Staff Profile: Jeff Carlson – LightHouse of Marin’s Stellar Social Worker

Jeff Carlson has been a Social Worker at the LightHouse for more than 20 years. Through the years he remains thorough and responsive as he helps our constituents navigate their changing vision. He told us, “It is both an honor and a pleasure to work not only with the talented and caring LightHouse staff, but also with my blind students who trust me to provide them guidance about available resources and support as well as training options.”

Born and raised in Minneapolis, MN, at age 10 Jeff moved with his family to the Bay Area. He attended UC Berkeley where his interest in helping others led him to study Psychology. It was at Berkeley that Jeff began to appreciate the needs of our community; during Jeff’s senior year at Berkeley, he became a reader for a fellow psychology classmate, Gonzalo, who was blind. Jeff remembers with pleasure reading textbooks and recording the material on cassettes with Gonzalo, until his graduation. This formative experience exposed Jeff to the unique needs of blind and visually impaired individuals, such as alternative formats for text, access to information and services as well as the use of dog guides and white canes.

After earning his B.A., Jeff received his Masters in Social Welfare from Berkeley. His first job after earning his M.S.W. was at the ARC in San Francisco, where Jeff worked with developmentally disabled adults by providing them with social services, and connecting them to critical agencies and support lifelines. In 1989, after four rewarding years at the ARCSF, Jeff ran across a LightHouse job announcement for a social worker. He was immediately drawn to the posting because of his prior experience with his blind classmate. Jeff’s compassionate and amiable nature made a strong impression on his interviewers and he began his career at the LightHouse, at its old 10th Street, San Francisco location.

Jeff started out working full time in the San Francisco office but as the workload in our Marin office (now housed in the Whistlestop Active Aging Center) increased he began to spend more hours there. These days he is at the Marin office four days a week where he helps students connect to LightHouse services and other community resources that can help them achieve their goals. He checks in with his students to find out how they are doing with their vision and whether they need additional training. He also facilitates and supervises various support groups.

When asked what makes our Marin location different from our other locations, he said, “The LightHouse’s presence within Whistlestop is quite an advantage to those we serve. We share a large building with several different social services agencies geared towards active aging adults.” One of his proudest achievements in the North Bay is his cultivation and development of a senior blind men’s support group, which has not only increased the participation of men in Marin LightHouse activities, but also connected them to other community resources. In 2013, Jeff became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), furthering his goal to help more people in need of services.

LightHouse hasn’t been all work and no play for Jeff – it is here that he met his wife, Divina Fontanilla-Carlson. It was at a LightHouse activity that their paths first crossed and the two officially tied the knot this year. When Jeff is not at work, he can be found scaling mountains and angling for rainbow and golden trout. He has backpacked with his father and friends over some impressive peaks, including Mt. Whitney in the Eastern Sierras. He also likes travelling with Divina to warm weather climates like Hawaii and Mexico.

Jeff’s guiding principle in life is simple, we’ve all heard it before – treat other as you would like to be treated. It’s clear from Jeff’s time at LightHouse that Jeff walks the walk. He treats everyone – students, staff, and complete strangers – with the utmost respect. He is compassionate, dedicated, and not afraid to get his hands dirty to help someone in need. And Jeff’s impact on our clients is palpable; LightHouse regularly receives feedback from clients praising Jeff’s commitment to helping others. LightHouse is fortunate to have Jeff as a part of our team.

Jeff Carlson