MILLS RIVER, North Carolina (WLOS) — At Mills River Park, Layla Hildenbrand is prepared to go the extra mile for a cause close to her heart. More than 20 extra miles, in fact.
“I’ve put my pedometer on, and just throughout the day, I’ve gotten miles,” explained 11-year-old Hildenbrand, who has been blind since birth.
Her fundraising effort gives blind and vision-impaired kids a place to talk about all they have in common.
“I just think with sighted people, you can’t share those experiences that you have with being blind or being visually impaired,” said Hildenbrand, our News 13 Person of the Week.
She calls her campaign the Steps to S.E.E. (Student Enrichment Experience) Walkathon. It benefits IFB Solutions, which holds annual summer camps that can change a child’s perspective.
Hildenbrand wants to help others see the value of S.E.E. Camp.
News 13 first met Layla and her friend Kyleigh at S.E.E. Camp three years ago. The fast friends were on a memorable grocery shopping trip, which is part of the camp.
“Are you sisters?” reporter John Le asked.
“No, we’re not. I wish we were!” Layla replied in 2018.
After the camp was canceled because of COVID-19 in 2020, Hildenbrand realizes even more how much those camps mean.
“A lot of the experiences are kind of educational. It’s given me a lot of confidence,” said Hildenbrand.
“Not trying to be like, ‘Sighted people are so, like, weird,'” she says. “I just think that’s kind of a good thing to be around people that are kind of more like you.”
“We focus on activities that sort of build that confidence,” says Jay Hardwig, the camp director. “And build that competence so that when they tackle different kinds of challenges in their real life, they have a little source of inspiration and experience they can draw on.”
“So many of our kids are the only kids in their school or school district who are blind or vision impaired. And that’s great. They have wonderful experiences in their home schools. But the chance to get a little bit of opportunity to be with other kids, I think is important,” Hardwig said.
One step at a time, Layla’s determined to help bring back the fun summer experience that helps change lives.
“Because I get to interact with blind kids my age,” Hildenbrand says.
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