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Archive for April, 2012
On a mild, dry day in in early April, in between spring storms, twenty-five enthusiastic volunteers and staff members rolled up their sleeves to work on several important maintenance projects at Enchanted Hills. These projects are part of the work that goes in year-round to keep camp in good shape for Enchanted Hills Retreat attendees and campers.
This special group included some eager young people, members of Napa area Key Club International, the high school student organization sponsored by the Kiwanis. Theresa Comstock, the current president of Kiwanis Club of Greater Napa, supervised the youngsters in their work.
The energetic team dug in to protect our campground by clearing scotch broom, a tenacious weed that is a fire hazard. They also trimmed and re-positioned beloved blackberry bushes, the fruit of which will be used this summer for jam and blackberry pies. Volunteer Steve Erdmann and his group planted two new oak trees in lower camp while other projects included prepping recycled building supplies, repairing wooden fences, cleaning the pool and splitting wood for the campfires our campers enjoy so much.
Upon arrival, staff and volunteers were treated with homemade scones and fresh coffee. Later staff members James Griel and Natalie Davis provided a delicious sandwich bar luncheon. Camp Director Tony Fletcher said, “Volunteer workdays allow us to accomplish so many tasks that we normally don’t have the people-power to accomplish. Even more important is that we end up making connections with our volunteers who then come up with ideas for improvements and innovations that will help us all year-round.”
On March 16, 2012, 67-year-old LightHouse friend and senior client James Macchi passed away quietly in his home leaving behind his wife of fifteen years, Marsha Macchi, as well as many close friends.
His widow Marsha regaled this writer with happy memories about their life together. Much of what she said made me smile and wish I had known James better, while the love they had for each other stood out as an overriding theme and an example to all married couples. Marsha said, “We made a commitment from day one not to divorce. We swore to work things out. [We always said] if we tended to the garden then we could keep the weeds out.”
Speaking of tending gardens, Marsha talked at length about James’ enthusiasm for gardening. Each week he participated in the LightHouse Gardening Program, nurturing the growing plants and making good use of the harvest when they were ready. According to Marsha, he relished using flowers from the garden to make beautiful flower arrangements and was equally interested in using the vegetables he helped to grow in delicious home-cooked meals.
Although not an early adopter, James was very open to the way in which accessible technology could enhance and fit into his life. He also loved to read braille; so much that he considered himself an “advocate” for the use of braille. When introducing himself to a group, he liked to declare, “My name is James Macchi. I’m a braille-a-holic and proud to be a braille-a-holic.” (As an avid braille reader myself, I say that anyone who claims to be a braille-a-holic is pretty cool in my book.)
James passing was unexpected and he will be sorely missed by all of us at the LightHouse. Here’s what a few staffers had to say about him:
Community Services Program Coordinator Molly Irish said, “He made friends very easily. He hung out with Don Lewinski and Barney Howell mostly and they talked about anything and everything. It was fun listening to them and sometimes you just had to laugh with them. James could also sing; he had a nice singing voice. He would sing with the band. He enjoyed life to its fullest.”
Beth Berenson, coordinator of our Technology Seminar series, said, “I could count on James to get excited about our tech seminars – he was always one of the first to sign up. But more than anything, I always noticed the love between him and Marsha – they were devoted to each other.”
Social Worker Jeff Carlson said, “It was my privilege to have James as one of my longest running LightHouse clients. Above all, James was a kind and gentle man who was respectful toward his fellow clients and LightHouse staff. James worked hard to do the right thing.”
And from LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin, “James was an articulate and longtime member of many of our senior programs, and his passing leaves a big gap. James attended every Dialogue with the Director meeting since I have been at the LightHouse, and was a loving advocate and kind friend to me personally. In our last meeting James told me about his working at LightHouse Industries at least back into the 1970s and I marveled that the LightHouse and James had touched each other’s lives for forty years and more. James has many friends and it is hard to imagine senior activities here without him.”
LightHouse Student Gets Opportunity of a Lifetime or How A Jobsite Conversation Turned into a Real JobApril 26, 2012
Last fall, Amy Gac was one of a group attending sessions of our Jobsite Conversation Series. These weekly excursions bring blind and low vision jobseekers to the offices of employed blind and low vision workers. Each session gave the jobseekers a chance to listen, ask questions and network.
Amy’s interest in going to these meetings was like a lot of other blind jobseekers. She generally knew what she wanted to do with her next employment step, but somehow she thought she might learn a little something extra by getting a direct personal connection with successful blind peers. The beauty of the Jobsite Conversation Series has been to show, in concrete form, how blind jobseekers with vague or unrealized dreams of employment can actually achieve those goals.
“I was thinking about starting my own business but I was also ready to settle for a more stable position in customer service with the IRS,” Gac says. “I was also considering taking an admin position in construction since I worked in Purchasing and Estimating for many years.”
