Tag Archive


Community Means Everyone – Lisamaria Martinez, Director of Community Services

Lisamaria MartinezOne in a continuing series of staff profiles

“People who are blind go to the gym, Pier 39, volunteer at soup kitchens…we are everywhere in the community,” Lisamaria Martinez, LightHouse’s Director of Community Services, stresses when discussing Community Services’ significance to LightHouse programming. “We don’t do ‘blind things,’ we do everything, from whitewater rafting trips and cooking classes to excursions to the de Young art museum. In this way, we reinforce in our students the understanding that they are 100% members of society, while also teaching those who see us that, ‘yeah, we’re blind and we belong right next to you in the movie theater, at the gym, or cruising the Farmer’s Market.’”

Lisamaria, who also goes by the nickname “LM,” has always been an advocate for the blind: “It’s natural for me because I’ve been blind since I was a young child.” In 1999, LM moved north from Southern California to study social welfare at U.C. Berkeley, and began volunteering at the LightHouse, supervising teens on weekend activities like ski trips. After graduating in 2003, she worked at the Hatlen Center for the Blind as a living skills and braille instructor. In 2005, LM enrolled in a Master’s in Educational Psychology program with an emphasis in Orientation & Mobility [e.g. white cane travel] at Louisiana Tech, “where the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness lives. They created the first Master’s Degree Program that uses non-visual techniques for cane travel instruction. Before they created their specialized program, blind instructors couldn’t be certified to teach fellow blind individuals Orientation and Mobility Skills.” After earning her Master’s degree, LM moved back to the Bay Area to do contract work for the Department of Rehabilitation and Lion’s Center for the Blind as an Orientation & Mobility, Living Skills, and Braille instructor.

“In 2008, I learned about a Technology Sales Associate job opening in Adaptations, the LightHouse’s store. I got the job and fell in love with the people at the LightHouse.” Within a year LM moved to the LightHouse Fundraising and Development Department as a Public Affairs Coordinator, and this position evolved into Donor Relations Coordinator. “I like working with people,” she said, “so Public Affairs/Donor Relations was an exciting opportunity to work with different groups —fundraisers, donors, journalists, and government officials. Though I enjoyed strengthening press contacts and interfacing with donors, I missed my students. In October 2014, I was promoted to the position of Director of Community Services, a role I’m ecstatic to fill.”

Under LM’s leadership, Community Services oversees youth, adult and senior programming, psychological services, fees-for-services to educate organizations about the needs and concerns of the blind, and Adaptations. LM sees Community Services as fulfilling two purposes, enabling blind people to fully participate in Bay Area specific opportunities and events while also educating Bay Area communities about blindness. “Community Services isn’t just about providing services to our students, it’s also about making sure students are integrated into the community as blind people living normal, active, fulfilling, satisfying lives,” LM emphasizes. “Riding a bike, taking a hike, going on international trips, that’s how I want my sons to see blind people: as a life worth no less than any sighted person’s life.”

“In addition to working at the LightHouse, my family, (4.5-year-old Erik, and 5-month-old Zakary, and her husband, Joe) keeps me exceptionally busy. And when I’m not taking the boys to places like the Oakland Zoo, I’m usually working as an advocate for causes that interest me.” LM is currently serving on the Alameda County Transit Accessibility Advisory Committee and the California School for the Blind’s (CSB) Community Advisory committee. She also holds various leadership positions with the National Federation of the Blind. She says, “I’m an avid reader, usually devouring three or four books a week, which is why I serve on the Board of Trustees for the National Braille Press. I’m a strong supporter of getting Braille kids’ books into the hands of blind kids and blind parents. Without Braille books, many blind parents cannot read to their kids. My son, Erik, loves reading Braille books with me before he heads off to bed. We read and giggle ourselves to sleep.”

