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A New Gathering Place: EHC’s Redwood Grove Theater

Over the weekend, Enchanted Hills Construction Manager George Wurtzel placed the last screw in the final hand-constructed and carved redwood benches that are the signature seating of Enchanted Hills’ new 120-person Redwood Grove Theater. It’s a project that has come to fruition over the last 10 years through patience, perseverance and unrivaled community support. And it’s ready just in time for our annual Music Academy Concert on August 12.

RSVP for our Summer Music BBQ this Saturday, 4 p.m. at Enchanted Hills in Napa.

The idea for the theater was born out of a piece of Enchanted Hills’ history relayed to us by longtime Enchanted Hills friend, counselor and historian Hope Sinclair. Hope’s father, Philip Webster, bought the land in 1927 and operated a boy’s camp there for more than 20 years. Hope herself spent much of her childhood at camp in the 1930s and 1940s and developed a detailed love for the nature and history of the place.

From conversations with Hope about the site’s history, Camp Director Tony Fletcher learned that a section of lower camp was often used for meetings and talent shows during its time as a boys camp, due to its natural acoustics. When new CEO Bryan Bashin toured camp in 2010 he instantly saw the potential to restore the disused and junk-filled natural bowl into an outdoor space of unparalleled beauty and usefulness: an outdoor theater area to host concerts, movie nights and large gatherings that would be shady in the summertime and make the most of the area’s fantastic acoustics.

Listen to this video from an impromptu performance in the theater to hear the breathtaking natural acoustics.

It was in keeping with EHC’s mission and the spirit instilled in camp by founder Rose Resnick, who was a talented musician and former concert pianist who helped make music and performance the part of everyday life at EHC that it remains today.

Starting in 2007 with the EHC fire abatement plan, a bowl started to appear as  a troupe of goats hired to clear brush in lower camp. EHC then wrangled various volunteer groups including California Conservation Core, 4H Club and the Greater Napa Kiwanis Club to help clear the area even more, and over the next 10 years the project was brought to completion with the care and collaboration of Bill Cinquini, Alan Butler, Tim Gregory Construction and George Wurtzel, EHC staff and a successful 2015 Indiegogo campaign.

“Getting the Redwood Grove built was a little bit like the LightHouse in microcosm,” says LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin. “Waves of volunteers, AmeriCorps, metal recyclers, architects, the Kiwanis club, donations from Adobe Lumber, and of course our blind  camp construction manager, George Wurtzel, who built the benches with his own hands—this is the community and cooperation I find as beautiful and harmonious as the music you’ll hear on Saturday.”

And Tony doesn’t see the project as totally complete—yet. “This project took the creativity and commitment of many many people. I’m most satisfied to think about all the different folks who have had something to do with this. And I don’t see it as done. The theater could ultimately hold as many as 499 people, so I see it as an evolving process. Hopefully it will continually grow and develop over decades to follow.”

Thank you to the many organizations and individuals who helped bring the Redwood Grove Theater into being. We hope you’ll visit us up at camp on August 12 to witness the beautiful and one-of-a-kind fruits of our labors. Learn more and RSVP for the Music Academy Concert here.

The terraced seating and stage of the Redwood Grove Theater surrounded by lush redwoods.
The terraced seating and stage of the Redwood Grove Theater surrounded by lush redwoods. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.
A view from behind the stage of the Redwood Grove Theater.
A view from behind the stage of the Redwood Grove Theater. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.
A side view of a crowd listening to music in the Redwood Grove Theater.
A side view of a crowd listening to music in the Redwood Grove Theater. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.
A closeup of the redwood benches, which were individually designed and hand carved by EHC Construction Manager George Wurtzel.
A closeup of the redwood benches, which were individually designed and carved by EHC Construction Manager George Wurtzel. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.
A detail ivy pattern carved into the back of one of the benches.
A detail ivy pattern carved into the back of one of the benches. Photo by Marilyn Bogerd.

Take Instant Audio Notes with the MicroSpeak Digital Recorder

Need to capture some quick reminders on the fly? Want to record important information like phone numbers, prescription numbers, up-coming appointments, etc.? This pocket-sized and easy-to-use digital recorder has you covered, and it’s now available in our Adaptations Store.

Incorporating a high-quality microphone and and high-output speaker into a small, lightweight and compact design, this recorder is the perfect travel companion for those hoping to save info with the touch of a button. The MicroSpeak is rechargeable and offers 12 hours of playback time, so there’s no need to worry about changing batteries. This recorder also includes an on-board user guide, which explains the four-button layout. The also uses clear audible beeps and voice prompts to make operating the device a snap. Simply slide the two-position power switch to the “on” position to hear the battery status and begin using your recorder.

