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Earle Baum Center

How Cathy Mulhern’s Technology Journey Led Her to Teach at Earle Baum Center

How Cathy Mulhern’s Technology Journey Led Her to Teach at Earle Baum Center

Cathy, right, stands and smiles as she watches a client seated with their hand on a phone stand that can be used to take photos for text recognition. On the table are a piece of paper, a bag of chips and a Cup of Noodles.

In March, we introduced you to the Earle Baum Center, a blindness center in Santa Rosa that recently joined the LightHouse community. Now, we’re introducing you to the people who work there. First up, an interview with Earle Baum Senior Assistive Technology Specialist, Cathy Mulhern who’s been there since 2009.
 
How did you get interested in technology and technology training?
 
I’ve been working in the field of technology training for 33+ years. After high school, I went to Heald College to get some computer skills to help me get a decent paying entry-level job. I really enjoyed learning the computer and I ended up helping other students in class.

Next, I went to Santa Rosa Junior College to finish my education. During which, I found work which ended me up on the graveyard shift and was looking for other career opportunities. Fortunately, I was introduced to Anne Pierce, who worked for a vocational rehabilitation training facility and later opened J Bass & Associates vocational training. She needed a person who could temp for a week while an employee was on medical leave. So I temped, helping students learn how to do word processing and spreadsheets. I just loved it.
 
When the temp job was over, Anne said, “You know, if you really love doing this, there’s a job out there for you. You might think about starting your own business.” I saved a year’s worth of funding, and in 1990, I started my own business in computer training and consulting.
 
It was a wonderful experience. I wrote manuals for a leading real estate software program and taught workshops for people in the real estate industry. It evolved into doing corporate training and working with clients to help them set up their computer systems and teach them how to work within the new environment.
 
How did I get interested in training? Back when I started looking for a computer in college, the experience wasn’t good. I knew enough to be somewhat knowledgeable about what I wanted, but I didn’t have all the jargon down yet and I was made to feel belittled because of that. I didn’t like that experience. I thought “I can’t be the only person out there who doesn’t know the jargon.” And I thought, “Okay, this is where I can make a niche in life.”
 
So how did you get involved teaching technology to blind people?
 
I had a very close friend named Rochelle Doble. I was her computer consultant. One day she told me that she was losing her sight. She said that she and her husband were driving by a place called the Earle Baum Center. They saw the sign, but didn’t know what it meant, so they decided to drive in. She found out what was going on with her vision and what tools could help her, so that she could continue working in her husband’s office. I went through the learning journey with her.
 
Later, my grandfather passed away, so I became a fulltime caregiver to my grandmother. As a result, my computer training business took a backseat and eventually stopped. I took care of my grandmother until she passed away.
 
A couple months later, Rochelle asked, “Don’t you need a job?” I said, ‘Yes, I’m going to get back to work; I just don’t know what direction I want to go.”
 
She said, “Well, you know, Jacques Law [from Earle Baum Center] is coming over to set up my new computer, but he doesn’t know the medical software I use. Could you work with him and help him get that software set up?” Jacques and I had worked together in the past.
 
Two weeks later, Rochelle said, “Why don’t you call Jacques and see if they need somebody?”
 
I called Jacques and had an over-the-phone interview with Allan Brenner, CEO of Earle Baum Center of the Blind at the time, and a second interview with Allan and Jeff Harrington, Assistive Technology manager of Earle Baum. Two weeks later, I was hired.
 
That’s awesome.

Yes, it was, and it was an incredible fit. I started out doing in-house tech support. We were having problems with our website. I had taught beginning web design at Santa Rosa College, and I was asked to revamp the website. While doing so I learned more about website accessibility.
 
Because of my experience with Medisoft Medical software, I was then asked to assist in starting the Low Vision Clinic at Earle Baum Center.
 
Then an opportunity came up. They saw from my resumé that I had been a trainer and asked me if I was open to doing training again. I said, “Yes, definitely. That’s my niche in life; that’s what I do.” So I was assigned clients, and here I am.
 
Can you talk about what your job looks like day-to-day? How do you balance researching new gadgets and keeping up with computer software with client training?
 
Like everyone at Earle Baum Center, I wear many hats. I am an in-house technical support person, which includes assisting with computer-related issues, helping purchase computers and setting them up for staff. Otherwise, I am working with clients, mostly on a one-to-one basis. As Assistive Technology instructors, our main focus is face-to-face time with clients. When not working with clients, I am working on reports, communication follow-up with clients and preparing for the next client.
 
No matter how booked you are, you’re always going to have those days where you have cancellations. These are the times when I research new gadgets and update my computer software knowledge.
 
What are some of the most fun things you’ve done during your time at Earle Baum?
 
Working with clients and being part of their journey with sight loss. I saw one of my clients get her bachelor’s degree and then her master’s. She’s now working full time. I got to help her through that by providing assistive technology training. It’s great to see that growth from when a client first comes in and says, “How do I do this now? How am I going to get through school? How am I going to get a career?’ To see them go from that to exceeding and excelling is just phenomenal.
 
I also enjoyed working on a grant which allowed me to create a Seeing AI group training program.
 
Now that Lighthouse and Earle Baum have embarked on a new partnership, what are some of your hopes in regard to Earle Baum expanding their own services or doing things in conjunction with LightHouse?

