Immersion in the Redwoods: A Fabulous New Class Helps Students Increase Confidence and Chart Their Own Course

For one week in June, fifteen enthusiastic students participated in a life changing, immersion session at Enchanted Hills Retreat in Napa. Blind and low vision adults from all over Northern California, including five from the North Coast, got a jump start on a life not limited by blindness. Throughout the week, students were introduced to a number of options for living and working independently and each person went home with a unique plan for what they wanted or needed to do next.

The students learned basic essential daily living skills, braille, and dove into access technology solutions. To increase their confidence and safety, they also received a cane and some basic Orientation and Mobility training, enabling them to travel through their home and work environments with skill and grace.

Three of the participants had previous training and were here to gain work experience in their fields of interest: food service, access technology and community advocacy. The three also served as peer mentors to new students while furthering their skills.

The key to the success of this week of immersion was the fusion of each student’s personal commitment to the process and openness to learning, fostered by our passionate and experienced staff.

Our keynote speaker was Margie Donovan, a past LightHouse Board Member and former Visual Impairment Services Team Coordinator for the VA in San Francisco who described her experiences as a blind Enchanted Hills Camper and about connecting with her peers and learning from them. She focused on how embracing challenges and being open to taking risks leads to being as independent as you want to be.

Our other exceptional facilitators included, Julie Bentley, Certified Life Coach; Haruyo Nishimura, Blind Field Services Counselor from the Department of Rehabilitation; and Theresa Stern and Jane Nagli from Guide Dogs for the Blind Student Outreach and Alumni Services. Volunteers Nanako Yamada, Dr. Richard Wolf and Lorraine Miller-Wolf provided their own expertise in the areas of teaching, taking care of the one’s health and exploring creative outlets.

Marlene Dunaway, Bernice Kistler and Braille and Living Skills teacher Divina Fontanilla taking a moment to chat before class

Throughout the week students had the opportunity to mingle, share and connect with each other, bringing their perspective, professional connections, and personal insights to the environment of learning. They came from all walks of life: employed, retired, students and still ‘undecided.’ Represented were artists, chefs, teachers, nurses, entrepreneurs, mothers, partners and friends. They came from as far south as Los Gatos and north to Crescent City.

Despite their diverse backgrounds, the participants discovered common ground. They found they are authors of their own narratives no matter what their eye condition, and no matter what other health conditions intersected their lives. With the adaptive skills and training learned during the week, they are ready to take risks and take charge of their lives.

Another training session is coming up! Join us. The next Changing Vision, Changing Life Immersion Retreat and Training will be held in September 2013, amidst the redwoods and fresh air of LightHouse’s Enchanted Hills Retreat.

For more information, please contact Debbie Bacon at 415-694-7375 or Del Norte and Humboldt county residents please contact Janet Pomerantz at 707-268-5646 or

Access Technology student teacher Juliannah Harris teaches students how to use the Victor Reader Stream (l to r, Perla Kohs, Juliannah Harris, Valli Ferrell, Greg Robinson, Marlene Dunaway)



Orientation & Mobility instructor Terry Wedler works with student Oma  Cardenas using a make-shift tactile map (photo credit: Lorraine Miller-Wolf)












The entire group: students, teachers and volunteers, pose for a photo under the cooling trees of Enchanted Hills, canes leaning to the right in synchronicity (photo credit: Lorraine Miller-Wolf)

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