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LightHouse Staffers Reflect on Their Pandemic Year

LightHouse Staffers Reflect on Their Pandemic Year

March 16 2021 marked the one-year anniversary of most LightHouse staff working from home due to the pandemic. For many it has been the most challenging year of their lives, in many ways.

We present an ongoing series of reflections from various LightHouse Staffers about their experiences.

Jaclyne Atoigue 
Tony Fletcher
Jennifer Sachs

Jaclyne Atoigue, Administrative Assistant

 

Jaclyne and her family standing outdoors

I have been working from home most of the year, thankfully, especially since my four children have been distance learning. My children are aged 13, 12, 10 and 6. I am so happy to see progress towards reopening the LightHouse, the creation of the BIDE (Belonging, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity) task force and the general efforts by management to keep staff safe, equipped, and supported. However, this last year while professionally wonderful, has been personally difficult. So I offer this poem that I wrote to express the grief I have felt from the loss of my grandfather and my brother, but also the loss of innocence that my children have experienced as they witnessed the world change over the past year.”
 
?
How do I tell you honestly?
The grief that I entomb.
And protect the little lambs
That lived within my womb
 
I cried alone in darkness
I cried in the light of day
But all these tears they spilled
Into an endless bay
 
The lambs they ba’d for freedom
I had no land to give
The streets they burned for justice
We’ve forgotten how to live
 
Touch became a weapon
Race a dividing line
The truth is now a casualty
Of this disorienting time
 
Amidst the grander chaos
My anguish enveloped me
I have yet to grasp the depths
Of this unconquered sea
 
I know the song of sorrow
The siren lured me once
But I am not a child now
I’ve built a stronger front
 
So as a new day rises
I will open pandora’s box
And live within the chaos
For the hope that it unlocks

Tony Fetcher, Director of Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat

Tony Fletcher

One particular hard moment for me and many in the EHC family this past year was the loss of our friend Sergio Lopez by a sudden an unexplained cause of death. Personally I imagine that for the rest of my days I will remember the place I was standing, the person who told me and my reaction to hearing the sad news. He was young, vibrant, tough as nails and constantly facing barriers that he navigated through and around. I attribute COVID-19 as a factor in some form. Most tragic occurrence of this year by far. Gone too soon.
 
With the COVID-19 pandemic, I will be grateful for living through a part of human history that I know will live on in written pages and folklore for many years to come. I would have preferred being at Woodstock or Martin Luther King Jr.’s  “I Have a Dream Speech”, but man, I was here for this world event. I decided to embrace the change. To give gratitude to the slowing of time. Less traffic. Less noise.

Jennifer Sachs, Director of Development

Jennifer Sachs portrait

When we abruptly closed our doors to our students and got sent home, I was pretty scared. I had been a firm believer in the need for the fundraising team to be in the same building, collaborating with each other, being around programs and students, and bouncing ideas off staff in all departments. I didn’t think we’d be able to raise much money in a pandemic, when people were distracted, hyper-focused on COVID-19, the election and what was on Netflix. And we couldn’t get together with donors for large celebratory events or one-on-one tours and meetings. 
 
Well, I have learned so much. My team worked extra hard, thinking creatively and finding ways to connect with donors. And donors were so big-hearted and wanted to help. They responded by giving to the programs LightHouse implemented to check-in on blind community members. They also supported virtual programs to keep people engaged, learning new skills and combat isolation. I’ve learned a lot, and much of what I’ve learned will be useful and more effective in my job even when we are all ‘hallelujah” back together in-person.

LightHouse Staffer Marc Grossman on Moving Forward in his career with Blindness

LightHouse Staffer Marc Grossman on Moving Forward in his career with Blindness

I grew up in Southern California and had a pretty typical childhood filled with adventure and mischief. I was a Boy Scout, participated in sports, and loved learning new things in school. As a teenager, I liked to toss the baseball with the neighborhood boys in front of our houses. Even though nobody recognized it at the time, this was the first clue that something was amiss. If I had dropped the ball and gazed down to look for it, I could only find it if it were in my field of vision. Of course, everybody had the same experience, but we did not know that my field of vision was significantly smaller than the rest of the boys. While the nickname did not stick, I recall some of the kids calling me “eagle eyes” but in retrospect it was not much of a compliment. Since we had no family history of vision problems, we did not think much of it and I continued through the years, especially since I had no trouble seeing printed words in my high school textbooks or the blackboard in the classroom.

