ASPEN, Colo. — For most of her life, Christy Smith has lived in two worlds: a world of the hearing and one of the deaf. The Aspen native was born premature and lost her hearing at just 6 months old, but it wasn't until she was seven that she discovered a world where kids were just like her.
"Many deaf people are born to hearing families, about 95%. So, they're not born into deaf culture and they never realize that there’s something out there that fits their identity like the deaf community. So, we have to find that place for ourselves," Smith said.
For Smith, that place was the Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
"For deaf people to be able to have that space, when we’re constantly in the hearing world, trying to navigate in the hearing world and navigate these discontinuities that we feel being a part of a community. Where can I get that feeling? From Aspen Camp," Smith said.
Tucked away on 17 acres of pristine land outside of Aspen, it's one of the only year-round camps in the world connecting deaf people both young and old with nature. In 2019, after more than 50 years of hosting campers, things took a turn for the worse.
"The camp was having a lot of facility problems. They didn’t have a lot of funding because of COVID and some other issues, and they essentially closed the camp," said board member, Zeph Williams.
That just didn't sit well with Smith, who knows how important it is to the deaf community.
"Now is the time to have the camp," Smith said.
In just a short amount of time, Smith has reconnected the deaf and hearing communities and helped raise thousands of dollars for building upgrades and repairs. Now, after nearly two years, the camp will welcome a few families back in July.
"I already have my community, I already have my ties to the culture but there’s so many children out there that do not. So, yeah, that’s given me the passion and motivation to just — hey let’s get it started. What do we need, how do we need to do it? Let’s get the camp up and running," Smith said.
For a community affected by an invisible disability, made worse by the isolation of the coronavirus, there aren't words in any language to properly express their gratitude.
Molly Hendrickson anchors Denver7 in the mornings from 4:30-7 a.m. She also features a different 7Everyday Hero each week on Denver7. Follow Molly on Facebook here and Twitter here. To nominate a hero in your life, click here.