But that fateful day in November brought Amy in contact with current LightHouse Board member Gena Harper, who is a financial advisor with MorganStanley SmithBarney. While talking with Gena, Amy found a focus for her ambition. She zeroed in on becoming a financial advisor. “I have always been interested in starting my own business and I knew that MorganStanley SmithBarney has a fantastic training program. I saw Gena, who is a very happy, confident, and capable woman, as a role model. And the [potential income] didn’t hurt either.”
Things moved rapidly from there. Says Amy, “I made a follow-up call to Gena the next day, and we met for lunch the following week. Then Gena arranged for me to meet her boss. [Finally], after a career suitability test and a series of interviews, I received a job offer to become a financial advisor.”
Passing the Series 7 exam will allow Amy to legally trade securities on behalf of her employer. She is confident she will pass the exam and thinks she will do well in her new job. “Cold calling doesn’t make me nervous and I enjoy working with numbers.” Once she passes the exam, she figures the hardest aspect of the job will be making sales goals. As she launches into her new career, Amy has many resources at her fingertips. Along with the coaching and mentoring she has been getting from her trainers, she uses adaptive equipment such as ZoomText and magnification to get the job done.
We are so proud that our Jobsite Conversation Series provided Amy with such an important connection and we wish her the best of luck. If you or someone you know is interested in partnering with our Employment Immersion program to get to work, contact Kate Williams at email@example.com or 415-694-7324.
In the most ambitious building project in a generation, the LightHouse has purchased a massive new employment and training building in the East Bay. The 3 million dollar San Leandro complex is seven times the footprint of our San Francisco Headquarters building and when finally built out will employ up to 60 blind workers, supervisors and teachers. When built out more blind employees will be working at this single building than at any other building in California.
How the LightHouse found, secured and outfitted our new employment building is a study in collaboration and community connections. Over the last two years we identified an opportunity to expand our existing product line by collaborating with other partners, requiring a building quadruple the size of the one we’ve operated – and paid monthly rent for — in West Oakland for 23 years. We set competing teams of commercial real estate brokers scouring the East Bay looking for sites that were close to BART and AC transit and yet still in a 24-hour safe location.
For a year we found many good commercial buildings but none which were affordable and yet safe. Eventually Tim and David Tran, our commercial brokers from Fremont’s Ivy Group began literally knocking on doors of quality commercial buildings which weren’t even listed for sale. That’s when they met Charles Travers who owned the building we have just purchased at 14680 Washington Avenue in San Leandro. Mr. Travers bought the building with his father four decades ago and over the years has housed many light industrial tenants. One of the building’s claims to fame is that it was the site of the original Shakey’s Pizza restaurant.
Mr. Travers immediately saw the public spirit of our project – building a place where blind workers can perform on federal and private contracts with a wide variety of products and services. Before long he was visiting our existing West Oakland factory, armed with power meters to ensure that our machinery could operate on the electrical power of the proposed new building. It turns out that Mr. Travers is a lifelong philanthropist, serving on the UC Berkeley Foundation, the Commonwealth Club Board of Directors, and with deep interests in the SPCA and other worthy causes. As we got to know one another in the spirit of philanthropy, Mr. Travers made an outstanding tax-deductible charitable donation by lowering the purchase price of the building by $550,000. This was the first of a string of many of his kind contributions to our effort, from replacing a roll-up door to painting and repairing a myriad of small details – all without charge. This month we took possession of the building and moved our 23-year factory operations into it in record speed.
Help and donations from the wider community are now pouring in. As Levi-Strauss remodeled its San Francisco headquarters they donated about $100,000 worth of high-end office furniture to the new building, instantly outfitting a half-dozen offices, and the break room, conference center and file storage. The City of San Leandro is constructing an accessible pedestrian signal at a nearby corner to aid in crossing busy Washington Avenue. Various energy conservation organizations and contractors in San Leandro are interested in helping with energy-efficient lighting and installing additional skylights. And many business people have expressed interest in joining a new Community Advisory Council for the San Leandro employment center. Things have never looked so bright for such operations.
LightHouse staff planned, coordinated and executed to make the move possible. Plant manager Skip Foster devised innovative ways to move dozens of tons of machinery, raw materials and storage racks and place them in an efficient manner in the new location. LightHouse IT Manager Brian Hardy spent days wiring up telephone and internet connectivity in the half-acre building, consuming a half-mile of cable and mounting conduit and cable runs two stories in the air from the cab of a cherry picker. And LightHouse Chief Operating Officer Jerry Bernstein coordinated a small army of painters, carpet installers, locksmiths, plumbers, carpenters and others to do the initial build-out and habitability of the site. Congratulations to all who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in our first month of operation.
