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LightHouse Welcomes New Chief Executive Officer, Sharon Giovinazzo!

LightHouse Welcomes New Chief Executive Officer, Sharon Giovinazzo!

We are excited to announce that Sharon Giovinazzo has been named as our new  Chief Executive Officer and will be joining us in this role on October 25.

Sharon Giovinazzo brings more than two decades of experience leading organizations dedicated to advocating for and serving the needs of the blind and visually impaired. She will join LightHouse after serving as President and CEO of the World Services for the Blind.

“I am honored to join the leadership team at LightHouse as its new CEO,” said Sharon Giovinazzo. “This organization has a long and successful track record of driving and achieving independence, equality and self-reliance for the community. This commitment to a focused driven mission, impact and success mirrors my own values, and I look forward to working with a dynamic team to advance the organization’s priorities and expand its reach.”

In her new role as CEO of LightHouse, Giovinazzo will be responsible for leading the organization’s dedicated team of blindness advocates, educators, and professionals while growing the value of the organization to its members, donors, sponsors, partners, and other stakeholders. She will drive efforts to promote the independence and equality of the community, while strengthening the organization and its programs.

“We’re pleased that Sharon will join us as CEO of LightHouse,” said Dr Sharon Sacks, LightHouse Board Chair. “Her strategic drive and her long, distinguished career advocating for and guiding the community make her the perfect choice to lead the LightHouse into the next phase of its development. We’re thrilled to welcome her aboard.”

Giovinazzo brings extensive experience in organizational management, strategic planning, community impact, public policy and advocacy. Prior to her role as President and CEO of the World Services for the Blind, she served for nearly a decade in various roles for the Raleigh Lions Clinic for the Blind (RLCB) where she assisted in the development and implementation of the agency’s $34 million budget, including determining staffing and operational needs and expenditures.

Prior to that, during her tenure with National Industries for the Blind (NIB), Giovinazzo is credited with providing the leadership for cultivating and understanding the AbilityOne programs with Congress, Federal Executive Branch Agencies, consumer and commercial organizations concerned with disability policy. Throughout her career, Sharon has been an advocate for public policy in legislative affairs and regulations. Prior to the NIB, she held positions with the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI) in Utica, NY; was appointed Chair to the State Rehabilitation Council in 2006 and supervised the operations of a DEPMEDS training facility with the US Army.

Sharon Giovinazzo holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Services Management from SUNY Empire State College and a dual master’s as an MSW and an MBA. Additionally, she holds a Certificate of Management in Business Administration from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

We look forward to welcoming Sharon Giovinazzo to LightHouse  next month!

Join Us for the Sirkin Center Grand Opening

Join Us for the Sirkin Center Grand Opening

We warmly extend an invitation to the members of our community to attend the Grand Opening of our new Sirkin Center in Alameda. Named after the extremely successful businessman and LightHouse’s most significant donor to date, Donald Sirkin, the Sirkin Center is the entrepreneurial heart of a growing set of social ventures and light manufacturing run by the LightHouse for the Blind. 
  
At the Sirkin Center, we aim to employ individuals who are blind and manufacture the highest quality eco-friendly cleaning products and tissue packets. These products, which serve communities and companies around the world, will provide the utmost utility to clients, and demonstrate our commitment to the employment of people who are blind or have low vision and caliber of our Center. 
  
On Friday, October 28, we invite students, supporters, and local leaders to join the Mayor of Alameda, Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and LightHouse staff in celebrating the Grand Opening! Tours of our beautiful new facility will be held every 30 minutes from 10 AM to 3 PM. Enjoy exhibits from LightHouse’s Media and Accessible Design Lab (MAD Lab), Adaptations store, Enchanted Hills Camp, and other LightHouse programs throughout the day. The Opening Ceremony will begin at 4 PM with a reception to follow at 5 PM. Light refreshments will be served in the morning, and a wine and beer happy hour will be served during the evening reception. We hope you all can join us in celebrating this momentous occasion! Please see further details below: 
  
What: Sirkin Center Grand Opening 
Where: 2175 North Loop Road, Alameda, CA 94502 
When: Tours will be held from 10 AM – 3 PM, ceremony and reception will be from 4 – 6 PM 
Transportation: LightHouse vans will be available for shuttle service from Oakland Coliseum BART station to the Sirkin Center at quarter to the hour, every hour, from 9:45 AM – 3:45 PM.  
RSVP: Please register here 
  
For more information, please contact Carin Elam at celam@lighthouse-sf.org or by calling 415-694-7681. 

