Camp Dogwood Deaf-Blind Weekend
In 1981, Sue Etheridge created the Camp Dogwood Deaf-Blind weekend. Due to the isolation many deaf-blind felt across the state, she saw a need to provide an environment with fully accessible activities and also gave campers an opportunity to meet other deaf-blind individuals who face similar challenges. A need also existed for the deaf and hearing community to have an opportunity to receive hands-on experience in order to better understand the capabilities of and how to communicate with persons who are deaf-blind. This need was met through the Support Service Providers (SSPS) recruited from the community. During this period, Sue was the only Deaf-Blind Specialist for the State with the Division of Services for the Blind. A small team assisted her during the first few years comprised of deaf and deaf-blind people as well as interpreters. The local Lions Clubs gave funding for individuals assisted by the social workers for the blind in each county. Until 1994/1995, this was the sole source of funding. The committee requested grants from the Lion’s Foundation annually to supplement local Lion’s contributions.
In the beginning, the Camp Dogwood committee was not under NCDBA until around 1996/1997. The financial aspects of camp had become difficult with money coming from various Lions Clubs across the state to cover costs. At this time the Camp Director asked the committee to find a single portal of funding in order for them to bill the organization one bill and be paid in one lump sum. A need arose for a non-profit organization that would be willing to administer the money. We asked NCDBA, as they had a special interest in persons who were deaf-blind and many were involved in camp. They agreed. At the time, Randall Pope was president, which benefitted both the camp committee and NCDBA.
The Camp Dogwood planning committee sought to find deaf-blind persons to be active in the planning and activities as well as to lead and direct camp and the committee. Some deaf-blind persons who served as directors were Sam McCord, Lea Moynihan, and Lee Clark. The committee had representatives from state agencies, interpreters, the deaf, and deaf-blind community. The dedication and commitment of so many, working as a team has been the backbone of its success.
The Lions initiated the establishment of a collaborative agreement between the Lion’s foundation, DSB, DSDHH and NCDBA. This was to give strength to the camp weekend and ensure everyone knew their responsibilities. The Lions had also requested a liaison from DSB to work between the Lions Foundation and the committee (mainly prior to the camp weekend). This person would be the Deaf-Blind Coordinator’s position. Problems arising during the deaf-blind camp weekend would be handled by the director of the camp committee.
All efforts were made to have representatives from the NCDBA Board on the Committee; i.e. Lee Hartline, Ronnie Merritt, Lee Clark, Tonya Hartley, Doris Moore (treasurer in 1999) to feed information back to NCDBA. A report was given by the NCDBA Liaison on the committee to the NCDBA board and later years the treasurer of NCDBA actually served as treasurer of the camp committee.
In 1983, Sue met a man named John “Johnny” Washington who had a dream to create a deaf-blind consumer organization in North Carolina. With Sue’s help, a planning committee was set up and that first convention was held in 1984 in Winston-Salem. Conferences are now held annually in various locations throughout the state. For many years, the keynote speaker was a deaf-blind person from another state. John Washington and Launa Autry were also keynote speakers during those years. During the convention, officers from the NCDBA as well as representatives for DSDHH and other supporters went to lobby in Raleigh to support the expanded deaf-blind program proposed by the Division of Services for the Blind (DSB) and Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DSDHH). As a result, the expanded deaf-blind program began in 1995. Combined, DSB and DSDHH have Deaf-Blind specialists statewide. Each specialist works with deaf-blind consumer(s) in multiple counties.
Today, NCDBA continues with both our annual conference and Camp Dogwood Deaf-Blind weekend. We also have other activities throughout the year, including Deaf-Blind awareness days, holiday parties, and fundraisers. We do our best to have events in different areas of the state to allow all Deaf-Blind to participate.