The new building is as long as two football fields and sports a unique Filipino restaurant at one end. On Friday and Saturday nights the place is full of people enjoying karaoke with its own dance floor, full bar and 260-seat capacity. Beyond the restaurant are a series of five large industrial bays, each one containing small business offices. The 26-foot high ceilings give the complex a lofty appearance and will be ideal for massive storage of raw materials and inventory.
So what’s the plan after our move-in is complete? Partnering, partnering, partnering. The LightHouse is in active planning with the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind to bring new types of manufacturing to San Leandro. Seattle Lighthouse has a half-century of experience with producing demanding products for the federal government, the Boeing Company and others and will share its industrial development and management with us in San Leandro. The National Industries for the Blind (NIB) organization is also exploring ways it can support new government and private contracts in our space. We’re also partnering with other private firms and organizations to bring an accessible contact center to the building. And we may find new opportunities to connect with Bay Area high-tech firms to jointly produce goods or services direct from our new location. That connectivity will be a hallmark of our San Leandro operation, and if you know of a business opportunity please don’t hesitate to contact us directly to make the connection.
The vast space will also make possible new teaching and training opportunities. We are exploring uses of the building from traditional tech training to after-school tutoring and art studio possibilities. The open-ended nature of so much space has sparked the imagination of our rehab and community services staff and we’re certain we can build innovative programs there which match our community’s real needs.
We still need many things and many partners. We’ll need painting contractors to do new painting of our concrete floor. We’ll need a community organization to build a lovely outdoor protective enclosure for employee guide dogs. We’ll want the services of carpenters, plumbers, and people familiar with industrial processes. And in particular we are looking for several donated large box vans with which we can haul supplies and equipment.
By purchasing the building the LightHouse underscores that we will be vigorously in the employment business far into the future, and our strong footprint in the East Bay is a natural reflection of the fact that for many decades the majority of LightHouse training clients actually live there. Look ahead for a grand Grand Opening party in the fall of 2012!
Walmart Mail Order Pharmacy is currently doing a pilot program with En-Vision America to offer ScripTalk Talking Prescriptions, which can be read with a small device called a ScripTalk Station.
The ScripTalk Station provides those who cannot read print a safe and easy way to access the information on their prescriptions. Simply press a button and place the special Talking Label over the reader. A pleasant, natural sounding voice speaks all the information printed on the label.
When you sign-up for the Walmart program, you’ll get a free ScripTalk reader and be able to take advantage of the low prices of Walmart Mail Service. Many private insurance companies and state Medicaid services will cover Walmart Mail Order.
For more information on how to enroll in this program and to get your free ScripTalk Station reader, please contact En-Vision America at 800-890-1180.
Apple provides intelligent and innovative solutions for people with visual disabilities, allowing them to access and enjoy using Mac, iPad, iPhone, and iPod. Join representatives from the LightHouse, San Francisco, and learn about accessibility features for your Mac and iOS devices including screen magnification, VoiceOver, Text to Speech, settings for high contrast, and more.
When: Tuesday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Apple Store, San Francisco
One Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
Please visit www.apple.com/sanfrancisco for additional details. Reservation is not required.
Do you sing or play an instrument? Would you like to play with other musicians in and around our community?
If your answer to these questions is yes then come on over to the LightHouse and jam with us. Even if you only know a few chords or can only hum a few bars, we can make beautiful music together. Whatever you play and however you play it, we’d like you to join us.
When: Fourth Thursday of the month (beginning April 26th), 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.
Where: LightHouse San Francisco Headquarters
Cost: Nothing, this is a free event (just bring your instrument or voice)
Who: Anyone between the ages of 16 to 55
For more information, contact Brandon Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-694-7372.
Kayaking on the Bay and hiking on Angel Island – two quintessential Bay Area experiences. What would happen if you brought the two together? Massive amounts of fun, of course.
LightHouse for the Blind and Environmental Traveling Companions have combined forces to bring this awesome mega-trip to you. We will start the adventure in Sausalito and paddle three miles across San Francisco Bay to the “Jewel of the Bay”, Angel Island. Groups will stay overnight in a lovely and accessible Victorian house. We’ll cook on a wood-burning stove and eat family-style in the formal dining room. Stunning views of the Bay Area and (potential) close encounters with marine wildlife round out this adventure in our own backyard.
|When:||Saturday May 19 through Sunday May 20|
|Who:||Anyone between the ages 16-45 who loves challenge and adventure|
|Cost:||$50 for the weekend!|
RSVP By May 14, 2012. Space is limited.
To sign-up or to get more information about this amazing trip, including details about transportation, please contact Brandon Young at email@example.com or 415-694-7372.
LightHouse News – Spring 2012 – Apr-Jun 2012
Bill Barker’s Braille Radio Reading Room – April 2012