The MicroSpeak has 4GB of space to store your audio files, which can either be played back on the recorder via its internal speaker, or copied to a computer via the USB port located on the bottom of the recorder next to the power switch. The MicroSpeak has buttons on the left side to control volume, which can be liberally turned up without incurring distortion — we call it the tiny recorder with a big sound!

The MicroSpeak Digital Recorder sells for only $54.95 in the Adaptations Store. Stop by and pick one up today!

Our Burning Man Maps for the Blind are Back

Burning Man has ten tenets — perhaps the first and foremost being “radical inclusion”. On their website, the first principle reads, “Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.”

It’s a philosophy that we share at LightHouse, and one that led MAD Lab designer and longtime Burner Julie Sadlier to debut a one-of-a-kind tactile Burning Man map two years ago. In other words, a Burning Man map for blind people.

This year, we’ve updated and improved the hybrid tactile-visual map for Burning Man 2017. The maps, with updated art placement, will be available at several locations in Black Rock City, including the Playa Information Booth, Mobility Camp and the CBT Project (at 7 and Fire), and here at the LightHouse headquarters starting August 23. To pre-order a map, contact our Adaptations Store at 1-888-400-8933 or adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org.

Calling it “awesome, no matter your level of sight,” The Atlantic’s CityLab aptly pointed out that you don’t have to be blind to use our map. Complete with braille, visual, and tactile representations of the event’s streets, information booths, first aid tents, restrooms, bus stops, camping, parking, and notable attractions such as artwork, Mobility Camp, The Temple and of course, The Man, the map is a great tool for anybody getting to know the festival – and one that is equally accessible to those with no vision. Now that’s radical inclusivity.

The map’s creator Julie Sadlier, said the response at Black Rock City over the last two years has been incredible, so much so that the leader of Mobility Camp, “Rat Lady”, contacted her way back in February to make sure she would be designing an updated version of the map for 2017.

“I had multiple people coming to my camp, even when I wasn’t there people were dropping off brailled business cards so they could talk more about the map,” says Julie. “Someone at Playa Information dismantled one copy and hung it on the wall to spread the word.”

It’s this type of openness and inclusivity, we’ve found, that opens unexpected doors and embodies the spirit of the LightHouse for the Blind as well as Burning Man. We look forward to printing even more than last year and to hearing your stories when you get back from the playa!

To get a copy of our map, call the Adaptations Store (1155 Market St., 10th Floor, San Francisco) at 1-888-400-8933, or email adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org. If you or your organization would like to design a fully accessible, inclusive map of, well – anything – email madlab@lighthouse-sf.org.

Yoga with Kimm: New Class Times

Photo: Kimm Ropicky sits in a yoga pose (photo by Karolina Zapolska).

Yoga helps promote physical, mental and spiritual balance and can provide you with a foundation of flexibility and centeredness. If you experience challenges with balance and mobility, yoga can assist you in increasing your strength and tone, providing you with the confidence you may be striving for in your daily life.

No experience with yoga is necessary – Instructor Kimm Ropicky will work with you no matter what level of experience you have. Class times are below and you must register prior to attending, or complete registration upon your first day of participation.

Who: Students ages 14 and up and their blind or sighted friends.
Where: the 11th Floor Fitness Studio at LightHouse Headquarters, 1155 Market St., 10th Floor, San Francisco, California 94103.
When: Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. Each class is 75 minutes. Yoga mats, blocks and belts will be provided.
Class fee: $10 per class. This class is open to the public, blind or sighted, so bring a friend!
Please note: Classes close 10 minutes after the start time.
Space is limited, so sign up now.

Special trial offer for LightHouse Students! If you are a LightHouse Student and want to try out a yoga class for free, please speak with our Information Concierge, Esmeralda Soto, for a complimentary yoga class pass. You may speak to Esmeralda when you visit the LightHouse or call her at 415-694-7323. (Passes must be picked up in person, are for LightHouse Students only and must be submitted to the yoga instructor.)

Contact Serena Olsen at solsen@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7316.

Note: Yoga may require intense physical exertion. While it can be modified to meet your needs, we suggest that if you have any concerns prior to participating, please consult your doctor.

About Kimm Ropicky

Kimm’s yoga journey began in the Midwest during a college elective course. While the location of her practice has changed since then, her focus on body alignment, strength, and flexibility remains. Over the years, her practice has grown increasingly mindful, expanding to encompass more than just the physical poses. For Kimm, yoga has become a safe space to work through emotions and relieve stress. It is this focus that led her to become a teacher, deepen her personal practice, and begin to share this mindful space with everyone who enters her classes.

