It was the middle of July, but "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Deck the Halls" blared from the record player. In a classroom decorated with a tinsel-covered Christmas tree, boughs of holly and handmade holiday cards, 60 blind or visually handicapped children - some decked in green paper elves' hats - sang, clapped and waited for Santa's visit. They weren't disappointed.
The Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind Summer Camp celebrated Christmas five months ahead of schedule this year so campers could personally thank those who had helped provide $30,000 to finance their summer activities.
The contributors included Joseph and Barbara Albritton (Joseph Albritton is the former owner of the Washington Star), the Alexander and Margaret Stewart Trust, People's Drug Store, the Redskin Foundation, Capital Centre and D.C. Workers for the Blind. Their contributions made it possible for all the children, aged 2 to 16, to attend the six-week day camp at the Annunciation School, 39th Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW, free of charge.
Santa Claus finally arrived, with a bag stuffed full of gifts. Candy was dispensed to the campers. Guests and Lighthouse board members active in the fundraising drive this year received certificates of thanks, written in Braille and English.
Frances Hufty, of Bethesda, who has served on the Lighthouse board of trustees for 15 years, said the party was a good idea "because you can never thank people enough.
"The camp," she added, "provides a much-needed opportunity for blind children to enjoy the same activities as other children."
Another board member, Becky Rogers, of the District, brought her 14-year-old daughter, Laing, to the party. After observing the children, Laing volunteered to work at the camp.
All the preparations for the Christmas-in-July celebration were made by the campers, and the work took two weeks to complete.
"They baked all the cookies and cakes, made the decorations, rehearsed skits and practiced the songs they performed," said Jody Kibitz of Langley Park, Va., a 21-year-old art counselor.
And this year there was a special reason to celebrate, said camp director Roz Barrett.
"In May, we were told that our usual site on the Mount Vernon campus was unavailable since the college needed refurbishing. In one month we had to find a new camp ground and raise $30,000."
But the children never forgot their own purpose for holding the party: having fun.
"We enjoy sharing Christmas with our friends who aren't around furing the winter," said Ernest Hopkins, 16, and Charles Young, 12, both of the District.
The Columbia Lighthouse operates the only summer camp in the Washington area with facilities for the blind. Some students, such as Maritza Lloyd, 15, come from the Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore. Maritza lives with relatives in Northeast Washington while she attends camp.
Seven-year-old Javier Inturri came from Bolivia for camp and has been staying with an aunt in Arlington. In addition to the regular acedemic and recreational activities, Javier receives special instruction in Braille and English, said counselor Bruce Kaufmann of Bethesda.
"Through the use of games stressing learning skills, the counselors encourage academic growth. The summer is a good time to review reading and writing skills so the children won't fall behind in their schoolwork," explained Eileen Green, a counselor and special education teacher. "One-to-one tutoring often helps compensate for visual handicaps."