And the 2022 Holman Prizewinners Are…

And the 2022 Holman Prizewinners Are…

We are pleased to announce the winners of the sixth annual Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. The Holman Prize awards up to $25,000 each to three blind people who have ambitious ideas that challenge misperceptions about blindness while also challenging themselves. The Holman Prize is named for James Holman, a 19th century blind explorer who was the most prolific private traveler of anyone, blind or sighted, before the era of modern transportation.  

In July, an international panel of 10 blind leaders spent two days selecting the three winners of this year’s prize. 

Introducing The 2022 Holman Prizewinners  

Abby Griffith, 28 – United States 

Photo caption: Abby Griffith sitting at her desk

Griffith will empower blind and low vision youth in Ethiopia by providing Braille reading and writing devices to students at the School for the Blind in Wolayta. When told over Zoom that she had won, Griffith covered her face in astonishment and cried tears of happiness, grateful for the opportunity to fund services for economically disadvantaged blind youth in her native Ethiopia.   

Holman Prize judge and blind chemist, Dr. Hoby Wedler said, “Abby is a truly extraordinary blind leader. She came to the United States, learned how to use assistive technology, and wants to bring her learnings of access tech and braille back to her homeland! This is truly remarkable and game changing.  

Cassie Hames, 33 – Australia  

Photo caption: Cassie standing at a bus stop wearing a reflective vest and holding her cane

Hames will develop “See Me,” an app that communicates with bus drivers to request them to stop to allow a visually impaired person to board, making independent travel on public transportation safer and more accessible for the blind. Hames’ exact response upon being told she is one of this year’s winners was, “Holy moly!” followed by an eruption of laughter and tears of shock and joy. 

Holman Prize judge and blind author, Dr. M. Leona Godin, said, “I was struck by Cassie’s tenacity demonstrated in her 90 second video pitch. Cassie is a woman with a clear and important project, and the will and ability to make it happen.”  

Tafadzwa Nyamuzihwa, 38 – Germany 

Photo caption: Tafadzwa speaking into a microphone

Nyamuzihwa, an experienced DJ, will open recording studios in Zimbabwe and Uganda that will employ and train blind and low vision people to become radio presenters. When informed that he had won, Nyamuzihwa began dancing around the room.  
 
Sarah Harris, Disability Rights Advocate and Holman Prize judge said, “Tafadzwa’s insight and passion to change perspectives and stigmas in regard to blindness are thoughtful and heartfelt.” 

LightHouse is thrilled to have Waymo as a partner and thanks them for their generosity in sponsoring of one of the three prizes this year.  

For more information contact 
Christina Daniels at 415-694-7315 or press@lighthouse-sf.org 
About the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired 
Founded in 1902, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired is the largest organization in Northern California providing skills, resources and community for the advancement of all individuals who are blind or have low vision.  
Email: info@lighthouse-sf.org and visit: 
www.lighthouse-sf.org/Holman-prize 

Polishing to Perfection Now Meets In-Person

Polishing to Perfection Now Meets In-Person

Over the last few years, many blind and low vision teens and young adults who attended Enchanted Hills summer camp have learned the wood crafting skills needed to polish a piece of wood into a piece of art. Throughout the pandemic, these dedicated students of the Polishing to Perfection club met virtually to keep up the hobby and stay connected with their blind and low vision friends. Now that many are feeling safe enough to gather for in-person programs, we are excited to host Polishing in the Park.
 
These new polishing parties in the park will take place on the third Saturday of the month from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm at rotating parks around the Bay Area. Each gathering will have time dedicated to students to update each other about their projects, learn a little about that month’s mentor, and most importantly, time to hang out and polish with their blind and low vision friends. Students who sign up for the program will receive the basic materials and equipment to get started with wood polishing. Students who remain active in the program and improve their skills will become eligible for additional raw materials that they can turn into art.
 