Kimm provides her students with a playful, core-focused yoga, designed to promote strength, flexibility and focus. Her creative sequencing encourages students of all levels to try something new. Hands-on assists and thorough explanations of body alignment create a safe and supportive environment to learn and explore. Kimm is certified with Pete Guinosso’s “Lighting the Path” Teacher Training and has achieved RYT-200 designation (successfully completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training program) with Yoga Alliance.

LightHouse’s MAD Lab Receives the Robert S. Bray Award for Innovation in Tactile Graphics

Last week, the American Council of the Blind awarded LightHouse’s Media and Accessible Design Lab with the Robert S. Bray Award for Media Excellence at the annual conference in Reno, Nevada. The Bray Award is given to a person or a company that has improved communication technology or devices, or expanded access to such devices for all blind people.

Last year, the award was presented to LightHouse partner Apple for the company’s strides in accessibility and continued dedication to inclusion-based innovation for blind users.

MAD Lab Alternative Media Specialist Frank Welte attended the conference and accepted the award on behalf of MAD Lab.

“It was exciting to see MAD Lab recognized at a national level for the cutting edge work we’re doing in making high quality tactile graphics available to the blind community,” he says. “It’s an indication that we’re coming into a golden age in the creation of and availability of tactile graphics that are accessible to blind people. We’re seeing that greater attention is being paid to effective use of tactile graphics to communicate visual information to blind people.”

The MAD Lab has earned a reputation for producing fabulous tactile media of all kinds, including raised line drawings, tactile graphics and tactile maps like this one for Alcatraz or this one of California, and other GGRNA maps – for everything from Burning Man to BART. We are thrilled to be on the forefront of tactile innovation, education and literacy.

For a rate sheet or an informal quote on a business project, contact MADLab@lighthouse-sf.org or call 415-694-7349.

Our Blind Music Academy is Going on Tour in August and You’re Invited

In its fourth year, LightHouse’s summer Music Academy continues to grow and expand, literally. Each year, Music Academy culminates with a performance by blind students from all over the world. This time around the group will take the stage at Enchanted Hills’ brand new Redwood Grove Theater, which was completed this summer and features redwood benches made at camp by blind woodworker George Wurtzel. The students will also hit the road to perform at our headquarters in San Francisco. 

A view of the new redwood amphitheater dappled in sunlight at EHC.

Experience the power of Music Academy by joining us at one of these free concerts:

About Music Academy

Enchanted Hills Camp has paired up with Bill McCann, founder and president of Dancing Dots Braille Music Technology to craft a Music Academy for blind musicians ages 16 to 24 years old who are serious about music or might be thinking of entering the profession. Bill McCann pioneered this specialized music academy model both in Canada and the United States. The academy introduces students to using non-visual techniques to compose music, read the works of others, learn performance skills and gain the capacity to compete for and win employment in the music field.

With its specialized emphasis, our talent pool and ambition continues to grow. This year we’re excited to host students from all over the world, who will spend a week focused on not only becoming better performers but achieving fluency in braille music and other accessible forms of musical notation.

Musicians ages 18 and over who are participating in the Music Academy are invited to stay on for the extended section of our Music Academy program. The extended program starts August 13 and ends August 16 and will be held in San Francisco at LightHouse for the Blind. We will shuttle those qualifying participants to LightHouse for the Blind from the Enchanted Hills Camp. We will also provide a shuttle service to the SFO airport at the end of the program on August 16.

We still have openings in this year’s Music Academy! If you have questions about the session please contact Taccarra Burrell at tburrell@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7318.

A special thank you to our Music Academy Sponsors:

 

Chateau Montelena Winery Logo

 

Cotati Food Service Logo

YES Academy Week One: Cane skills, cooking and mock interviews

It’s been a lively week at LightHouse headquarters with our three-week Summer Youth Employment Series (YES) underway. The 10th and 11th floors have been warm with the chatter of blind and visually impaired youth attending four classes a day including orientation & mobility, technology, living skills and job readiness trainings.

Many of the students at YES Academy are getting their first introductions to life skills like using a white cane, cooking, doing laundry, interviewing for jobs and volunteering. But it isn’t all work and no play. They also explored the city of San Francisco, including a ghost tour of Chinatown and a scavenger hunt at Fisherman’s Wharf.

