CLARKS SUMMIT — Julie Smiegal loves color and loves to wear colorful clothing.
Legally blind her whole life, the 47-year-old Clarks Summit resident explained “blobs of color” are all she is able to see – she can’t distinguish shapes or distances.
“It’s like a kaleidoscope, except it’s like a kaleidoscope when you don’t have the shapes in there,” she said. “It’s like the colors, a tunnel of colors.”
But she said being blind is not a scary thing. Smiegal, a native of Binghamton, New York, is still able to do most things that seeing people can do – she just does some of them a little differently. She lives by herself, goes grocery shopping on her own and keeps busy making various crafts.
Smiegal attributes her ability to remain independent to the assistance of two local organizations: the Lackawanna Blind Association, with which she participates in a variety of weekly and monthly activities, and the Abington Lions Club, which sponsors her for a session of summer camp each year at the Pennsylvania Lions Beacon Lodge Camp near Mount Union in Central Pennsylvania.
“It’s my little bit of heaven,” she said of the camp, which she has attended since 2012. “It keeps me going. It keeps me independent. It keeps me working on the skills and things that I need to stay independent.”
Campers participate in a wide variety of activities – everything from riding a zip line, to swimming, to shooting and archery, to hiking. Smiegal said one of her favorite camp activities is spelunking, which is “like mountain climbing, but only it’s in a cave.”
Smiegal never learned to read Braille. After graduating from public school, she worked in food service at the State University of New York at Binghamton for more than 19 years, waitressing, running the sweet shop and performing other duties.
“I even memorized the register – it was a touch register – I memorized where everything was,” she said. “I knew what the coins felt like and I knew where the little pieces were for the dollar bills.”
Shortly after moving to the Abingtons about six years ago, she was in an accident in which she was hit by a vehicle while crossing the street. After recovering from intensive surgery, which included the reconstruction of one of her arms from the shoulder down, she went right back to being independent and still enjoys taking daily walks.
Abington Lion Ed Borek expressed his respect for Smiegal. “Even though she’s disabled, and with the limitations she has, she’s still appreciative,” he said.
And this summer, she will have the opportunity to express that appreciation to not only the Abington Lions Club, but to representatives of all 17 Lions Clubs International districts spread out among the 68 counties in the state of Pennsylvania. This opportunity comes in the form of a three-minute speech, which she will present at the annual Lions Appreciation Day event at the camp on Sunday, July 17.
Smiegal said she looks forward to giving the presentation and thanking the Lions for all they do for her and other people who are blind.
“She wants to try and, in her own way, give back to the community, to society, to the Lions,” said Borek.
The event, to which the Abington Lions Club plans to send a busload of members, also features the various talents of other Beacon Lodge campers, a report from the board of directors, a chicken barbecue, a duck race fundraiser and more.
For more information about Beacon Lodge, visit beaconlodge.com. For information about how to support the Abington Lions Club’s efforts on behalf of the camp, call Ed Borek at 570-587-925.
Reach Elizabeth Baumeister at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @AbingtonJournal.