During the summer after my freshmen year at college, I came home to spend time with family and friends. While on a road trip with my two best friends, they pointed out that I was consistently not seeing things in my peripheral vision. At first, I just laughed it off but a subsequent visit to a local optometrist confirmed that in fact, I needed to see a specialist. By the end of the summer, I would have endured a full day of testing at a prestigious university medical center and gone home with a diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa. Armed with that knowledge, I merely buried my head in the sand and chose to ignore the doctor’s advice. I was determined to be in the minority of people that don’t go on to lose all of their eyesight. I attribute that stubbornness to being a Taurus and, of course, college kids knowing better than everybody else. I went on to complete my bachelor’s degree, but my university experience was not what I had envisioned. I struggled with my diagnosis and was ill-equipped to handle the emotional aspects. When sharing this new information with my friends and classmates, I encountered disbelief. “You don’t look blind” and other expressions made their way into the conversation and from that time I decided to keep it to myself.

Upon my return to Southern California, I tried to continue hiding my diagnosis. By this point, driving was getting to be a challenge and I found myself crashing into walls and other immovable objects. Fortunately, they were all at low speeds and nobody got hurt. This was in the 1990s before there was a robust transit network in Los Angeles. So, I moved to New York City where the streets were filled with bright yellow taxis, buses to every corner of the five boroughs, and an expansive subway system snaking its way under the city.

As my vision continued to diminish, I decided that I wanted one more adventure before I lost my remaining eyesight. I hopped on a plane and landed in Santiago de Chile. The city was compact and had great transit. I taught English to business executives and made friends from all over the world. It was during this time overseas that I realized that I was not going to avoid blindness and that upon my return it would be in my best interest to seek out services.

I found myself in the office of the New York Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped when a wonderful man named Carlos asked me if I wanted to learn JAWS or ZoomText. I must have looked at him like he was an alien because he burst out laughing. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he started fiddling with the keyboard that sat in front of me. ZoomText was enabled but I was slow at picking it up and not able to follow the focus. Carlos asked to take the keyboard and he made some additional changes. He asked me to put my hands on the keys and before I knew what was going on, I heard a voice talking to me. I had no idea what was going on but minutes later, we were diving into the nuances of the powerful magnifier/screen reader. This began my relationship with accessible technology and catapulted me into my current area of expertise.

After a successful career in sales, I began working for the American Foundation for the Blind. I learned the ins and outs of digital accessibility and started to build relationships with key players in the area of technology. When I moved back to California, I discovered the wonderful people at LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. In addition to learning braille and orientation to a new city, I had the great pleasure of going through the Employment Immersion program where I met [Director of Employment Services] Kate Williams, who would later become a mentor and supervisor. For four years, I crisscrossed northern California working with other people who are blind or have low vision to help them discover the doors that can be opened when they learn how to use assistive technology. Finally, in May 2018, I joined LightHouse as an Employment Specialist where I support jobseekers in their quest to find a career. Together, we work on resumes, cover letters, interviewing, and networking. My favorite area is helping jobseekers address the challenge of disclosing their disability to a potential employer.

As it turns out, going blind was not the end of my adventures. When not at work, I enjoy running and swimming with Achilles International or river rafting and Nordic skiing with Environmental Traveling Companions. I’ve participated in a swim relay across Lake Tahoe with four other blind swimmers and completed the Escape from Alcatraz swim four times without being eaten by a great white shark.

Every month a new cohort of blind jobseekers enters our Employment Immersion Program. To see if the program is right for you, or to sign up lease reach out to the Employment Services department at EiTeam@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7359.

Community Outreach Coordinator Sheri Albers: from hiding to claiming her blindness

Community Outreach Coordinator Sheri Albers: from hiding to claiming her blindness

When my sister and I were diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) at early ages, there was little known about the disease. My parents were told by experts in the field that we would gradually go blind and there was no cure. My parents left the office without any support or resources.

Due to the nature of RP, I feel that I was very misunderstood by people. My symptoms of night blindness, severe near sightedness and difficulty in recognizing faces made it hard for me to make friends and participate in sports and social activities. As a result, I began at an early age to fend for myself and develop my own techniques for doing things, all with the purpose of hiding the fact that my vision was changing.

For most of my life, there were times that I felt “perfectly fine”, and that I had everything under control.  I had developed quite the system to hide my blindness, and even had a few trusted friends recruited to be my so-called “bodyguards” who would look out for potential hazards for me. My system seemed to work—until the time came that it didn’t.

I was able to get a fabulous job right out of college in New York City and after nine years of secretly struggling with spreadsheets and computer screens that were becoming more and more difficult to read, I felt that I had no other choice but to leave that job. While I now know that accessible technology exists for people who are blind to succeed in their professions, I did not know that then.

The next part of my journey took me out west when my husband’s job transferred to Ohio. We started a family and motherhood became my new career. I poured myself into raising my two daughters. I immersed myself into their activities and volunteered at school, church, Girl Scouts and anything else anyone asked me to do. I had to prove to the world that I was still useful. Meanwhile, I was riddled with fear and anxiety as my vision was failing, living a double life between the sighted world and the blind world. I knew it was time to make some very significant changes.

