Students from the Children’s Beach House “Look Back at Lewes” from Harbor of Refuge Light,

August 17, 2004
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Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation
The first group of students from the Children’s Beach House stand on the upper deck of Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse.

For the past four weeks, two groups of students participating in summer residential camp activities at the Children’s Beach House in Lewes have enjoyed the opportunity to look out over the bay and observe Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse standing sentinel at the entrance to Lewes Harbor. During this time, the curiosity of the children was further heightened when the realm of nightfall chased the last rays of the sun from an evening sky. For when the skies grow dark each night, Harbor of Refuge Light beckons to the children with a gleam of intrigue – sending it’s signature white flash once every ten seconds across the bay to Lewes Beach.

From land, this twinkle in the night fascinates many of the youngsters who spend time learning various skills at the Children’s Beach House in Lewes. From educational walks along the starlit beaches to interactive classroom activities, the marine environment – including lighthouses are exciting components of the student’s diverse learning activities. “Camp activities include both nature education and arts and crafts,” says Mary Van House, Environmental Education Program Coordinator for the Children’s Beach House. The children learn about the beach environment and incorporate what they learn into art and other projects.”

Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation
Students could now view Harbor of Refuge Light up close.

When it comes to Harbor of Refuge, viewing the black and white lighthouse from Lewes Beach might conjure up feelings of intrigue with the students, but at the same time, its proximity from land also creates a sense of “close enough to see but just out of reach to touch.” However, thanks to the kindness of local businesses and DRBLHF members, Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse – a beacon once admired by the students from afar, could now be experienced up close and personal.

Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation
The second group of students arrives at the lighthouse.

On August 17, 2004, the community’s care and support “bridged” the watery divide between Lewes Beach and Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse by offsetting the cost of the boat transportation for children to visit the offshore historic site. This generosity and teamwork provided two groups of students from the Children’s Beach House summer camp with the exciting opportunity to retrace the footprints of keepers who once kept a good light to help safeguard seafarers from the dangers of Neptune’s deep blue domain.

Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation
Children ask “lightkeeper” Bob Trapani questions about the lighthouse and breakwater.

Ms. Van House led the first group of students on their historical trip to Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse with Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation volunteers at 9:15 a.m., followed directly by a second group led by Diane O’Hara, Summer Programs Director, at 10:45 a.m. While at the lighthouse, Harbor of Refuge belonged to the students. Rather than escort the children on a more formal tour through the historic light, the DRBLHF provided the group with an opportunity to ask questions based on how they were visualizing their experience. “The informal Q & A format worked especially well for these children,” says Van House. “Because of their communication – and often learning disabilities, they have short attention spans and often have trouble focusing on verbal information. Visuals work great for them.”

While climbing the 67 stairs to the watchroom level of Harbor of Refuge, the students stopped on the third level of the structure for a hands-on opportunity involving 21st century aids to navigation technology.

Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation
Students learn how a Carmanah beacon turns on automatically when it gets dark.

At the beginning of the tour, one of the children asked how the optic in the lantern room activated without a keeper being present to turn on the light. The group later learned the answer to this question through a demonstration with a Carmanah Technologies light emitting diode (LED) beacon. Four students each took a corner of a black curtain and held it up in the air. Another child then took a Carmanah Model 601 LED beacon and placed it on the hardwood floor. At this point, the four students slowly lowered the curtain until it blocked the daylight. Once this occurred, the photocell inside the beacon activated the optic’s green light ? thus demonstrating to the children how the light inside Harbor of Refuge turns on automatically each night.

Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation
Students crawl underneath the dark curtain to see the light “wink & blink”.

What made the trip even more special was the fact that the children came from all over the First State – and thus, students from Kent and New Castle made Delaware lighthouse history by becoming the first students from these two Delaware counties to visit Harbor of Refuge Light. “The children came from all over Delaware,” says Van House. Our residential camp has 2 four-week sessions, the first for 6 to 9 year-olds and the second for approximately 9 to 12 years of age. These two groups of kids are in the last week of the second session. They will be going home on Saturday (8/21/04).”

Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation
The children were provided an opportunity to view the lighthouse from the water.

While the students attend the summer camp at the Children’s Beach House, they also receive special attention designed to assist them with certain disabilities. Mary Van House describes the purpose of the summer camp sessions, saying, “the focus of the camp is children with communication disabilities such as speech, language and hearing impairment. The children are referred through school speech therapists, nurses and teachers and go through an extensive screening to qualify for the program.” Van House goes on to comment, “part of their camp experience is intensive individual and group language and speech activities.”

Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation
Captain Don Dirk and DRBLHF Tom Craft help children board the motor launch.

The future of Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse belongs to Delaware’s youth -for one day they will become the new caretakers of the timeless historic treasure that pays tribute to the First State’s maritime heritage. Therefore, by allowing children to visit Harbor of Refuge and learn why it is important to appreciate and protect the offshore sentinel, the DRBLHF is able to enhance the historic site’s educational value and invest in its future – a future that appears to be bright judging the children’s excitement. “I saw the children in awe of every aspect of the trip,” say Van House. Most of these children have limited experience in general and many have never been on a boat before, so they loved just getting to the lighthouse. You could tell from their questions that they were interested. The view of the water, cape and beach from offshore was great. Thank you for making this such a memorable experience for our campers!”

Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation
Students gather for their trip to the light on the DRBA’s Lewes Ferry Terminal pier.

The Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation also wishes to thank their partners who helped make the Children’s Beach House trip to Harbor of Refuge Light an experience that promises to last the students a lifetime. Thanks to the Delaware River & Bay Authority, the DRBLHF can utilize the Lewes ferry terminal finger pier, which provides a safe platform for students to assemble and board the motor launch. Also, the Delaware Bay Launch Service (DBLS) is to be thanked for their wonderful waterborne transportation service. Time and again, the DBLS proves why they are the best in the business. Their attention to safety and efficiency makes a world of difference while on the water and at Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse. The DBLS crew of Captain Don Dirk and Gary Wright deserve special mention for their wonderful patience, service and total mindfulness for the safety of each and every student. Lastly, the DRBLHF wishes to thank its volunteers who helped make the students experience at Harbor of Refuge very special…Jim Kennedy, Barbara Passikoff, Sandra Pace, Tom Craft and Ann-Marie Trapani.

The article and all photos were reproduced with the permission of the author, Mr. Bob Trapani, Jr. of the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation. All photos by Ann-Marie Trapani. Please visit for more information.