This week they’re headed to camp and kayak in Tomales Bay, and then they’re off to Enchanted Hills Camp to spend a few days breathing the fresh air and learning the fundamentals of woodworking with blind woodworker George Wurtzel. The final week, a select group will attend the National Federation of the Blind Convention in Orlando, Florida. Here, students will meet thousands of blind role models from across the country, network with the National Association of Blind Students, peruse the aisles of the exhibition hall, participate in a nation-wide accessible job-fair and attend informative seminars.

“When we picked up the students at the airport not a single one of them was using a cane,” says Youth Services Coordinator Jamey Gump when we asked him about the most gratifying aspect of leading the program. “Now many of them feel confident to use their canes. It’s an important landmark for them to be comfortable with themselves and be able to identify as blind to allow the public to understand their needs.”

Romesha Laird is one of the YES students who started off the week having never used a cane before. She’s quickly taken to the mobility training and has found it an incredibly useful tool as she goes through this busy week of fun and self discovery.

“I’m just learning to use a cane,” she says. “I used to trip a lot and the cane makes me feel more confident. After this week, I feel a lot more motivated to use my cane when I’m walking around.”

Romesha is a high school student from San Bernardino, and when she’s not learning to making quick biscuits in the teaching kitchen or learning skills that will help her toward her goal of attending a four year college, she’s an avid cheerleader.

This week she discovered a mentor in YES Academy Counselor Danielle Fernandez.

“I really look up to Danielle,” she says. “She taught me a lot and showed me around. She also has the same condition as me, so we relate and understand each other.”

Romesha has already made up her mind that she’ll be headed back to YES next year.

“I am going to come back next year to learn more and get more experience and visit everyone at the LightHouse,” she says smiling.

Here are a few photos of Romesha practicing mobility in downtown San Francisco and volunteering to braille business cards in the MAD Lab.

Romesha smiles as she walks down Market Street with her white cane.
Romesha smiles as she walks down Market Street with her white cane.
Romesha helps emboss business cards with fellow YES Academy students in one of the LightHouse volunteer rooms.
Romesha helps emboss business cards with fellow YES Academy students in one of the LightHouse volunteer rooms.

Stay posted for more YES Academy updates in the coming weeks!

Meet Penny Melville-Brown: Blind Baker and Holman Prizewinner

The LightHouse for the Blind announces Penny Melville-Brown of “Baking Blind” as one of the first three winners of the Holman Prize.

British Royal Navy veteran Penny Melville-Brown is not your average chef. First of all, she is, in fact, blind. But beyond that, Penny has a deep and unique understanding of food’s ability to break down cultural barriers and to connect people – blind and sighted alike – across the globe.

Today, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco announces Penny as one of three winners of the 2017 Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, a brand-new award for blind adventurers of all kinds.

Penny preps food wearing an apron in the kitchen

“While food is a mainstay across the media and popular culture, it is almost impossible to find any inclusion of visually impaired people,” Penny says.  With her Holman Prize project, Penny hopes to change that.

With the $25,000 Holman Prize, Penny will travel to Costa Rica, Malawi, Australia, China and the United States, all over the course of a year. Along the way, she will meet chefs, teach blind people and community leaders the techniques and panache of blind baking, and film these encounters to ensure that people change their assumptions about the capabilities of blind chefs.

Equal parts travelogue and instructional video series, Penny’s video blog will teach all of us, sighted or otherwise, something new about the art of cooking.

Penny dishes up some food in the kitchen, smilingPenny also has a special connection with the namesake of the Holman Prize, James Holman, a 19th Century world traveler known as the first blind man to circumnavigate the globe. Both became blind while serving in the British Royal Navy (albeit nearly 200 years apart). Now, like Holman, Penny will take off around the world, crossing multiple continents to teach others about the capabilities of those with disabilities.

Penny is one of three inaugural winners of the Holman Prize. Her fellow prizewinners, Ahmet Ustunel and Ojok Simon, hail from the US and Uganda respectively, and also have ambitious adventures planned over a range of geographies and subjects. Ustunel is planning a solo kayak journey from Europe to Asia, while Simon is planning to build out a blind-led social enterprise for beekeepers in Uganda.

They will all meet at the Lighthouse in San Francisco in September.

Penny began hosting and producing regular video segments this year for a program she calls “Baking Blind”. She takes pride in her collaborations, which will only grow with the help of The Holman Prize. A YouTube original, she can be seen in her videos making everything from apple tarts to lamb tajines and quail eggs in soy sauce.

Read about all three Holman Prize winners in-depth.

Holman Honorees: Meet the 2017 finalists.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.

Support The Holman Prize

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2018 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

 

For press inquiries, email press@lighthouse-sf.org.