My transformation began after attending my first National Federation of the Blind national convention where I was surrounded by thousands of blind people who were happy and living independent lives. I now had found a community of blind people who became my role models and mentors.

I came to the realization that I did not want to hide my blindness anymore. I registered with my state vocational rehabilitation agency for white cane and technology training. Because I could no longer read print, I was functionally illiterate, and I knew I needed to learn braille. After that, I served in various leadership roles in the blindness community and participated actively in legislative work to help change the lives of blind people.

My blindness skills also gave me the confidence to go back to college and get a degree in Counseling, which had become a passion of mine throughout the years. I worked as a Counseling Assistant for a treatment center and a Caseload Assistant for the Ohio Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation.

My journey now brings me to last July when I heard LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin passionately speaking about the mission and philosophy of LightHouse at a convention.

I was so inspired that I knew at that very moment that my life was falling into place. I just had to be a part of his team.

Through a series of very fortunate events, I now have landed my dream job as Community Outreach Coordinator for LightHouse.  I now have the privilege of making connections throughout the Bay Area and spreading the word to the blind community about all the programs and services that LightHouse has to offer.

I first focused my outreach efforts on our senior population, but now with the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, the implementation of outreach has had to change. I was asked to help develop our Care Calls Program, where we call approximately 1,600 LightHouse students, who we currently serve, to find out where we may assist with any challenges they may be facing during this time of shelter in place.  It is important for everyone to know that even though the doors of LightHouse are closed right now, the lines of communication are still open.

If I can prevent even one person from experiencing the grief that I went through trying to overcome the barriers that hiding my blindness had brought to my life, then my role as Community Outreach Coordinator will be complete.

LightHouse Staff

LightHouse Staff

Click here to read in-depth staff profiles of the LightHouse family!

Looking to reach out to any of our wonderful team? Please use our Contact page.