LM excels at bringing people together and facilitating discussions at the LightHouse. “I use my experiences, like my past involvement with judo, to strengthen Community Services programming and activities. For example, I’m passionate about fitness; I was the only U.S. female in the 70-kilo class to qualify for the blind national judo team in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. At the LightHouse I’ve expanded health and fitness offerings to include classes at Fitness SF, where blind folks are welcomed and encouraged to get fit along sighted peers. Come join us and get fit!”

In the next year LightHouse will be moving to a state-of-the-art, 21st Century blindness headquarters, and Community Services will grow to include more programming for students of all ages, from blind parents with young kids to seniors navigating blindness for the first time. LM encourages feedback from students and potential students, saying, “The new space will give us so many more opportunities to do new, fun, and creative activities, not just for youth and seniors, but for folks in between. I welcome all suggestions and ideas. What activities would you like to see expanded? What events would you go to and when would you like to go to them? Are there those of you who are working or parenting during the day but would come to LightHouse activities in the evening or on weekends? Let me know.”

Share your ideas or just find out more by contacting LM at info@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-431-1481.

Staff Profile – Molly Irish

Molly Irish and student Diane Stevenson on a LightHouse outing to Ghirardelli Square With an air of quiet determination and serenity, Community Services Coordinator Molly Irish ensures that each week we offer interesting and engaging programming for our blind adult and senior students. She sees that we offer a variety of activities and classes including a weekly Memorial quilting group, the Beanie’s for Babies knitting group, bingo nights, birthday celebrations and outings to museums, shopping centers and other fun and/or cultural destinations.

One of Molly’s exceptional talents is her ability to fill hungry stomachs with delicious, wholesome food and to teach folks to do the same. “I hate bland food, so I try to teach our students how to prepare food that is healthy and tastes good. We update tried-and-true recipes like BBQ Chicken, meatloaf and sweet yams to teach them how to make healthier choices by lowering the amount of sugar, added fats and salt in the recipes.” Recently, Molly taught blind teens how to prepare sushi in our Cooking 101 class for youth.

Molly has been working for the LightHouse for almost 16 years. She’s known for being a patient and non-judgmental listener. “I love my job – my students, who quickly become my friends, know that I appreciate their hard work, and that I care about them.” Molly’s philosophy on working with blind students is simple: “I don’t insult them by babying them, and I encourage them to remain active and live life in the driver’s seat.”

Molly met her husband Mike, who works for our Industries division, at the LightHouse. She goes on to say, “Mike is blind and he has never let his blindness stand in his way. He operates chainsaws, table saws, you name it. He doesn’t use his blindness as an excuse and we both believe that doing nothing isn’t living, it’s just surviving.” Though Molly is sighted she’s picked up a few essential blindness skills from her students. “I’ve learned braille, ASL (American Sign Language) and tactile sign language, which I use with our deaf-blind students. I want to be able to work with everyone.”

Molly’s zest for life is intrinsic to her being; outside of work she is busy with hobbies galore including, we learned, motorcycle riding. “It’s different when you’re on a motorcycle,” she says. “You get to your destination using the same roads you would with your car, but on a bike the drive is as important as the destination.”

She also loves to fish and told us, “I’ve been tying my own flies for fly-fishing for over twenty years. I love hooking a rainbow trout, partly because of the fight they give, and partly because I cannot wait to fry up that delicious, light-pink fish. I’m also an archer – I’ve shot two “robin hoods” (a “robin hood” is when an archer shoots an arrow into a bull’s-eye, then sends the next arrow straight into the shaft of the first) and I’ve taken home first prizes in four competitions. I don’t hunt with my compound bow, but I do love practicing on 3D (life-like) animal targets.”

If you’d like to add more zest to your life, consider joining Molly at a future LightHouse outing or class. Molly also reminds us to, “sign up for the Beth’s List email – it’s the best way to get weekly updates on what’s happing at the LightHouse and in our community.” To sign up for Beth’s Weekly Events List send your request to info@lighthouse-sf.org.

