Redwood trees at EHC with a photo of Kathryn Webster, the LightHouse Gala logo, and Laura Allen

Gala Committee Chairs Share Why They Are So Passionate about EHC and the Gala’s Success

Spring has sprung, Enchanted Hills Summer Camp season is just around the corner, and the LightHouse Gala: An Enchanted Evening is just four months away! Our gala committee has been busy working out every detail to bring all the beauty and wonder of Enchanted Hills Camp (EHC) to the grand ballroom of the Westin St. Francis Hotel this August. With all these exciting plans in motion, we decided to sit down with LightHouse board members and gala committee chairs, Laura Allen and Kathryn Webster, to give our Lately readers the inside scoop and share why they are so dedicated to making this year’s gala a truly incredible experience for all our attendees.
Why have you volunteered to be on the LightHouse Gala Committee?
Kathryn: “The short answer? I absolutely love galas and I love event planning. But to me, of course the gala is a fundraiser, but it’s really more about broadening awareness of the work that we’re doing, so every person in their seat during the event is learning something new. It’ll be so great having the opportunity to see people really react to the impact that LightHouse is making. I think that’s what gets me super excited, and being in the co-chair seat with Laura, we get to structure it in a way where we’re making an experience for folks more so than just a fundraiser. That’s what got me really excited to be in this leadership role.”
Laura: “In my role at Google, I’ve done a lot of different things over the years. A few years ago, I was one of the people who helped to put on our different events for Google Accessibility – the  big conferences and whatnot. I think there’s just something really special about the ability to bring the community together in a physical place and celebrate. Especially as we’ve gone through the pandemic, so much has been virtual and many of us are remote, I think that this gala will be a really special moment for LightHouse. Being able to bring the community back together in person to celebrate this incredible cause [Enchanted Hills Camp] and have a wonderful time as one community is what made me want to be part of the gala committee.”
What is your connection to Enchanted Hills Camp?
Kathryn: “I think a really unique thing about Enchanted Hills Camp is how it brings the community in, whether they are from other blindness organizations or are folks who are new to blindness and low vision; it gives people that experience of camping and walking around in a beautiful area in California, and interacting in some of the extracurricular activities that they may not have been exposed to in the world outside of EHC. To me, that’s the biggest draw. It sounds cliché, but it is absolutely a beautiful place where so many memories can be built. It’s very special, and I think the community bonds and the conversations that happen there are really what drew me to being so passionate about, of course, rebuilding camp [after the 2017 Napa wildfires] but also making sure that we’re bringing new people in to experience the beauty and opportunity that we’ve built as LightHouse at Enchanted Hills Camp.”
Laura: “I wish that I had had a camp like EHC to go to when I was younger. I grew up in New Jersey. I didn’t really have anybody in my circle who could relate to losing vision. I am low vision; I have a rare visual condition that impacts my central vision. I lost central vision in both eyes very abruptly when I was young, and I navigated that journey very alone. It’s incredible the way that EHC brings blind children and their families and blind adults together to learn from each other and share their experiences. It’s something so many blind people can benefit from – just feeling that sense of belonging. It’s something I wish I had when I was younger.”
If you had the opportunity to have attended EHC as a child, how do you think that would have affected you?
Laura: It would have given me a lot more confidence as a preteen and a teenager. I didn’t know anybody who experienced a similar sort of vision loss, or more vision loss than me until I got to Google. I didn’t have anybody in my circle who was blind or had low vision. If I had that sense of community when I was younger, I think it would have been very life-changing. I think it would have given me confidence in how to navigate vision loss and would have taught me how to be proud of my disability. Having pride in one’s disability is a journey, and it’s a spectrum. I’ve gotten to the point now, where I can absolutely say, ‘Yes, I am so proud to have my visual condition. I’m proud to be in the disability community. I am proud to work on accessibility at Google, and level the playing fields for people with disabilities through the use of technology,’ but I was not always that way. Experiencing the empowerment campers feel at EHC as a child, to find friends who were navigating something similar, that would have been so valuable.
Kathryn: “I completely agree. For me, I lost my vision fully when I was 22, but prior to that, I had a ton of residual vision, and then less and less and less. I also was the only visually impaired or blind person in my high school and throughout college. I didn’t have a blind person to look to and think, ‘I can do this!’ I never knew what opportunities I could have. I didn’t grow up seeing representation of folks who are blind, let alone have the experience of going to camp for blind people! Even just, you know, going kayaking, swimming, running around like ‘normal kids,’ all that kind of stuff. I wish I would have had exposure to blindness early on and built those connections and friendships and have had those shared feelings rather than the internal struggle. And that’s always my goal with the EHC – that we can spread the word and get as many people as possible to experience what EHC has to offer, for both kids and their families. I think the family experience is a big piece, too.”
What are your goals for this gala?
Laura: “Yes, raising funds is a big piece of this because camp was jeopardized. Camp was hugely harmed by the fires, and some of the rebuild has started, of course. But what we really hope the gala does is bring camp back to better than ever. We want to be able to help the most people we possibly can in the years to come. I feel like the impact of EHC on campers’ lives is a story that needs to be told.” 
Kathryn: “I love the concept of having campers in the seats of the gala along with our donors, board members and staff members, and then brand-new people that have never heard of us. Letting gala guests hear from the campers directly and building those connections is so important. Telling the story of who we are and everything else LightHouse does, and how every piece of the gala will be centered around blindness – having a blind musician, having a keynote speaker who has vision loss, etc. I think seeing all those pieces put together will be really remarkable to watch. For others to see the power and hear the voices of so many blind people within one room will be so, so special.”
Aside from the community building, storytelling, and fundraising we hope to achieve at An Enchanted Evening on August 19, 2023, what else are you most excited for?
Kathryn: “Dancing! I’m also really excited for the giant wooden tactile art piece that is being made for the gala. I can’t wait to run my fingers over the EHC landscape they are re-creating – it’s going to be incredible! I think everyone, blind and sighted, is really going to love it!”
Laura: “I’m just so excited to see everyone together in one room, and meeting people in person – some for the first time!”
You can purchase tickets to An Enchanted Evening on August 19, 2023, on the LightHouse Gala website. For information about sponsorship tiers, donations, or in kind auction item donations, or general gala information, visit LightHouse gala website.