One in a continuing series of staff profiles
“People who are blind go to the gym, Pier 39, volunteer at soup kitchens…we are everywhere in the community,” Lisamaria Martinez, LightHouse’s Director of Community Services, stresses when discussing Community Services’ significance to LightHouse programming. “We don’t do ‘blind things,’ we do everything, from whitewater rafting trips and cooking classes to excursions to the de Young art museum. In this way, we reinforce in our students the understanding that they are 100% members of society, while also teaching those who see us that, ‘yeah, we’re blind and we belong right next to you in the movie theater, at the gym, or cruising the Farmer’s Market.’”
Lisamaria, who also goes by the nickname “LM,” has always been an advocate for the blind: “It’s natural for me because I’ve been blind since I was a young child.” In 1999, LM moved north from Southern California to study social welfare at U.C. Berkeley, and began volunteering at the LightHouse, supervising teens on weekend activities like ski trips. After graduating in 2003, she worked at the Hatlen Center for the Blind as a living skills and braille instructor. In 2005, LM enrolled in a Master’s in Educational Psychology program with an emphasis in Orientation & Mobility [e.g. white cane travel] at Louisiana Tech, “where the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness lives. They created the first Master’s Degree Program that uses non-visual techniques for cane travel instruction. Before they created their specialized program, blind instructors couldn’t be certified to teach fellow blind individuals Orientation and Mobility Skills.” After earning her Master’s degree, LM moved back to the Bay Area to do contract work for the Department of Rehabilitation and Lion’s Center for the Blind as an Orientation & Mobility, Living Skills, and Braille instructor.
“In 2008, I learned about a Technology Sales Associate job opening in Adaptations, the LightHouse’s store. I got the job and fell in love with the people at the LightHouse.” Within a year LM moved to the LightHouse Fundraising and Development Department as a Public Affairs Coordinator, and this position evolved into Donor Relations Coordinator. “I like working with people,” she said, “so Public Affairs/Donor Relations was an exciting opportunity to work with different groups —fundraisers, donors, journalists, and government officials. Though I enjoyed strengthening press contacts and interfacing with donors, I missed my students. In October 2014, I was promoted to the position of Director of Community Services, a role I’m ecstatic to fill.”
Under LM’s leadership, Community Services oversees youth, adult and senior programming, psychological services, fees-for-services to educate organizations about the needs and concerns of the blind, and Adaptations. LM sees Community Services as fulfilling two purposes, enabling blind people to fully participate in Bay Area specific opportunities and events while also educating Bay Area communities about blindness. “Community Services isn’t just about providing services to our students, it’s also about making sure students are integrated into the community as blind people living normal, active, fulfilling, satisfying lives,” LM emphasizes. “Riding a bike, taking a hike, going on international trips, that’s how I want my sons to see blind people: as a life worth no less than any sighted person’s life.”
“In addition to working at the LightHouse, my family, (4.5-year-old Erik, and 5-month-old Zakary, and her husband, Joe) keeps me exceptionally busy. And when I’m not taking the boys to places like the Oakland Zoo, I’m usually working as an advocate for causes that interest me.” LM is currently serving on the Alameda County Transit Accessibility Advisory Committee and the California School for the Blind’s (CSB) Community Advisory committee. She also holds various leadership positions with the National Federation of the Blind. She says, “I’m an avid reader, usually devouring three or four books a week, which is why I serve on the Board of Trustees for the National Braille Press. I’m a strong supporter of getting Braille kids’ books into the hands of blind kids and blind parents. Without Braille books, many blind parents cannot read to their kids. My son, Erik, loves reading Braille books with me before he heads off to bed. We read and giggle ourselves to sleep.”
LM excels at bringing people together and facilitating discussions at the LightHouse. “I use my experiences, like my past involvement with judo, to strengthen Community Services programming and activities. For example, I’m passionate about fitness; I was the only U.S. female in the 70-kilo class to qualify for the blind national judo team in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. At the LightHouse I’ve expanded health and fitness offerings to include classes at Fitness SF, where blind folks are welcomed and encouraged to get fit along sighted peers. Come join us and get fit!”
In the next year LightHouse will be moving to a state-of-the-art, 21st Century blindness headquarters, and Community Services will grow to include more programming for students of all ages, from blind parents with young kids to seniors navigating blindness for the first time. LM encourages feedback from students and potential students, saying, “The new space will give us so many more opportunities to do new, fun, and creative activities, not just for youth and seniors, but for folks in between. I welcome all suggestions and ideas. What activities would you like to see expanded? What events would you go to and when would you like to go to them? Are there those of you who are working or parenting during the day but would come to LightHouse activities in the evening or on weekends? Let me know.”
Share your ideas or just find out more by contacting LM at LMartinez@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7350.