LightHouse Connect Reveals All at Open House

LightHouse Accessible Media Specialist Julie Sadlier and LightHouse Information Resource Specialist Frank Welte demonstrate our audio-tactile MUNI station mapsMarch 29 marked the third session in our LightHouse Connect Workshop series, and unlike its two predecessors which focused on specific topics, this gathering was styled as an Open House, highlighting the great breadth of LightHouse programs and service offerings.

A throng of participants were able to mix in a comfortable communal setting, allowing them to speak to staff from various LightHouse departments, as well as build new relationships with their fellow attendees. Hands-on cooking demonstrations and tech exhibitions by LightHouse service providers afforded students the chance to get intimately acquainted with vital skills of independence. Guests laid hands on cutting-edge tactile transit maps, available exclusively at the LightHouse, which can be enhanced with information conveyed through audio feedback. Representatives from Enchanted Hills Camp, the LightHouse Volunteer Department, and Community Services mingled with the crowd. Perhaps most exciting of all, visitors got to know one another, forming community connections which are often so critical to an individual’s success.

Join us for the next LightHouse Connect on April 30. We will be discussing all aspects of travel as a blind or low vision person: canes, guide dogs, GPS, and much more. For more information and to RSVP to our LightHouse Connect Workshops, please call Beth Berenson at 415-431-1481 or email at info@lighthouse-sf.org.

Read more about upcoming LightHouse Connect workshops.

LightHouse Braille Instructor Divina Fontanilla Carlson chats with student Vicky Wong

LightHouse Students Honor Loved Ones with Memorial Quilt

Molly Irish holds a rainbow square of the Memory QuiltEach week students and friends of the LightHouse are fulfilling a long-standing desire to honor those from the LightHouse family that we’ve lost. LightHouse Students Janice Leong, Elisa Serafini, Liz Klein, Diep “Marie” Vuong along with Molly Irish, LightHouse Community Services Coordinator have begun work on the Memory Quilt, which will memorialize LightHouse students, teachers and volunteers who have passed on.

Molly told us, “A couple of years ago the students and I were talking about what we could do to commemorate the people we have been connected to here at the LightHouse, who have passed on. We have a list of about 50 people who have passed in the last 20 years. It will take a few months to finish.”

Each square of the quilt features hand-stitched concentric squares of fabric, each square a different color. White clouds will be sewn onto the quilt and the names of all those honored will be written on the clouds. When it is done, the quilt will proudly hang at our San Francisco Headquarters office for all to reflect on and enjoy. A braille list of names will be available.

You are warmly invited to help us make the Memory Quilt. The group meets Tuesdays from 10:00 a.m. to noon at LightHouse San Francisco Headquarters. For more information contact Molly Irish at mpearson@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7320.

LightHouse Gets Fit – Come Work Out With Us at Fitness SF

LightHouse staff stand in front of Fitness SF signIn an effort to bring more fitness opportunities to the blind and low vision community, LightHouse is partnering with Fitness SF to make working out easier and accessible for all.

We all know that being active is a vital component to a healthy life. Going to the gym can be one of the easiest ways to incorporate strength, endurance and cardio components into your exercise regime, but the gym can be an uncomfortable place when you are blind. The challenges come from the awkwardness of navigating through a gym crowded with people and exercise equipment. Additionally many exercise machines are based on inaccessible touch screens, and those machines that are more blind-friendly can still be intimidating to a blind person who is unfamiliar with them. While many gyms offer a one-time tour of the facilities for new members, this typically is not enough for a blind person to get comfortable with the layout of the space and the use of the equipment.

Fitness SF, with six locations all over the Bay Area, including one within walking distance of LightHouse headquarters in San Francisco, is truly committed to working with the LightHouse to make their gyms accessible and welcoming to the blind and low vision community. LightHouse students are invited to go to Fitness SF’s mid-market location to get individualized attention to help make their workout safe, accessible, effective and fun!

Director of Community Services Lisamaria Martinez says, “I’m excited to work with Fitness SF. They are dedicated to working with us and truly understanding the needs of blind people who go to the gym. You don’t typically get this type of willingness to work with a blind individual, let alone an entire community of blind people.”

