(EDITOR'S NOTE: This series shares the real-life stories of people who benefit from the services provided by the Lycoming County United Way Program Partners and the individuals who make it possible.)
There aren't too many places in the county where an individual with a visual impairment can turn for help. Lycoming County United Way Program Partner North Central Sight Services Inc., 2121 Reach Road, recognizes that the challenges faced by a visually impaired or blind person can be overwhelming.
The agency offers two programs, each funded in part by LCUW, that address concerns relating to vision.
Its Prevention of Blindness program receives $12,000 and provides education awareness and screenings for young children through kindergarten, as well as adults. The screenings are designed to detect symptoms of decreased vision, which may lead to serious eye diseases.
"The vision screenings NCSS are currently doing helps to not only detect potential vision problems but go a long way in establishing lifestyle changes that will minimize future problems," said Scott N. Lowery, LCUW executive director. "By promoting public education regarding eye care that encourages greater awareness of the need to pay more attention to eye health, we can begin to minimize alarming projections of this type."
The Social Services program, funded in 2013 at $20,000, is designed to assist individuals who are visually impaired or blind. Lori Love, vision rehabilitation therapist, and caseworkers assist clients with support services, such as teaching them how to use tools safely in the kitchen and how to properly label medication bottles.
"They are assisted with getting to medical appointments - and not just to the appointment, but inside the appointment - with reading mail, grocery shopping," said Lesley Larson, marketing and public relations manager. "It gives the clients comfort to navigate the community."
North Central Sight Services Inc. now is celebrating two projects that each complement the agency's programming in very positive ways.
Teaming with Fresh Roasted Coffee in Selinsgrove, the agency now has its own line of coffee. "Sip for Sight" was a catchy phrase that came out in a brainstorming session. Coffee, Larson said, is a relatable product to the majority of adults.
"It is a great cause marketing effort for North Central Sight Services Inc.," she added. "We are currently in the last phase of the trademark process."
According to Larson, 94 percent of the agency's operational costs come from the sales of business services and products. Proceeds from the "Sip for Sight" coffee are put back into the community to provide free vision screenings for children and adults and support for those with vision loss of blindness. The coffee, sold in 12-ounce and 1.75-ounce packets, are being supported by 16 resellers in the region, including general stores, deli's and gift shops. A complete list of retailers is available at ncsight.org/sip-for-sight-org-resellers.html.
NCSS also opened a store at its facility over the summer, targeting people with visual impairments and offering products to help them maintain their independence. Products include kitchen and cleaning aids, large-print check registers, talking clocks and magnifying glasses, among other hard-to-find products such as the 20/20 pen that writes bold like a Sharpie but without bleeding through the paper.
"Many of the items are used in the life skills education classes, taught by Lori," according to Tracy Haas, programs and services director. "The store is an extension of our very specialized vision rehabilitation therapist, Lori Love. It is not common to have a VRT on staff, so this is just another thing made positive by funding like that received from LCUW."
According to Larson, NCSS screens more than 5,000 people each year and sees more than 700 clients. Of that number, she added, 350 of them are from here in Lycoming County.
"By 2030, it is estimated that 50 percent of older adults will have a vision impairment," Larson said. "The need for services will increase because of Baby Boomers maturing."
Projections of this magnitude would have significant negative impacts on the lives of those affected and their families, Lowery said.
"It is certainly not a new concept, but working to prevent situations from occurring is a lot better than dealing with the aftermath," Lowery said.
In addition, Haas added, more adult children are working these days, leaving parents in need of a caregiver.
"There aren't as many supports in place these days and in future years, it will be even less," Haas said. "We try to help fill that gap with the resources that we provide. We definitely would not be able to touch as many people as we do without support from Lycoming County United Way."
"In the weeks ahead, names will be exchanged, presents will be wrapped and gifts will be given to friends and loved ones," Lowery said. "Some of those gifts will be needed and appreciated, others will be taken back to be exchanged for something else.
"During this process, virtually no thoughts will be given to one of the most precious gifts of all - the gift of sight. Thankfully, most people don't need the services provided by North Central Sight Services but, for those that do, NCSS is there to provide the tools necessary to help clients remain as independent as possible," he added. "We are proud to be able to lend support to this mission."
As the Lycoming County United Way campaign continues, the community is urged to think about family, friends and neighbors who may be facing hardships. Consider helping those individuals and others like them by supporting Lycoming County United Way. Live United. Give United.
For more information, visit lcuw.org or call 570-323-9448.