Kathy Abrahamson Portrait
Abrahamson, Kathy
Director of Rehabilitation Services
No profile image available.
Ahlm, Al
Production Manager
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
Robert Alminana Portrait
Alminana, Robert, MA, COMS
Orientation & Mobility Specialist
Jaclyn Atoigue portrait
Atoigue, Jaclyne
Administrative Assistant
No profile image available.
Bacon, Debbie, MS/QRP
Rehabilitation Counselor
A headshot of Bryan Bashin.
Bashin, Bryan
CEO
No profile image available.
Bell, Landall
Lead person/Machine Operator
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
Paul Blaney portrait
Blaney, Paul
Development Manager, Individual Giving
Scott Blanks
Blanks, Scott
Senior Director, Programs
No profile image available.
Bond, Coralyn
Senior Executive Assistant
No profile image available.
Broshous, Ken
AP Cash Receipts Coordinator
Buckwalter, Jeff
Access Technology Trainer
No profile image available.
Calderon, Maritza
Department Coordinator, Media and Accessible Design Laboratory
No profile image available.
Capello, Kacie
Access Technology Trainer
Divina Carlson Portrait
Carlson, Divina
Braille Instructor
Carlson, Jeff, LCSW
Social Worker
No profile image available.
Chao, Fouchan
Shipping Clerk
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
No profile image available.
Charles, Joshua
Janitorial Associate
Sook Hee Choi portrait
Choi, Sook Hee, MA, COMS/CVRT
DeafBlind Employment Specialist
No profile image available.
Colon, Jeffery
Access Technology Specialist
Dr. Connie Conley-Jung
Conley-Jung, Connie, PhD
Clinical Psychologist
Brandon Cox Portrait
Cox, W. Brandon, MA COMS
Senior Director, Operations
No profile image available.
Dagar, Sarikia
Multimedia Content Manager
No profile image available.
Damato, Nai
Access Technology Specialist, DeafBlind Program
Christina Daniels Portrait
Daniels, Christina
Manager of Publications
Danette Davis Portrait
Davis, Danette, MA, COMS
Orientation & Mobility Specialist
No profile image available.
Davis, Denise
Production Assistant
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
No profile image available.
Davis, Tia M.
Janitorial Associate
No profile image available.
Di Grazia, Gina
Orientation & Mobility Specialist
No profile image available.
DiLeonardo, Annalisa
Assistant Director
Enchanted Hills Camp
Ben Einstein portrait
Einstein, Ben
Online Inventory Store Associate
BJ Dietz portrait
Epstein, BJ Dietz, M.Arch
Senior Designer, Media and Accessible Design Laboratory
Fadden Amanda
On Call Reception
No profile image available.
Feng, Iris
Controller
Allyson Ferrari Portrait
Ferrari, Allyson, CVA
Volunteer Manager
No profile image available.
Fleming, Antonio
Production Assistant
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
Tony Fletcher
Fletcher, Anthony
Director, Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat
No profile image available.
Flores, Alex
Production Assistant
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
No profile image available.
Gao, Meixaio
General Ledger Account
Ed Garcia portrait
Garcia, Edward
HR Generalist
Raquel Gomez portrait
Gomez, Raquel
Manager, Adaptations Store
Jamey Gump Portrait
Gump, James
Youth Services Coordinator
No profile image available.
Heath, David
Utility Assistant
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
No profile image available.
Hencky, Alan
Director of Finance
No profile image available.
Hepsley, Carol
Orientation & Mobility Specialist
LightHouse Marin
Hibbs Ashley
Cook
No profile image available.
Holloway, Jennifer
Reworker
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
Jennifer Huey Portrait
Huey, Jennifer, MA, COMS
Orientation & Mobility Specialist
No profile image available.
Hussain, Mohamed
Production Assistant
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
Karen Ishimaru
Ishimaru, Karen
Database Manager
Katt Jones Portrait
Jones, Katt, MA, COMS
Orientation & Mobility Specialist
Greg Kehret
Kehret, Greg
Director, Media and Accessible Design Laboratory
Kumutat, Lee
Director of Communications
Briana Kusuma
Kusuma, Briana
Rehabilitation Services Associate
Erin Lauridsen Portrait
Lauridsen, Erin
Director, Access Technology
Dawn Leeflang Portrait
Leeflang, Dawn, MA, COMS, CLVT
Rehabilitation Teacher/O&M Specialist
No profile image available.
Martinez, Tamika
Janitorial Supervisor
Amy Mason
Mason, Amy
Access Technology Specialist
Gail McGaster Portrait
McGaster, Gail
Mentor Trainer
Sarah McIntyre
McIntyre, Sarah, MA, COMS
Orientation & Mobility Specialist
Ethan Meigs Portrait
Meigs, Ethan
Information Technology Technician
No profile image available.
Myers, Spencer
Laboratory and Blending Manager
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
No profile image available.
O'Malior, Caitlin
Communications Associate
Andrea Ogarrio Portrait
Ogarrio, Andrea
Development Coordinator
No profile image available.
Owens, Chris
Janitorial Associate
No profile image available.
Paiso, Amel
Production Assistant
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
No profile image available.
Paniagua Gonzales, Eduardo
Maintenance Grounds Technician
Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat
Pomerantz, Janet
Social Worker
LightHouse North Coast
Bobbi Pompey Portrait
Pompey, Bobbi
Rehabilitation Teaching Specialist
Cheryl Puckett Portrait
Puckett, Cheryl
Reception Team Leader
No profile image available.
Qureshi, Sheharyar
Production Assistant
Production Assistant
No profile image available.
Roberson, Anthony K.
Production Assistant
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
No profile image available.
Rogers, Nichole R.
Janitorial Associate
Patti Rose
Rose, Patti
Program Assistant
LightHouse North Coast
Naomi Rosenberg Portrait
Rosenberg, Naomi, M.Arch
Senior Designer, Accessible Media
Jennifer Sachs portrait
Sachs, Jennifer
Director of Development
No profile image available.
Sexton, Marvin
Janitorial Associate
No profile image available.
Simpson, William
Registered Nurse
Enchanted Hills Camp and Retreat
No profile image available.
Soto, Daisy
Youth Program Assistant
Esmeralda Soto Portrait
Soto, Esmeralda
Information Concierge
No profile image available.
Stewart, Julia M.
Facilities Manager
No profile image available.
Stewart, Juliet
HR Manager
No profile image available.
Thienes, Tamara
Reworker
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
Alyah Thomas
Thomas, Alyah
Administrative Assistant, EHC/Deaf Blind
No profile image available.
Umo, Charles
Production Assistant
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
Andrea Vecchione portrait
Vecchione, Andrea
Events Manager
No profile image available.
Walters, Ronald
Production Assistant/Forklift Operator
LightHouse Industries, Sirkin Center
Frank Welte Portrait
Welte, Frank
Senior Accessible Media and Braille Specialist
No profile image available.
Wiebe, Carol
Orientation & Mobility Specialist
Kate Williams Portrait
Williams, Kate
Director, Employment Services
Starrly Winchester portrait
Winchester, Starrly
Customer & Inventory Store Associate
Portrait of Ed Wong. Photo by Sarika Dagar.
Wong, Edward
Employment Specialist
Joshua York portrait
York, Joshua
Director of Facilities

Looking to reach out to any of our wonderful team? Please use our Contact page.