So, pack up your woodworking gear and join us Saturday, September 17, for Polishing in the Park at Lake Merritt in Oakland! See full event details below:
 
Who: LightHouse youth who are blind or have low vision
When: Saturday, September 17, from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Where: Lake Merritt Amphitheater at Lake Merritt (near the intersection of Lake Merritt Blvd and 11th St)
RSVP: Please contact Jamey Gump by email at JGump@LightHouse-sf.org or by phone at 415-694-7372. Light refreshments and polishing supplies will be provided for students who RSVP by Friday September 16.
 
We can’t wait to see you at the very first Polishing in the Park!

Another Great YES Summer Academy Completed

Another Great YES Summer Academy Completed

Photo 1: YES Academy students gather together at a Muni station in San Francisco. From left to right: Daisy Soto (YES Coordinator), Monse, Adam, Heriberto, Omar, Nicole (mentor), Eman, Katya, Rocco, Jisselle (mentor), Andrew (mentor), and Dlan

Photo 2:  YES Summer Academy students Rocco, Hari and Adam pose together in front of a heart sculpture at Pier 39 in San Francisco

This summer, eight high school and college students joined LightHouse for our annual YES (Youth Employment Services) Academy. LightHouse Youth Services Coordinator, Daisy Soto, recaps the experience:

This year’s YES Summer Academy students spent 28 days learning and honing skills that will help prepare them for the workforce. During their first week, students received lessons from LightHouse staff on Orientation & Mobility (O&M), Independent Living Skills, and Access Technology essentials for employment. The second week focused on community-building and navigation skills. With the support of Youth Program staff and mentors, participants independently navigated new locations such as Angel Island, San Francisco State University, and Peer 39. They had the opportunity to take a variety of public transit systems (BART, Muni, cable cars, ferry, etc.) and worked on problem-solving strategies when exploring all of these new locations.

During their last two weeks, all students successfully completed their work experience practicums, which included some working as janitorial and food safety assistants and internships at LightHouse Sirkin Center. Weekends were filled with cooking challenges, walks on the Golden Gate Bridge and around Lake Merritt in Oakland, and an abundance of karaoke nights! YES participants left the program with not only an updated cover letter, resume, and job experiences in hand, but with increased pride and confidence as they take on employment and educational goals. It was certainly a summer filled with laughter and learning for all!

Photo 3: YES Academy student Hari explores a tactile map with LightHouse Orientation & Mobility Instructor Joshua Lopez

Photo 4: YES Summer Academy students and staff member cooking dinner in the accessible kitchen at LightHouse. From left to right: Dlan, Katya, Devin Upson (LightHouse Orientation & Mobility Instructor), and Rocco

As we wrap up a successful summer, the LightHouse Youth Programs team welcomes a new season filled with an array of educational, social, and recreational programs for youth and transition-aged students. Join like-minded blind and low vision academics for College Spaces, create cool art with fellow woodworkers in-person with Polishing in the Park, or hang out with your LightHouse and EHC besties every Friday night for the weekly virtual Daredevils watch party. Also this fall, LightHouse students ages 16 – 25 have the opportunity to join the LightHouse Youth Council. Do you have an idea for future programs or want to make a positive impact in your community? Learn more about the LightHouse Youth Council here. We look forward to an awesome autumn with the LightHouse Youth Programs team!

A Summer Recap from Our 2021 Holman Prizewinners

A Summer Recap from Our 2021 Holman Prizewinners

Our 2021 Holman Prizewinners, Maud Rowell, Aaron Cannon and Robert Malunda have all been busily working through their Holman Prize year. Here’s an update on what they’ve been up to this summer.

Maud Rowell

Photo caption: Maud Rowell standing near the water on Shiraishi Island, wearing a long blue dress

Maud Rowell is in Japan, traveling across the country independently, including visits to rural and remote areas, solely by foot and public transportation. She writes:

“After arriving in Japan at the start of June in an empty airport, I made my way to the northernmost island to begin my journey. There, I spent ten days living in a ramen shop in an Ainu (who are indigenous people of northern Japan) village, saw pools of Sulphur and rising smoke in Hell Valley, walked among fields of multicolored flowers, and climbed a mountain to see the sun set and the moon rise from the top. 

