NORMAN — For counselor Natalie Sells, the annual Oklahomans Without Limits camp for blind and visually impaired children is her favorite week of the year — every year.
“It beats my birthday, Christmas, everything. I love it,” Sells said as she guided some children into the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History on Wednesday.
Camper Ashton Parker, 8, of Yukon, who happened to overhear Sells, popped up beside her to second the sentiment.
“Me, too. I love it,” Ashton said, flashing a thumbs-up sign.
About 35 children and teens ages 8 through 18 with varying degrees of visual impairment are participating in this year's camp, which is sponsored by NewView Oklahoma, formerly the Oklahoma League for the Blind.
Each child is paired with a sighted companion, usually a teenage volunteer who accompanies the child on rounds of activities, including museum tours, swimming, arts activities and storytelling groups.
Sells has served as a camp counselor for four years and sees no end to her participation.
“I wouldn't miss it. These kids are so inspirational. They teach me so much about perseverance,” she said.
The counselors, teen volunteers and campers are staying at University of Oklahoma dormitories this year. They're scheduled to conclude their camp Friday afternoon with a talent show.
“We're busy all the time,” said camper Aubrey Weatherly, 17, of Lawton. “We've been swimming. We've made masks. We've gone to museums. It's really, really fun.”
Weatherly has come to the camp for the past three years.
“I love it,” she said. “It's an opportunity to be social and meet new people. It's a good experience.”
The theme of this year's camp is museums, said NewView spokesman Thomas Larson. Besides the Sam Noble, campers have toured Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Science Museum Oklahoma and the Myriad Botanical Gardens.
Carlee Reeser, 17, of Edmond, is in her second year as a camp volunteer.
“For some of these kids, this could be the highlight of their summer,” Reeser said. “It's a great experience to be with them, just to watch them have fun. To be able to change someone's life, to make a difference, it feels really good. Everything we do, it's all for them.”
This is the 14th year NewView Oklahoma has hosted the camp, which is free to participants, Larson said.
“Every year it has grown,” he said. “We try never to turn kids away.”
Ashton, the Yukon 8-year-old, was a last-minute addition to the camp after his mother saw something about it on Facebook, just days before the camp was due to start.
“She said, ‘Oh, I wish I had known about it,' and we said, ‘Bring him on. We can get him in,'” Larson said.