Students learn empathy |

Students learn empathy

Nevada Appeal PhotoDezaray Pluff, 16, at left, experiences what it's like to eat a meal without the use of her arms with help from Maria Urbina at Camp Anytown on Wednesday. Both girls are Carson High School students. Students at the camp simulated different disabilities to learn more about tolerance and adversity. Urbina was `unable' to talk.

Students stumbled, hopped and were led into the cafeteria at Clear Creek Campground during Wednesday’s Camp Anytown activity .

“I feel jacked up,” said 14-year-old Albertico Madera. “I can’t do stuff with my hand.”

Madera’s right hand was duct-taped into a fist, forcing him to eat lunch using only his left hand.

But he was better off than some of his peers. Each delegate was assigned a disability ranging from missing hands and arms to blindness and deafness.

“Our goal for this is to give the delegates the opportunity to develop empathy skills,” said Chritiana Bratiotis, executive director of the camp, which is designed to promote unity and understanding among young people ages 14 to 18. “It gives them a chance to try on what that feels like.”

Some embraced the idea of trying to overcome an obstacle.

“It makes me feel more privileged because I get attention,” said Carson High School student Traci Souza as camp counselor Carlos Salguero fed her a hot dog.

Others resented the role-play.

“I feel uncomfortable, very uncomfortable,” said Leo Martin, a 16-year old Carson High School dropout, as he yanked against the Ace Bandage which bound his arms to his sides. “I don’t even think I’m going to eat.”

But most gained a better understanding for the struggles of the disabled.

“When you see somebody else fumble, you need to step back for a moment and realize what good people they are,” said Missy Swanson, a 15-year-old North Valley High School student. “They have to deal with this every day but they still live on.”

Camp Anytown is a program sponsored through the National Conference for Community and Justice, a national human relations organization that was established in 1927 to fight bias, bigotry and racism.

The Northern Nevada region, which includes Reno, Carson City, Fallon and Douglas County, is one of 65 regions that will host camps for about 16,000 students across the United States.

The camp began July 22 and will end on Saturday. Throughout the week, delegates are exposed to various activities – ranging from gender and homosexual stereotyping to understanding different cultures – which encourage students to look at the world from a different perspective.

“I’ve gained a lot of perspective and understanding by listening to other people and putting myself in their spot,” said Carson High School student Tori Skedlarek, 15. “I’ll have a lot more compassion for people I’ll try to make other people understand, too – sort of spread the knowledge.”