“Next, I began moving south, enjoying Shinto festivals, stunning coastal walks, fields of free horses, mountaintop temples, rainbows, jellyfish, and brilliant green crater lakes, all in the region north of Tokyo. I continued south, spending a week on a remote island in the Inland Sea with fewer than 400 inhabitants and a single small grocery store. On this island, I explored ancient shrines and pilgrimage routes in the mountains, went kayaking, and saw spectacular sunsets every single night. 

“I am now in Hiroshima prefecture, having spent a few days in the city visiting the Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima Castle, and the famous gardens Shukkei-en. I’m spending time on the island of Miyajima, climbing more mountains, wandering among deer, and painting the shrine that floats on top of the water when the tide comes in. 

I’ve been lucky in the way of kind people, great food, and many wonderful and interesting things that I’m excited to try to bring to life with the book and the photographs I’m taking!”

Want to follow Maud’s journey, visit her Instagram account, @where.birds.wont.go.

Aaron Cannon

Aaeon Cannon

Photo caption: A portrait of Aaron Cannon

Aaron created Lower Dots, which shows how blind people can learn to do math accessibly and will soon be hosted on a website. Here’s what he’s been up to this summer:

“On Thursday, July 7, I had the opportunity to address the Science and Engineering Division of the National Federation of the Blind at their convention in New Orleans, Louisiana. This opportunity seemed particularly appropriate for this project, as there were a couple other presentations which dealt with math education. One which was particularly notable for me was a presentation on a new Nemeth Code curriculum and a free online Nemeth symbol reference library. I have no doubt that the symbol reference site in particular will be invaluable to both me, and Lower Dots users. 

“In my presentation, I talked about my guiding principles for the project, such as that it be free forever, both in terms of cost and in terms of licensing (Creative Commons). Another principle that I discussed was that the site needs to serve the lowest common denominator, i.e. people with no braille display, people with only a free screen reader, and people on very low bandwidth connections. In addition, I took the opportunity to play a brief demo of the lesson page, which is arguably the true heart of the website.”

Robert Malunda

Photo caption: Robert Malunda trains students on keyboards in a library in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Robert is providing Access Technology, Orientation & Mobility and social skills training to blind Zimbabweans in rural locations through his organization Gateway to Elation. He writes:

In July and August, I reached seven students face-to-face and twenty online, mostly in the city of Bulawayo. I also increased online lessons in orientation & mobility.

“At Gateway to Elation, learning online involves experimenting on apps. In July, I focused on Zoom and Clubhouse. Due to COVID-19 regulations events like church services, schools and other activities are now happening online on places like Clubhouse and Zoom, so blind people do not have to be left out as they seek access to information and knowledge.”

Navigating Campus with the SunuBand from Adaptations

As many of us are heading back to school or back to work after the summer break, there’s no better time to sharpen your independent traveling skills. Whether you are exploring a new campus or commuting to a familiar space, the SunuBand is a super helpful device for any blind, Deafblind, or low vision traveler.
 
The SunuBand is worn like a watch and contains a small sensor that detects objects within a set distance. Set it to Indoor Mode to detect objects like furniture and doorways at a close distance, and Outdoor Mode extends the detection range to several meters. Simply turn your wrist to aim the sensor. When the unit is quiet, the path is clear—if it begins to vibrate, the user knows they are approaching an obstacle in their way. 
 
Waiting in line at the campus bookstore? The SunuBand can help you keep your spot in line while still remaining a respectful distance from the person in front of you. The tiny sensor will vibrate to indicate when you are too close, and as the vibration subsides, you’ll be alerted that the line is moving forward.  
 