Group personal training is at 4 pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. RSVP and membership are required for those sessions. Please contact Amber Sherrard at ASherrard@lighthouse-sf.org or (415) 694-7353 for more information about membership and classes.

Open House – Spring into Training with the LightHouse Connect Series

For our third installment of the LightHouse Connect series, we’re having an Open House to showcase all the ways you can become more independent and successful as your vision changes. If you’ve been interested in finding out more about our programs including technology training, cane travel training, cooking, braille, our Youth Program, Enchanted Hills Camp and more, our Open House is a great opportunity to chat informally with our friendly staff. As a special bonus attraction, Adaptations will be open late and we’re offering a 10% discount on store sales during Open House hours.

When: Thursday, March 26, 2015 from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Where: LightHouse San Francisco Headquarters
Light refreshments will be served

For more information and to RSVP, please contact Lisamaria Martinez at info@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-431-1481.

Make Good on Your New Year’s Fitness Resolution with the LightHouse Fitness Partner Program

Image: Two figures ride on a tandem bikeDo you want to get a move on with your 2015 fitness goals? Working with a LightHouse Fitness Partner could help you be your healthiest self yet. Our volunteer Fitness Partners bring with them a wide range of personal health and fitness experience and will work with you to get and keep you moving and active.

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to go to the gym but could use a gym buddy. We can help match you with that person. Or maybe after reading countless articles on how yoga is good for the heart, body and mind, you’re finally ready to perfect your Sun Salutation. Your next yoga Fitness Partner is in Child Pose waiting for you as we speak. LightHouse Fitness Partners can get you moving in a variety of ways, from tandem bike riding to running, hiking and good ol’ walks around the block.

LightHouse student Isidro C. is an avid bike rider and is currently on the wait list for a Fitness Partner who is interested in tandem biking. He told us, “Bike riding is important to me because it is sometimes the only opportunity for me to be active. It’s a good way for me to stay fit and take in some fresh air once a week.”

Are you interested in volunteering as a Fitness Partner? Our most requested health and fitness activities are walking, running and bike riding at all experience levels.

For all inquiries, contact Justine Harris-Richburgh, Volunteer Engagement Specialist, at volunteer@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7320.


Cohort-Based Learning at the LightHouse Supports Individual Growth, Creating a Community and Providing a Base for Success

Sign Up Now – Classes in San Francisco Begin November 11

Webster defines the noun “cohort” as a group of people banded together – working together as a unit. The LightHouse has successfully facilitated cohort based learning for the past three years and on November 4 we will offer our next cohort-based classes for 8-10 blind or low vision students. During these classes you’ll learn be exposed to a hundred valuable techniques, tools and attitudes that are practical ways to deal with changing vision, in an atmosphere of learning and pure enjoyment.

We start with weekly Changing Vision Changing Life classes that include individual and group training. After a few weeks concurrent Computer Keyboarding and Cooking Basics classes begin. Individual orientation and mobility instruction will also be incorporated. Participating in all the classes immerses the student in an atmosphere of accomplishment and progress, emphasizing the key component of working and learning with and from fellow blind and low vision classmates.

During the two-month period, cohort peers who continue the sequence of classes together benefit from the following: training from instructors and guest mentors as well as learning from each other; adjustment to change in their lives with support from their peers; and finding kindred spirits while learning new skills, creating community and moving forward. While it is not mandatory to participate in all facets, it is strongly recommended – priority registration will be provided to those who make a commitment to the full training.

All classes will be facilitated at the LightHouse Headquarters, 214 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco.

Changing Vision Changing Life
November 11 to December 18, 9:30 to 12:30
Tuesdays & Thursdays (no class on Thanksgiving)

Changing Vision, Changing Life is a 6-week class for blind and visually impaired adults who are seeking basic, yet essential daily living skills to live confidently at home and in the community. Each week topics such as tactile/non-visual skills, organizational skills, time management, use of adaptive aids, low vision strategies and accessing print materials provide students with solutions and strategies. In addition, each class session will include a discussion component, addressing both successes and challenges involved in incorporating the material presented in the teaching segments into each participant’s daily life.

