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Firefighters' gift puts boy on track to camp

July 13, 1998

photo: MIKE CRUPI / staff photographer

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Gift helps boy get to Space CampBy LISA GRAYBEAL / Staff Writer

FUNKSTOWN - Though an eye disease may prevent 10-year-old Richard Kaufman from seeing the stars, it doesn't mean he can't reach for them.

With a boost from firefighters at Funkstown Volunteer Fire Company, Kaufman is closer to fulfilling his passion for space exploration by going in September to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., for children who are visually impaired.

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"Their focus at space camp is on what they can do, not what they can't," said Sally Walton, Kaufman's vision teacher, who is employed by the Washington County Board of Education.

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Firefighters voted to contribute $250 from the company's general fund to help send Kaufman to the week-long, $1,000 camp, after they found out he wanted to go, said Capt. Steve Schultz.

"We're hoping if we did something, other groups and businesses in town would contribute," he said.

Schultz handed the check to Kaufman at the fire station on Sunday afternoon.

"Thanks," said a somewhat shy Kaufman, wearing a broad grin.

Torn between his dreams of becoming an astronaut or a firefighter, Kaufman has taken advantage of what's closest to him by becoming a regular visitor at the local fire station, which is just blocks from his parents' Funkstown home.

The active, blond-haired boy who will enter the sixth grade at E. Russell Hicks Middle School this fall, performs odd jobs, sweeps and helps clean the fire station, Schultz said.

He's out the door like a flash when the town fire sirens go off, said his mother, Venita Kaufman.

"He hangs out down here all the time. This is where he likes to be," she said.

At home, his fixation on space and aviation is reflected in the posters that cover his bedroom walls and the toys and other gadgets that fill the corners.

Over the summer, Kaufman attends the Maryland School for the Blind.

Two years ago, Kaufman was diagnosed with Stargardt's disease, an untreatable genetic disorder in which the central part of the visual field deteriorates.

The condition has left Kaufman legally and color blind in both eyes, with only limited peripheral vision, his mother said.

"He has a very restricted field. He can't see anything straight ahead," Walton said.

Doctors at The Johns Hopkins Center for Hereditary Eye Diseases have told the Kaufmans that their son's condition is permanent, said his father, Terry Kaufman.

The lessons and activities at the space camp are designed to educate young people about aviation and the space program.

Sessions are designed around simulated space missions conducted in a mock space shuttle. The children learn the basics of shuttle operation, the science and history of the space program, leadership skills and teamwork, according to Walton and information provided on the U.S. Space Camp Web site.

Campgoers also experience the sensations of astronaut training, including microgravity activities, by using simulators at the camp.

Briefings and lectures, conducted by astronauts and other guest speakers, are also featured at the camp.

For more information or to donate, contact Sally Walton at the Washington County Board of Education, Commonwealth Avenue, Hagerstown, Md. 21740, or by calling 301-766-8218.

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