Navigating busy streets, sidewalks, and crosswalks has never been easier. The SunuBand will alert you to both moving and still objects in your pathway. It’s a favorite of Orientation & Mobily (O&M) professionals around the world, and it can add a layer of dimension to a blind person’s travel that helps avoid those objects at face-level that our canes miss. The device also pairs seamlessly with a smart phone app, making setting and controlling alerts from the device even easier. Whether you are a cane-user or have a guide dog, the SunuBand is the perfect companion device.
 
Pick up your SunuBand from Adaptations by ordering online for the unbelievably low price of just $179. You can also call 888-400-8933 or email adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org to have it shipped to you, or to make an appointment to buy it in person. Order yours today before they sell out!

Remembering Holman Prizewinner Ojok Simon

Remembering Holman Prizewinner Ojok Simon

Ojok Simon smiles at the beach

t is with great sadness and a heavy heart we share the passing of our dear friend and 2017 Holman Prizewinner, Ojok Simon. On July 25, Ojok passed away in his home of Gulu, Uganda and is survived by his loving wife and five children.  

Ojok Simon was one of three recipients of the very first Holman Prize in 2017. For those who may not know about the Holman Prize: each year LightHouse awards three blind people worldwide $25,000 to achieve an ambition over a 12-month period. Ojok’s ambition was to train other blind Ugandans to support themselves and their families by becoming beekeepers like him. In Ojok’s Holman Prize pitch video, he talks about his childhood and growing up in rural Uganda – how he was not able to go out in the bush to hunt for wild honey like his brothers, and how he eventually trained himself to safely and successfully  become a beekeeper. You can hear Ojok tell his story to the Holman Prize team in this YouTube video. 

Ojok in protective clothing smiles and holds up a honeycomb covered in bees
Hive Uganda beekeepers harvesting honey at night
Ojok Simon and others smile holding up a stack of honey jars

During his Holman Prize year, Ojok achieved his goal and trained over 50 blind people to become successful beekeepers. He was a mentor and leader in the blind community in Gulu. His legacy, HIVE Uganda, is a thriving organization today.  

Those who had the privilege of meeting and knowing Ojok have very kind words to say about him. 

Fellow 2017 Holman Prizewinner, Ahmet Ustunel, wanted to share this about his friend: 

“I am so sorry for our loss. It was great to get to know Ojok. Although we only spent a few days together in San Francisco during the Holman Prize orientation, it was enough time to become good friends with him. We kept in touch for the last four years. I’ll always remember him as a fun, happy, positive and generous person. My first memory of Ojok was the two of us running together towards the ocean. It was his first time seeing the Pacific Ocean. It was so great to be part of that moment and share his joy.” 

The three 2017 Holman Prizewinners, Ahmet, Penny and Ojok, pose together at the beach in San Francisco

Fellow 2017 Holman Prizewinner and friend, Penny Melville-Brown, shares her sense of loss and sympathies: 

“I am very staggered to learn of Ojok’s passing.  I have been in contact with him just recently about beekeeping as we also have bees here in Hampshire, UK.  We have been looking for ways that English beekeepers could learn from and support his activities in Uganda where he has been a leading light in training other blind people in this ancient craft, giving them more personal and financial independence.  

“I was honored to have spent time with him in San Francisco in 2017 when we were just setting out on our Holman adventures and, then again in 2018, when we each gave presentations about our achievements and successes to the gala dinner. He had certainly used his prize to improve the lives of many other blind men and women in his country while also spreading his vigor, humor and determination to an international audience. It was a delight to have known him and I’m glad that my book captures just a glimpse of his wonderful personality. He was a fabulous force of nature, an inspiration to everyone (whether a beekeeper or blind person). I am proud to have known him, been a peripheral part of his world and a shadow of his burning passion to change life for others with visual impairment. He is a huge loss to the international blind and beekeeping communities. My heart goes out to his family and friends who will be mourning this gaping hole in their lives.” 

Holman Prize judge and former LightHouse Board member, Hoby Wedler, remembers Ojok fondly: 

“Ojok was a true leader in the blindness world and had a joy of life that was infectious. I vividly recall his enthusiasm, charismatic nature, and excitement for his Holman Prize opportunity.” 

LightHouse and the Holman Prize alumni send their deepest condolences to Ojok’s loved ones. We are proud to have known and worked with Ojok Simon, to have watched his achievements with HIVE Uganda, and to honor his life, his legacy, and his leadership in the blind community.  

