Employees at NIB associated nonprofit agencies take great pride in the work they do, particularly providing SKILCRAFT® products and services to the military and veterans. But their pride — and interests — don’t stop when the workday ends. For many, employment at NIB associated agencies empowers them to not only live more independent lives, but to make meaningful contributions to their communities in some unique and surprising ways.
‘To Me, Being Blind Is a Gift’
Blind since infancy, Blake Lindsay, outreach manager at Envision Dallas, never considered his lack of eyesight a disability. A successful radio personality for 22 years, Lindsay spent time in the banking industry and is an author, motivational speaker, and voice artist. In 2009, he joined Envision Dallas as manager of communications.
A graduate of the first class of NIB’s Advocates for Leadership and Employment program, Lindsay works with NIB’s public policy team in educating national, state, and local officials about the efforts of NIB and its associated agencies to increase employment opportunities for people who are blind. As part of this work, he frequently speaks at Rotary International, Kiwanis, and Lions clubs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as well as at schools, to raise awareness about Envision Dallas’ services and the capabilities of people who are blind.
“Over the past 12 years, I have spoken to a lot of Lions Clubs about White Cane Day, with a focus on making it a celebration about not just canes, but all the technical innovations that have empowered people who are blind to live independent lives,” says Lindsay. “I had been trying for years to speak at the Oak Cliff Lions Club here in Dallas, but they were a larger club and usually got celebrities to speak. I must have finally worn them down because they let me visit and talk with them about White Cane Day. Then they asked me to come back and speak again.”
“I immediately loved the group and felt very much at home there,” says Lindsay, who joined the Oak Cliff Lions Club about eight years ago.
The club wasted no time putting him to work. “They expected me to roll up my sleeves and dive in. I really appreciated that,” says Lindsay. Over the years, he has volunteered as a greeter at the club’s low vision clinic, helped run the eyeglass recycling program, and more recently, participated in the club’s pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics.
This year, Lindsay is serving as first vice president. “The club has about 100 members, so that makes it one of the larger clubs in the area,” says Lindsay. “We do a lot of good work, and I’m proud of the difference we are making in our community.”
James Martino, e-commerce sales and business development associate for the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Utica, New York, was born without irises, the part of the eye that regulates the amount of light that enters by opening and closing the pupil.
Having low vision is all he has ever known, but he says he’s always thought of it as a challenge, not a disability.
“My mother is totally blind, but other family members are sighted,” says Martino. “I feel like I had the best of both worlds. I learned from both my family members with vision and from my mom.”
Martino grew up on a farm, and from an early age was taught how to do things just as a fully sighted person would. He did chores, rode a bike, and dreamed of a career as a firefighter, just like his uncle. As he grew older, that dream became a life goal.
When he applied to become a volunteer firefighter, Martino recalls, he was asked many questions by the board of directors, who initially doubted his ability to do the job because of his eyesight. “They asked me how I would get to the calls. I said to leave that up to me.” When one of the board members said that in an actual fire, even sighted firefighters have difficulty seeing because the smoke is so thick, Martino replied “that’s where I have an advantage, I guess, because I’m used to doing things by feel.”
He was approved to be a volunteer firefighter the following month, in February 1988. Although he has since moved out of the district and is now an honorary firefighter, Martino served his community for 30 years, both as a firefighter and as a Level 3 EMT.
As a volunteer firefighter, Martino says, he never knew how often he would be called to respond, but says volunteers were expected to meet 20% of the calls or functions each year, and his department responded to between 360-440 calls a year.
Some days were busier than others, says Martino. “My late wife and I lived near the firehouse,” he recalls. “One day, she was giving me a haircut. Or at least trying to. I sat down and was called to respond. We had nine calls that day, and it took four attempts to finish that haircut.”
“The job takes a lot of time and dedication,” says Martino. “I could not have done it without the support of my family.”
Supporting a Local Food Bank
At IFB Solutions in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, employees regularly volunteer at Second Harvest Food Bank, says Anastasia Powell, corporate culture and internal communications manager.
“The idea came from an employee-driven outreach committee that includes volunteering in the community as one of its foundational pillars,” she explains. Every other month, up to five employees and a member of the committee volunteer at Second Harvest, putting together boxes and packaging nonperishable meals.
IFB Solutions gives employees up to eight hours per year to perform volunteer work, so the employees go to Second Harvest during the workday. “The employees are grateful for the opportunity to assist community members in a valuable way,” says Powell. “Without their jobs at IFB solutions, many would still be on the receiving side of this effort.”
At the end of the shift, volunteers are treated to a meal. “Second Harvest Food Bank also houses the Providence Culinary Training program,” notes Powell. The 13-week program helps individuals who have experienced job loss, incarceration, or substance abuse learn culinary skills to help them rejoin society, she explains. “Needless to say, the meals are delicious.”