The following is one in a monthly series featuring the extraordinary people who make up the LightHouse staff.
“There is a quote I really want you to include in my profile,” says Robert Alminana, an Orientation and Mobility Specialist at the LightHouse. He reaches for a well-loved book he’d brought with him: Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
“One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes,” he quotes from the book. The message, with its obvious relevance to the LightHouse and the blindness community, is also one of Robert’s guiding principle. He says, “I’ve spent my life helping people and communities find better ways to live by uncovering hidden potential.”
It’s possible that Robert’s desire to help people stems from his unique history. “I’ve lived—really lived—in nine countries on three continents. I speak five languages. I grew up with parents who are bilingual, bi-national, and bicultural. Because of this, I don’t identify with a particular country or nationality. Instead, I see myself more as a global citizen, finding it easier to identify with individuals despite our perceived differences.” Living within so many cultures has also made Robert more conscious of the struggles that make us more similar than different. “We’re all trying to find our place in the world regardless of the part of the world we’re from. I’m passionate about helping people find their place in the world, because I know that everyone has a place.”
This fervor for empowering people to feel grounded is what led Robert to Orientation and Mobility. “I used to be an urban planner, with special emphasis on designing communities that make people feel welcomed and at peace, which I know has dramatically positive effects on behavior and the way we relate to one another. I literally worked to create communities that provide people with a ‘sense of place,’ an endeavor that takes time to materialize. I left that field because I wanted to work one-on-one with people and see the results of my work on a more intimate and immediate level. Orientation and Mobility fulfilled that need.”
Instead of designing beautiful, sustainable communities for large groups of people, Robert now works with individuals who are blind teaching them to navigate whatever space they find themselves. “I dreamed of changing the world on a large scale, and did some of that with the urban planning work I conducted. Now, my dream is being fulfilled on a different scale. I’m changing the world for one person by teaching him or her practical skills to move through the world.”
Speaking philosophically, Robert stresses that there are billions of individual worlds—we all live in our own world. “Working one-on-one with a dozen students a week might not seem like the stereotypical ‘world change’ one thinks of, but seeing the immediate impact Orientation and Mobility skills have on people has shown me that I’m changing worlds instead of one single world.”
Robert’s journey to the LightHouse started when he became a LightHouse Volunteer. He tells us, “I enrolled in my Master’s in Special Education program at SF State to become an Orientation and Mobility specialist, but had to wait eight months for classes to start. I was anxious to get going, so I asked Dr. Sandy Rosen, Coordinator, Orientation and Mobility Program at San Francisco State, if she had any recommendations. She suggested I volunteer at the LightHouse. I started off as a Personal Services Volunteer, working with one person – this was an incredibly rewarding experience. I also worked on some projects with MUNI and recording print text to alternative formats.” Robert’s experiences remind us that LightHouse has many different volunteering opportunities, from working one-on-one with students to administrative work.”
After graduating with a Master’s in Special Education in the field of Visual Impairments, Orientation and Mobility, Robert joined the team at LightHouse as an O&M Instructor. He tells us, “I’m also the President Elect of the Northern California Association of O&M Specialists (N-CAOMS), and I have my ACVREP (Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Education Professionals) certification, which enables me to design programs to meet our students’ needs.”
Robert goes on to say, “I love what I do at the LightHouse—helping people gain the independence and confidence required to thrive in the world around them. I want people to know that if they’re struggling with getting to where they need to be, they should make an appointment today. There are so many wonderful things to do and people to meet. Life doesn’t come to you; you have to go after life.”
Robert enjoys being philosophical, even when he’s not at work. “What do I do on the weekends or outside of work? I love reading. Some of my favorite authors include Albert Camus, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Marguerite Yourcenar, Gabriel García Márquez, John Steinbeck and Jane Jacobs. I enjoy going to art and science museums. Traveling is also important to me, and nature is a big part of my life. My last trip was to Alaska. I was absolutely blown away by the quality—and quantity—of the natural beauty. The train trip from Anchorage to Denali was so beautiful it overwhelmed me. Every panorama was filled with life and splendor.”
If you’d like become a more independent traveler the LightHouse can teach you how. Contact us at 415-831-1481 to get started.
Ready to give back? The LightHouse has a robust Volunteer Program and we invite you to enroll. For more information, contact Justine, our Volunteer Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.