Keyboard Training
November 17 to December 19, 9:30 a.m. to Noon
Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays

Having efficient keyboarding skills is necessary for all computer users to be effective in both personal and professional use. LightHouse students new to keyboarding learn to type by touch using the QWERTY keyboard layout. Talking Typer Teacher (TTT), a program which employs synthesized speech, is the software tool used by the Access Technology Specialists to facilitate the class. Keyboard familiarity, typing accuracy and comfortable speed will be emphasized. As students learn the keyboard, weekly practical assignments are given to increase proficiency. Guided practice during lab time provides students time to gain keyboard fluency to type shopping lists; to-do lists; simple letters and email correspondences.

Cooking Basics – San Francisco
November 20 to December 18, 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Thursdays. Also Friday, December 12, 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.

In this five-week class, students will learn low vision and blind strategies and techniques for all aspects of meal preparation, from grocery shopping to hands-on skills and safety training, food labeling and organization and use of kitchen equipment. Students will prepare healthy and delicious recipes and/or meals in each class, along with learning all aspects of kitchen clean up strategies.

To find out more about upcoming classes and fees, including the variety of options available for funding, please contact Debbie Bacon, Rehabilitation Counselor at 415-694-7357 or dbacon@lighthouse-sf.org.

Group of LightHouse students stand in a circle, chatting

Enrich your Life By Working with a Personal Services Volunteer

Are you blind or have low vision? Could you use help with tasks such as reading mail, shopping for groceries or keeping fit? One of the most exciting and popular services we offer at the LightHouse is our Personal Services Volunteer program where we match volunteers with LightHouse clients who might need extra assistance.

Senior Alfritz Ngantung has been a part of the LightHouse community for many years. For the past three years he has worked with Personal Services Volunteer Kurt Lipschutz. Kurt is a poet, and songwriter (working chiefly with Bay Area recording artist Chuck Prophet). He’s lived in San Francisco since 1980 and had a cornea transplant in 2008, which motivated him to volunteer at the LightHouse.

With Kurt’s help, Alfritz efficiently manages his mail and important paperwork. For example, Kurt worked diligently with Alfred on the daunting application for United States citizenship; we congratulate Alfritz on successfully becoming a U.S. citizen. They make sure Alfritz stays active with invigorating walks through his neighborhood and the two have developed a rapport that provides Alfritz with companionship and lively conversation.

Alfritz speaks very highly of Kurt, “He really helps me out. I feel a true connection and friendship. We meet every Saturday and I really look forward to the time spent together.” Working with a Personal Services Volunteer for the past three years has really helped Alfritz remain independent and thus, much happier. He told us, “When you’re blind or low vision and aging, sometimes you have to re-learn how to be self-sufficient and regain your self-confidence. You have to recognize that you have limits and need help sometimes – you should never feel bad about that.”

Alfritz believes strongly that many people can benefit from the assistance and companionship of a LightHouse Personal Services Volunteer. Our Personal Services volunteers can work with you in a number of areas such as:

-reading mail, books, newspapers and periodicals
-writing checks, letters and correspondence
-home organization such as marking or labeling
-grocery shopping or errands with the client
-attending cultural, social or sporting events
-walking or transportation

LightHouse volunteers are eager to work with blind or visually impaired clients on some of the everyday aspects of life that may be challenging. In talking with you, Volunteer Coordinator Justine Harris-Richburgh will determine what kind of volunteer you are looking for to help you find the best match. You may only be looking for short term assistance or you might be interested in a longer term working relationship. It’s up to you.

Could you use a helping hand? If you are interested in being matched with a Personal Services Volunteer, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Justine Harris-Richburgh, at volunteer@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7320.

Client Alfritz E. Ngantung, left, with friend and fellow LightHouse client, Vincent