 

Meet Ojok Simon: Blind Beekeeper and Holman Prizewinner

‘Hive Uganda’ Founder plans to bring honey production and beekeeping training to blind and low vision communities of Uganda.

Imagine tending a beehive – or a whole farm of bees – with hundreds of thousands of buzzing, pollen-loving insects crawling all over you, stingers at the ready. Now imagine doing it blind. Unimaginable for most, this is just a normal day for Ojok Simon.

Today, Ojok became one of the three inaugural winners of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition – an unprecedented $25,000 award for blind and low vision adventurers offered by the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco.

Ojok, who is in his mid-thirties, lost his vision more than 20 years ago when Ugandan rebels beat him severely and he incurred serious head injuries. Due to a lack of medical attention, his vision quickly deteriorated. Yet he didn’t stop pursuing his education, or later, his passion for beekeeping.

Ojok works outdoors on his bee farm

“I was walking in the bush close to our home, when I found a clay pot with bees and honey inside,” says Ojok. “That became a turning point for me.” Now with more than 100 colonized hives, Ojok has become somewhat of a celebrity in his community – even more so now that he can call himself one of the three first-ever recipients of The Holman Prize.

Intriguingly, centuries before Ojok began cultivating honey, the scientific understanding of beekeeping biology was first worked out by a blind scientist, François Huber, who met blind adventurer James Holman during his world travels in the 19th century.

Ojok’s name was announced today along with two others, Penny Melville-Brown (UK) and Ahmet Ustunel (US by way of Turkey), who represent a wide variety of ambitions and geographical areas, with blindness being the unifying factor. Ojok will use the $25,000 Holman Prize to teach blind and low vision Ugandans to become beekeepers and entrepreneurs as part of his HIVE Uganda program. “I always feel a lot of pain when I see blind and partially sighted people living below the poverty line with limited employment opportunities,” he says.

Ojok siphons honey from a drum into a jar

The award will provide Ojok’s trainees with 60 high quality beehives and the necessary honey extraction equipment, as well as honey harvesting suits, gloves and boots, for a new generation of blind and low vision beekeepers. “I will prove to the whole world that being ‘out of sight’ does not mean ‘out of mind,” says Ojok.

Get to know the other two prizewinners, Penny and Ahmet.

Holman Honorees: Meet the 2017 finalists.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.

Support The Holman Prize

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2018 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.

Meet Ahmet Ustunel: Blind Kayaker and Holman Prizewinner

The Holman Prize will fund Ahmet Ustunel’s kayak training and the development of a non-visual guidance system for navigating the waters of the Bosphorus Strait.

Today Ahmet Ustunel, 37, a blind kayaker from San Francisco, was announced as one of the three inaugural winners of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition – an unprecedented award for blind and low vision adventurers. The other winners are Penny Melville-Brown, an avid baker from the UK, and Ojok Simon, who is planning to build out a blind-led social enterprise for beekeepers in Uganda.

Ahmet, who is fully blind, is not a professional adventurer. A full-time teacher of the visually impaired, he began journeying into San Francisco Bay in a solo kayak shortly after moving to the United States from Turkey a decade ago. Yet with the $25,000 Holman Prize, he has a more ambitious goal: to paddle across the Bosphorus Strait, which divides the European region of Turkey from its Asian counterpart, completely alone.

Ahmet stands on the beach next to his kayak

In the months leading up to this daring crossing, Ahmet will practice regularly around the Bay Area, clocking in over 500 miles and building both physical endurance and mastering the technology that is a crucial element of his journey, demonstrating the autonomy and capability of blind people along the way. He will also develop of a non-visual guidance system for crossing the Strait.

In order to ensure a safe passage, Ahmet will use a wide variety of technology on-board his kayak, including ultrasonic sensors, a talking compass, an accessible depth finder and a tracking device that will guide him to his destination. “[My project] will educate the public about how blind people can operate a vehicle in an uncontrolled environment safely and independently,” he says.

The Bosphorus holds special significance for Ahmet, who grew up in Turkey: “It’s where I used to sit on a ferry dreaming about a time in the future when Blind captains and crew will roam through the Strait, and nobody will be surprised,” he says.

Ahmet Ustunel smiles holding a fishing pole

A risky and ambitious adventure, Ahmet’s crossing has the potential to change lives around the world, proving that with the right tools and a blind-positive attitude many adventures once thought impossible for blind people are well within their grasp.

Read about all three Holman Prizewinners in-depth.

Holman Honorees: Meet this year’s finalists.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.

Support The Holman Prize

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2018 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.