- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 11, 2005

Children whose eyesight is far from 20/20 got the chance yesterday to feel a duck’s feathers, touch the floppy ears of a rabbit and stroke a chestnut-colored horse during the 18th annual Pet-a-Pet Picnic for blind and visually impaired children.

About 100 children, their parents and family members from around the metro area attended the event at the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda. In addition to the assortment of animals from a local farm, the picnic also featured train rides, an old-fashioned cookout, a Moon Bounce, pony rides, field games and other activities. Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind in Northwest and the Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C., sponsored the event.

“This event is a nice way for [the children] to begin their summer vacations,” said Antoine Johnson, 32, children’s coordinator for the 105-year-old Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, which offers programs and services that help blind and visually impaired people live independently.

“It’s an opportunity for children to meet one another and for parents to trade resources in terms of what schools their children attend and what services are available to them,” Mr. Johnson said. “But, most importantly, it’s a day for the children to have some fun.”

Parents unfolded beach chairs and camped out with coolers under shady trees while their children tried to touch the sky on the Moon Bounce trampoline or waited for a pony ride. Others lined up for a cool drink and a grilled hamburger or hot dog.

Shawn Abraham, 5, decided to spend some of his time at the petting zoo, where he felt the warm breath of a baby goat on his hands, stroked a duck and felt its webbed feet. His mother, Sherly, 9-year-old sister Alena and grandmother Elsa Geevarghese watched Shawn from a close distance.

Sherly Abraham, of Greenbelt, said Shawn lost sight in one eye when he was 3, then glaucoma made him completely blind.

“Shawn has been in great spirits from the beginning,” she said. “I think he’s relieved that there will be no more surgeries and doctor visits. We’re not looking to [the medical profession for a cure]; we’re looking to God. He will be healed, but we must have faith.”

Conrad Reid, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C., and one of the event founders, said he started planning outings for blind and visually impaired children 16 years ago.

“I did some of this while I was in the Jayceesfor children who had problems, mostly for blind children and inner-city children who had not had the opportunity to touch animals,” he said. “We encourage families to experience the day.”

Susan Bowmaster, of Annandale, regularly attends the event and this year came with Seeing Eye dog Napoleon and adopted daughters Mia, 15, and 8-year-old Sarah.

“I think we’ve been coming for 10 years,” she said. “We missed last year because the weather was iffy, but I come out for all the different activities. The girls like the Moon Bounce and the ponies.”


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