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Blind center becoming more visible

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By Amy Ryffel-Kragh

It is free for the visually impaired.

The Florida Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired offers its students skills to help them in their daily lives. The provide instruction in cooking, independent living and offer mobility classes. So, with a variety of services offered at the center, why aren’t more people taking advantage of it?

It might be because they are not aware of it.

Gwain Davis, executive director of the organization, said the goal of the center is to have as many people as possible involved. Currently, the 20-year-old organization has about 30 active students, which is a small number compared to the more 15,000 residents of Marion County who are visually impaired. He said if the center served five percent of the vision-impaired people in the county, “we would have lines around the block.”

James Davis, member of the board of directors, said the center wants to help students to have a better quality of life. “We can open up a completely new world for many people,” he said.

To help to get more residents involved, the non-profit organization recently moved from their old building, near West Port High School, to a location off S.W. 60th Avenue.

Gwain said the new office makes the center more visible to the public. “We want people to see the building and stop in,” he said. An open house will be on May 27 at the new center. The new center is at 7634 S.W. 60th Avenue. The open house is open to the public. It is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Moving beyond Marion

Though the organization would like to reach more clients in Marion County, Gwain said they would like to reach residents in surrounding counties too. If they do serve neighboring counties like Sumter, the charity will have a “two-pronged approach.”

Students could either come to the school for classes or they could attend an outreach program. In the program, the staff would go into the field and do sessions with clients either in their own home or in a small group. “Our goal is to try to get to as many people as possible in those areas,” Gwain said. There are about 12 blind agencies in the state of Florida.

In addition, the agency plans to work with area and surrounding county high schools for the “transition” program. The program, which is run by the state of Florida, is for students ages 14 to 21 years old. The Center for the Blind plans to do research throughout the next few months to see if their services could benefit students transitioning from high school to work or high school to college.

Becoming self-sufficient

The Florida Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired is funded by contracts with the Division of Blind Services, United Way, grants, and community donations.

To ensure that the center will be self-sufficient someday, James said he would like to start a foundation. The goal is to have enough money in the foundation’s fund to support the basic operations of the center through the interest in the account.

To receive the services free at the center, clients need to get an eye exam.

For more information about the Florida Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, contact 873-4700 or visit www.flblind.org.