Reigniting the fire

How the Canton Lions helped one woman rediscover her passion
By Rachel Robles, Lifestyles editor | Aug 19, 2014
Photo by: Donated A HAPPY CAMPER — Alissa Holmes feels the special suit worn by the Winston-Salem Bomb Squad. A member of the squad visited Camp Dogwood during Holmes' session at came and gave a demonstration.

Alissa Holmes, 38, of Canton, experienced a reawakening of sorts this summer when she was sponsored by the Canton Lions Club to attend Camp Dogwood — a summer camp for the blind and visually impaired — last month.

The camp is owned and operated by the North Carolina Lions, and is located in Sherrill’s Ford next to Lake Norman in Catawba County. The camp has more than 850 blind and visually impaired campers visit throughout the summer for week-long stays. Campers enjoy a variety of activities that include fishing, boating, swimming, craft time, nature hikes, and visits to the sensory garden and a touchable art gallery that features artwork made by blind or visually impaired artists. Campers also take off-campus trips to play putt putt, and go bowling, shopping and horseback riding.

“It was a great experience,” said Holmes, whose favorite activity was boating. She was even crowned queen of the camp for that week.

But the camp was more than just a place to get away; for Holmes, it was a place to reconnect with the blind community and find her vigor again.

Holmes and her twin sister were both born blind, but Holmes suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2002 that left her confined to a wheelchair.

“Since the brain injury, even though I was raised very independent and been independent all my life — I never let my blindness stop me from anything — I had kind of lost some of that motivation due to the traumatic event and I was not very social,” said Holmes. “I was not very involved with the blind community at all.”

Holmes has struggled with losing much of her independence since the traumatic event; to make matters worse, Medicaid would only pay for three physical therapy sessions, so relearning how to walk and regaining the strength in her legs has had to be put on hold.

“The camp meant so much to me because I had lost some of that motivation and I had lost some of that wanting to be out in the social community,” she said. “And I found a social connection there and I thrived — to fight for my independence and fight to even learn how to walk again.”

Holmes was able to connect with other people at the camp who were also blind and disabled and found that she shared the same struggles they did.

“When I got with other people who are disabled like me and who fight for their independence, I got a sense of community again,” said Holmes. “And I got some of that motivation back that I’d lost due to the traumatic event and due to being in a wheelchair so many years and being isolated from people who were like me.”

Having rediscovering the drive that she’d thought she’d lost, Holmes returned home and began helping her best friend, Maria McLeod, who has been blind since she was 18, regain her independence. After the death of her husband a few years ago, McLeod’s sister had been acting as her legal guardian. When she wouldn’t relinquish guardianship, Holmes involved Meridian Behavioral Health Services in Waynesville and a guardian ad litem and even testified in court on McLeod’s behalf as to her ability to be independent. After three hours in court, McLeod regained her guardianship Friday, Aug. 8.

“I couldn’t have done it without her,” said McLeod. “She’s like the biggest blessing in my life. I wouldn’t be independent today without her. I owe her everything.”

Holmes doesn’t want to stop there.

“My desire is to help people who have gone through mental illness to become more able to defend themselves,” she said.

She wants to work as a 911 operator or in peer support.

“The community needs her,” said McLeod. “If she could do half of what she did for me for other members of the community … This community needs her on board in some kind of job helping the community.”

“I see the importance of fighting for people who have disabilities and fighting for yourself. It wasn’t just the camp for the blind, it was being around other people.”

She wants to work as a 911 operator or in peer support.

“I want to get more involved with peer support at Meridian so I can help people who have gone through traumatic events or who are struggling with mental illness because I feel that anybody can overcome anything — whether it be a disability, whether it be a mental illness, a traumatic event, or just be a simple thing that a person struggles with daily. Anybody can overcome anything if they have the desire,” said Holmes.

And she believes owes her energy, passion and desire to help people to the Canton Lions Club.

“I really do want to thank the Canton Lions Club because they gave me back some of my vigor that I once had,” said Holmes. “I want to make a difference for people.”