An Attitude of Gratitude
The experience of losing one’s vision is different for each person. Often, other health issues or stressors are involved. The Earle Baum Center offers guidance so that clients can draw on their inner strengths and support systems to move their lives forward. Karen Pratt feels that this is what makes EBC stand out: it is a place that helps people help themselves.
All her life, Karen has had problems with her vision. She started wearing glasses when she was 2. Her brain doesn’t interpret the visual information coming from her right eye when her left eye is open.
But in May, Karen suffered a stroke. Both of Karen’s parents had suffered strokes, and she was well-aware of how debilitating a stroke can be. “I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me,” she said. Now, she has a small window of vision near her nose through her left eye. She has no peripheral vision or depth perception.
It is the latest in a series of health challenges. Karen successfully battled alcoholism 37 years ago. In the last 3-4 years, she has been working on getting her weight down – she lost 80 pounds — and is trying to get her cholesterol and blood pressure under control. She uses a stability cane.
“I’ve learned how to deal with my adversities in a pretty solid way,” Karen said. “I meet calamity with serenity. If I’m not happy – that’s fine. But I’ve got to find something I’m grateful for, or I’ll be miserable. It gets me through.”
“I met with Ahlia Warren, the intake specialist at EBC. She was wonderful. She’s an artist, like me, and we had really good rapport right away. Ahlia impressed upon me that I would have to make a commitment to this training,” Karen said. “Absolutely! I was willing to do that – and I still am!”
Karen is taking Introduction to Low Vision, and Living with Low Vision classes at EBC. “I’ve learned all kinds of things about mobility, orientation, and how to stay safe in the kitchen. There are adaptive devices I never knew existed! It’s been wonderful to be in a group,” she said. “It’s a cohesive group. Everybody got hit with vision loss at pretty much the same time. We’re all suffering about the same. It feels like I’m at home there. I feel like I have better vision than anybody in the group. But I’ve been assured that I don’t need to belittle my problem and make it smaller than it is. I tend to minimize my difficulties and not really face how bad they are.”
In the coming months, Karen is looking forward to white cane training, and getting a video magnifier. “I’ll be able to do my art work, and do all the things I love to do! I’ll be looking at it up on a screen, but
that’s okay – I’ll be able to see what I’m doing. I couldn’t have recovered the way I have, if I
hadn’t turned my attitude right around as soon as it happened,” Karen said. “I’m very grateful – especially for EBC!”
In this issue of Limitless, we hear from several members of our community about what makes the Earle Baum Center different. It comes down to seeing each individual as part of a greater whole. Every person copes with adversity in a different way. They come to the table with a variety of problems, needs, strengths, and attitudes. At EBC, we do our best to pull together resources from every corner of our community to meet these needs.
We could not do what we do without you. And now, during this Season of Giving, we hope you will find it in your heart to give to your neighbors in need. We are so grateful to count you among our loyal supporters.
Here’s wishing you and yours a warm and happy Holiday Season! I hope to talk with you soon.
EBC Director of Development
Opening Doors to Let Life In
Losing one’s sight can feel as though doors are closing on life. But Ahlia Warren works to change that. She is the intake specialist at the Earle Baum Center. She makes it her personal mission to help clients open new doors and let life back in.
Ahlia became legally blind herself due to diabetic retinopathy. “I came very close to losing all my vision,” she said. “It was a huge wake-up call for me to come to terms with managing
my diabetes. I was 30, and losing my sight was not part of my life plans. My identity kind of got turned on its head.”
Her first connection with EBC was as a client in 2007. Ahlia was so grateful for the help she received, she wanted to give back. She volunteered at the front desk, answering calls. When a door opened for her to take on a staff role as intake specialist, it was her chance to really make a difference.
Back then, the intake process consisted of a 15-minute phone call with a series of “yes or no” questions. Ahlia soon changed that. Now, she conducts interviews in her own office. “I want to make a connection with a client. It’s what I would want if I were asking for help. Meeting face-to-face gives me a deeper understanding of their needs. For most people, losing their sight is the scariest experience they’ve ever had. Asking for help makes it real. Sometimes it’s their friends and family who are pushing them through our door.”
“Everyone goes through the experience of sight loss in their own way. It takes as long as it takes,” she continued. “It can take time for someone to integrate who they are now, and get back to creating possibilities for themselves. Sometimes, I’ll tell people, ‘It’s super exciting! You’re going to be able to start opening doors, instead of feeling like doors are closing all around you. So, yay! Let’s celebrate that. AND – opening those doors – it’s not always like they just fly open. Sometimes, it takes twisting and turning that knob, and pushing and pushing before the door opens. It takes endurance. It takes inner strength. It takes commitment. You’re going back to school to learn how to operate in this world as a person
who is visually impaired. You’ve got to practice skills.’”
After the intake interview, Ahlia writes a narrative of the client’s issues. And then she writes a plan to prioritize and pace the services the client needs. It is a general blueprint to guide other counselors and funders. It can be hard for a client to envision what they want to do with their lives going forward. But clear goals help ensure they receive relevant training and make the best use of available resources.
“Right now, there are so many people struggling,” Ahlia said. “I’m helping people find housing, transportation, health care – so they don’t fall through the cracks. At least half of our Department of Rehabilitation clients in our Intro to Vision Loss Class are facing homelessness.” What is clear, is that Ahlia will go above and beyond to find the resources her clients need. She cares. She is building and strengthening a web of support for those in need in our community.
Finding Her Way
Any kind of major loss – whether it be a loss of sight, or a loss of employment – can move someone to seek a new path on the way to a full and rewarding life. Nancy Turner is a client and a volunteer at the Earle Baum
Center. She shares her first-hand knowledge with those who are learning to adjust to living with vision loss.
Born prematurely at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Nancy became blind due to retinopathy of prematurity. The oxygen in her incubator damaged the underdeveloped blood vessels in her retinas.
As an adult, Nancy returned to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital to work as a medical transcriptionist. “I knew Earle Baum before EBC was built. He was the president of an adult support group I went to,” Nancy said. She later met EBC staff while traveling on Paratransit to her job. She participated in EBC tandem cycling events. And EBC provided computer training to her at work.
After a 32-year career, her department was outsourced. Nancy began to explore other options, and turned to EBC for help. “Medical transcription isn’t the type of job that encourages social interaction,” she said. She decided she wanted to get more involved with people. EBC has given her many opportunities through the years to do just that.
Today, Nancy is 65 and retired. She reads music in braille, sings in her church choir, and co-leads a singing group at Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa. She also plays guitar and piano. EBC figures prominently in her very full social calendar.
“Mondays, I go to EBC’s Book Club. Sometimes, we’ll watch a movie,” she said. She brings along her knitting. “And I’m also in the Tech Group. Tuesday, I go to Ukulele Class. Sometimes, I also go to the Art Class and the Exercise Class.” “Wednesday is Tap Dance at EBC. I belong to the Thursday Vision Group and I went to all of the Thursday Birding by Ear Classes. And if there are picnics on Fridays, I often go to those, as well.” She loves walking EBC’s nature trails. And she is thrilled with EBC’s new Labyrinth path.
As an EBC volunteer, Nancy has the opportunity to give back. She helps out with whatever needs doing: making coffee, putting dishes away, brailling a birthday card for a client or a note for an instructor, selling See’s candies, and helping new clients and visitors learn about EBC. “Now, I have a routine that I like,” she said. With the help of EBC, she has found her way to a full life.