's full of workout equipment. He jumps onto a treadmill and runs for a short time, only to switch to an exercise bike. Then it's on to the various weight machines.

Aaron Calderon, 11, has congenital glaucoma and can only read large type. His father is completely blind, and his five siblings all have beginning stages of congenital glaucoma, a disease that can take a person's eyesight completely.

Aaron doesn't let his disability stop him from being active. He attends Junior Blind's summer camp and after-school program in Los Angeles, where he likes playing sports with other campers because he enjoys competition.

"Competition is the best; it can be fun," he said, taking a break from playing with his friends. "I can't explain it."

His favorite sport: basketball. He looks up to Kobe Bryant because he's grown up watching him and hearing about his talent. He wants to be a professional basketball player.

"It's important to exercise your body and grow stronger and healthier," Aaron said. Junior Blind organizes a summer camp and after-school activities for about 40 children from low-income neighborhoods on its campus off of Angeles Vista Boulevard.

Teachers try to make the activities fun yet at the same time instill life skills such as cooking and cleaning. They also swim, bowl and play a variety of other sports, all supervised by a group of adults. Not all the kids are blind, but most are visually impaired in some way.

Junior Blind is one of the many charities the Los Angeles Times Family Fund supports with donations. Aaron's teacher has seen a huge improvement since he started at the camp two years ago.

"Socially, he's more adventurous," Aaron Rockwood said. "He's got the confidence behind him." Aaron's father, Luis Calderon, said he too has seen an improvement in the boy. "He's outspoken," Luis said. "He's willing to help me more, since I am completely blind. I don't think he was as sensitive before."

When Luis Calderon was growing up, he was part of a similar program at the Braille Institute Youth Center. His experience compelled him to enroll Aaron in Junior Blind. Luis said that his son comes home with a lot of stories and always tells him what he did at camp. Aaron hates missing a day because he wants to be with his friends and learn. Luis Calderon knows it can be a challenge to be visually impaired, but he wants his children to realize they can accomplish things.

"These programs teach independence," Luis said. "I don't want him to feel like his handicap will disable him in life."

This year, The Times made $656,500 in grants to summer camp programs in Southern California.

The Summer Camp Campaign, part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund, raises contributions to support programs that provide thousands of Southern California's at-risk children ages 7 to 17 with enriching, educational and fun camp experiences.

Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law and matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Donor information is not traded or published without permission. Donate online at latimes.com /donate or by calling (800) 518-3975. All gifts will receive a written acknowledgment.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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