NIB Celebrates 2023 Milton J. Samuelson Career Achievement Award Winner Craig Ellis 

Craig Ellis wearing a blue shirt and brown jacket against a gray backdrop

Despite having a successful 12-year career in management and owning a flooring business for 13 years, Craig Ellis struggled to find employment after he became blind due to macular degeneration. “Most of my flooring business was tied to new construction, so I was hit hard by the housing crash of 2008. After I lost my eyesight in 2009, I did interview for a lot of management positions, but as soon as I mentioned my vision loss, I never got a second call.” 

Giving up hope of finding a management-level job, Ellis decided he would look for any job and work his way up again. He applied for a manufacturing position with Horizon Industries, and the initial phone interview went so well that he was asked to come in for an interview with a supervisor that same day. “That’s when I had to explain that I was blind and needed time to arrange a ride,” he recalls. “I figured it would go the same way interviews had always gone – nowhere.” Ellis was in for a pleasant surprise  – when he applied for the job, he hadn’t realized that Horizon Industries is a division of East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind (ETLB). 

Ellis didn’t get the manufacturing job. Instead, ETLB created a position for him as the agency’s inventory planner, developing a successful state-use boot program. In 2016, Ellis applied for and was chosen as the new employment services specialist, a program he assisted in creating and a position that was competitively posted outside the agency. 

In 2020, Ellis was promoted to his current position as community relations administrator, where he works to expand existing partnerships, develop new relationships, and increase awareness. The position allows him to chip away at stigmas surrounding blindness, he says. “Now I sell hope and empowerment. It’s the most gratifying thing I’ve ever sold.” 

Ellis credits much of his career progression to training he’s received through NIB. He was in a pilot of the Professional Mastery of Office Technology for Employment (ProMOTE) program at ETLB, and is an active participant in NIB’s Advocates for Leadership and Employment program. 

Alicia Lansford, ETLB vice president and chief mission officer, has worked with Ellis for the past nine years and says watching his journey of upward mobility is one of the most rewarding experiences in her career. “Not because he is blind,” she says, “but because he has found true joy and meaning in helping others overcome the same challenges he faced when he was new to vision loss. Simply put, Craig is our mission.” 

Leona Holloman, ETLB president and CEO, echoes Lansford in her admiration of Ellis. “His passion for our mission is foremost in his conversations and actions. We are so proud to have him on our team.” 

As for Ellis, he is the first to admit that he can be a bit rough around the edges at times. “But for the first time in my life,” he says, “I know I’m right where God wants me to be.”