I’d like to see LightHouse and Earle Baum Center both become more of a community again. I think COVID did impact that. I want to see more activities where people are coming to the Earle Baum campus, not just to get services but to have fun. I want to see things like beep baseball, music events and low vision and blind artists getting together and doing a jam session, not focusing on blindness, but their artistic side of life.
 
I feel blessed that we’re able to continue Earle Baum’s mission. Due to the partnership with LightHouse, Earle Baum isn’t closing. We’re not going away. We’re expanding the services and opportunities for our clients/students.
 
The Earle Baum Center is located at 4539 Occidental Rd, Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. If you are interested in services at Earle Baum, please call 707-523-3222 or visit earlebaum.org.

Come Celebrate World Labyrinth Day at EBC on May 4!

Come Celebrate World Labyrinth Day at EBC on May 4!

Saturday, May 4, is World Labyrinth Day! Come celebrate this peaceful holiday at Earle Baum Center of the Blind (EBC) in Santa Rosa. We invite the BVI community to enjoy EBC’s uniquely accessible Labyrinth, specifically designed by EBC staffer, Patricia Jefferson, to accommodate travelers using white canes, guide dogs, human guides and most wheelchairs. The path is a 39-inch-wide smooth concrete surface with a four-inch brick curb. In the center there is a Peace Pole as part of the right-side curb to orient the travelers.
 
The walk will be procession-style and there will be guides provided if assistance is needed. Join us for this meditative, peaceful gathering as our community walks together as one!

What: World Labyrinth Day Walk
When: Saturday, May 4, 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Where: Earle Baum Center, 4539 Occidental Road in Santa Rosa, 95401
RSVP: Please contact Patricia at PJefferson@lighthouse-sf.org
 
What is a Labyrinth?
 
A Labyrinth is an intricate network of passages or paths in which it can be difficult to navigate upon first observation. They are typically formed as a circle with a singular path leading to the center, almost like a maze. The practice of designing and walking Labyrinths is an ancient spiritual tool meant to foster contemplation, spiritual transformation, and philosophical ideals. Many find inner peace and solace while walking a Labyrinth, leaving their worries outside the paths and letting their mind and bodies wander freely through the Labyrinth.

Meet EBC!

Meet EBC!

As many of our newsletter subscribers may remember, we excitedly announced our collaboration with fellow blindness agency, the Earle Baum Center (EBC) in Santa Rosa, who have joined the LightHouse community. As we move forward together with the shared mission of providing opportunity, education, employment and support for blind and low vision individuals by blind and low vision individuals, we’d like to properly introduce our friends at EBC to the LightHouse community!
 
The History of Earle Baum Center
A black-nd-white photo of Earle Baum sitting and holding a cane with a curved topEarle Baum was born in 1896 on his family’s farm just west of Santa Rosa. This homesteaded property had been in the Baum family since 1856. By age 17, Baum had lost substantial sight, most likely from retinitis pigmentosa, the number one cause of congenital blindness. A star pupil at Santa Rosa High, Earle had dreamed of a writing career.
 
With his sight loss, his aspirations of being a journalist were dashed. Earle Baum remained determined, working the farm, tending the animals and planting, cultivating, pruning, and harvesting the farm’s seasonal bounty. Earle Baum was both remarkable and ordinary. His farm-based life was certainly ordinary for the times in which he lived, yet most remarkable was the vivacious way he went about living it. He remained on the farm until his death in 1986 at the age of 90.
 
Today, the Earle Baum Center provides the means and facilities by which people of all ages with visual impairment develop the skills and build the confidence needed to live productive and fulfilling lives. The uniqueness of the Earle Baum Center is the way blind and visually impaired people share within their community the knowledge and techniques that have proven to be successful, building upon that foundation with a variety of programs, activities and opportunities.
 
We encourage the LightHouse community to check out the service and recreational programs provided by EBC. Many of their programs are virtual and can be attended remotely. And, of course, if you know of anyone who would benefit from the opportunities Earle Baum provides, please spread the word! You can find EBC programs listed on the LightHouse web calendar or go to the Earle Baum Center website for more information about the services, staff, and beautiful campus of EBC in Santa Rosa.

Charting a New Path: Earle Baum Center and LightHouse Unite

Charting a New Path: Earle Baum Center and LightHouse Unite

Today, we are thrilled to announce a significant milestone in the history of LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Earle Baum Center of the Blind. Earle Baum Center is officially joining the LightHouse community, bringing together two esteemed organizations whose missions align: Creating opportunity and independence for people who are blind and low vision.

One of the country’s leading service providers for blind and low vision people, LightHouse offers programs including workforce development, services specifically for people who are DeafBlind, and the Little Learners program working with families of young children experiencing visual impairments.

Earle Baum Center, named for a blind farmer and advocate for the blind Earle Baum, is a pillar of service for the blind and visually impaired communities in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Mendocino, and other Northern California counties. LightHouse plans to foster and expand the deep legacy of the Earle Baum Center developed during its 24 years serving clients.

“LightHouse’s partnership with the Earle Baum Center means we’ll be able to provide contiguous services to the blind and low vision community from Silicon Valley all the way to the Oregon border,” said LightHouse Chief Executive Officer Sharon Giovanazzo.

“It has been an absolute honor to work with Northern California’s visually impaired residents at the Earle Baum Center,” said Kati Aho, Earle Baum Center’s director of operations. “I’m so excited to continue that work — and for the opportunities for sustainability, innovation, and expansion — as part of this partnership with LightHouse.”