To read more about Ojok and his time with LightHouse as a Holman Prizewinner, here are links to a June 2017 LightHouse interview with Ojok shortly after he was announced as a winner and an August 2017 LightHouse interview with Ojok when he was nearing the end of his Holman Prize year.

Please note: an online giving fund is being set up to support Ojok’s family. We will share more information on this in the coming weeks.

Join the 2022-23 EHC and Youth Program Council

Join the 2022-23 EHC and Youth Program Council

At the LightHouse, we take great pride in having a strong community filled with many wonderful people. To help us provide the best programs for our community, we seek guidance from our EHC and Youth Program Council to help us shape programs and activities that youth who are blind or have low vision need and want. In addition to viable feedback, the Youth Council will provide additional leadership opportunities and trainings throughout the year. For additional information about the duties and responsibilities of a Youth Council Member and how to apply, see details below:

What are the benefits of serving as a member of the EHC and Youth Program Council?

  • Organizationally recognized and documented volunteer hours for council meetings, trainings, and leadership roles
  • Opportunities to practice skills in public speaking, leadership, and team management
  • Learn the goals and objectives of program design for LightHouse Youth Programs and Enchanted Hills Camp
  • Earn LightHouse swag pack (items will be determined and distributed at the end of the service year)

What are we asking of the members of the EHC and Youth Program Council?

  • Attend and participate in our monthly EHC and Youth Program Council meetings
  • Provide feedback, new ideas or make LightHouse aware of other activities that other blind and low vision youth might enjoy or benefit from
  • Support LightHouse and EHC programs by volunteering 10 hours of your time during Youth Programs in one of the below roles:
    • Direct program support
    • Recruitment and speaking engagements
    • Promotional support (photos, stories, social media posts)
  • Take part in rotating leadership roles during the council monthly meetings including chairperson and notetaker
  • Attend LightHouse trainings
    • Volunteer Orientation (if you have not done so in the past)
    • LightHouse public Board of Directors meeting (next one on November 3)

How does one become an EHC and Youth Program Council member?

  • To qualify you must be:
    • A student who is blind or has low vision
    • Between the ages of 16 and 25
    • Has previously participated in a LightHouse or EHC program
  • To apply send an email no later than August 31 to youth@LightHouse-sf.org with the following:
    • Cover letter or a statement of interest, addressing why you wish to be a member of the EHC and Youth Program Council
    • Contact information for one of the following references:
      • Teacher, TVI, or O&M specialist
      • LightHouse Staff member, YES Academy Summer Mentor, or EHC Camp Counselor
      • A former or current member of EHC and Youth Program Council

If you have any questions about the EHC and LightHouse Youth Program Council, please email youth@LightHouse-sf.org

The Gift of Early Literacy

The Gift of Early Literacy

Photo Caption: A Little Learner rests on his mother’s lap and smiles as he reaches to touch a picture of a brown dog’s face in the book, “That’s Not My Puppy.”
By Pam Chapin, LightHouse Little Learners Program Director
 
LightHouse Little Learners received an amazing gift! Our wonderful friends at Seedlings Braille Books for Children shared over 200 Braille board books that will enable children and families to receive the gift of early literacy in their homes.
 
Cuddling up with your child to read together is a wonderful way to introduce books to infants and toddlers. Early literacy includes all manner of discovering stories through listening, exploring tactile images and colorful pictures, Braille, and print. Babies delight in sharing the rhythm and rhyme of a story and helping to turn the pages. Storytime can be explored at your baby’s own pace and can include songs and experiences that reinforce the concepts presented in the story. Siblings and older children make wonderful reading partners for your little learner and can help foster a shared love of stories and family reading routines.
 
We are deeply grateful to Debra Bonde and the dedicated team at Seedlings for making books accessible to all our little learners!
 
If you would like to learn more about Seedlings programs or explore their selection of Braille books for all age groups, visit their website seedlings.org or connect with them on their toll-free number: 800-777-8552 or by email: info@seedlings.org.
 
Happy reading.