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In Memoriam: Toula Oberlies

Toula Oberlies poses for a photo in the ISBVI auditorium in front of the auditorium’s red curtains. Toula is smiling, has short, curly, gray hair, and is wearing glasses, a black top, and a pearl necklace.

Remembering A Passionate Advocate for Children with Vision Impairments

By: Seth Johnson and Laura Alvarado

It is with heavy hearts that we share the passing of emeritus board member and friend, Toula Oberlies. Toula served in numerous leadership roles as a board member for the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) since the mid-1990s. 

Toula passed away on Saturday, January 13, 2024 surrounded by her children after fighting a nearly three year cancer battle. Toula is remembered as a tireless advocate for children with vision impairments who lit up every room with her energy and passion for life. 

As a charter member of IBCF, Toula Oberlies was instrumental in growing the foundation from a small group of volunteers into a well-established organization that provides opportunities and experiences for staff, parents, and students, served at and through the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI). She served in virtually all capacities and offices since the early ‘90s. While volunteering for IBCF initially brought her to the ISBVI campus, her love for the students and providing them with experiences kept her coming back in other roles and capacities. She was influential in acquiring funding through IBCF from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust in its inaugural year of philanthropic giving for the creation of the school library as well as the accessibility upgrades years later. The school aquatics center also benefited from Toula’s leadership as she raised financial support and awareness for equipment and supplies necessary to maintain the aquatics program.

The picture shows a vintage black and white family photo. There are four individuals standing in front of a palm tree and what appears to be the corner of a staircase with ornate railings. From left to right: A young boy, possibly around 4-5 years old, wearing a light-colored suit with shorts, a bow tie, and holding a small round object in his hand. A man, presumably the father, standing tall in a light-colored suit with a tie, his left hand resting on the boy's shoulder. A woman, likely the mother, dressed in a dark-colored mid-length dress with a light-colored collar, her hair styled in a typical mid-20th-century fashion. A young girl, possibly around 6-7 years old, wearing a dark dress with a light-colored collar, similar to the woman's, and holding what seems to be a small purse or book. All individuals are wearing formal attire, suggesting the photo may have been taken at a special event. The children are wearing white socks with dark shoes. The family is posing with a slight smile, and the photo has a warm, nostalgic feel."I once asked Toula where her passion and fight for children with vision impairments came from. Her decades-long commitment to a board is unique to most non-profits. She opened up about being a young immigrant from Egypt in middle America in the 1950s who couldn’t speak the language, dressed differently, and had a stutter. She understood what it was like to be different. We both knew at that moment where her passion stemmed.” IBCF executive director, Laura Alvarado

Toula tirelessly studied the dictionary as a young person trying to learn English in an effort to fit in but her stutter often shook her confidence. Toula shared, “One day during my junior year of high school, my speech teacher suggested I sing-song my speech to the class. When I talked, I stuttered, but when I sang, my stutter disappeared. This was a defining moment for me. My stuttering didn’t end that day, but I learned of a way to adapt, strengthen my voice, and discovered my joy of singing.”

A group of young women dressed in red vests over white shirts are posed for a photo.

As a longstanding member of the Capital City Chorus, Toula established a collaborative partnership with ISBVI students singing alongside her talented fellow Capital City Singers both on and off campus. She helped the school choir acquire uniforms, and the girls singing with the Capital City Chorus received costumes so they would, in Toula’s words, “look their best.” The students cherished the experience while gaining a greater appreciation for organized singing, improving their musical abilities, and connecting with positive role models. Several of the students went on to perform with Capital City Chorus, and one young woman became a member. Toula’s love of the arts was profound and contagious.

 

 

 

IBCF - Toula Oberlies Creative Arts Fund from IN Blind Childrens Foundation

Toula shared more about her connection to our students and how she became an IBCF board member back in 2021 through the video above prior to launching the Toula Oberlies Creative Arts Fund, an endowed fund devoted to ensuring students at ISBVI have access to unique creative arts experiences dreamt up by their teachers that can take place both on or off campus.

The Toula Oberlies Creative Arts Fund (TOCAF) was established in 2021 to honor Toula’s esteemed legacy. Since 2022, this fund has provided students at ISBVI with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to uniquely experience music, art, writing, dance, and theater in both Chicago and Washington D.C. 

 

The image shows Toula from the side, bending over a podium with microphones. She is wearing a white head covering with stripes, a pearl necklace, and a black sweater over a floral dress. The background is out of focus, but there appears to be a patterned wall or partition behind.

 

A group of ISBVI students and staff stand under the theater marquee for Broadway’s “Lion King,” posing for a photo. Behind them, city lights shine in the Chicago night’s sky.

In 2022, Toula announced and awarded the inaugural TOCAF grant to ISBVI music and history teachers, Janelle Pivec and Josh Baxter, for their Bright Lights, Big City, Chicago Extravaganza trip to Chicago. As part of this theater-centric adventure, ISBVI students worked with Second City Chicago in a half-day improvisational workshop, experienced an accessible Broadway Chicago production of The Lion King, and toured DePaul University's Theatre School.

“The Chicago trip was an absolute blast,” said Baxter after returning from Chicago. “Trips with large groups of students, even fun ones, can be tiring, and have their issues. This trip was fortunate to escape pretty much anything negative. It was seamless and had an energy with the whole group that sustained everyone there. Whenever something goes really right in life, it has a feel to it, and this trip had that feeling. The students were having fun, they were learning, and the adults were right there with them doing the same.”

ISBVI students and teachers, Sean Bradley and Leslie Walsh, pose for a photo while seated in the Kennedy Center’s concert hall. Some of the students appear to be reading braille and large print versions of the evening’s program.In 2023, ISBVI art and music teachers, Leslie Walsh and Sean Bradley, were awarded the second annual TOCAF grant for their Arts for All trip to Washington D.C. As part of this multifaceted excursion, the group of ISBVI students and staff visited the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Portrait Gallery. 

“Having the opportunity to provide a wide array of experiences at museums and concert halls across D.C. was such a blessing,” said Bradley after returning from Washington D.C. “It shows that each student was impacted in their own unique way, and we are eternally grateful to IBCF and the Toula Oberlies Creative Arts Fund for providing such an incredible opportunity for our students.”

Toula Oberlies’ legacy will continue to be honored for years to come through the annual TOCAF grant. Creativity opens the hearts and minds of both participants and audience members. Toula's life has exemplified an enormous passion for both the creative arts and the students of ISBVI, this fund is a fitting tribute to her. The Toula Oberlies Creative Arts Fund is a promise to current and future ISBVI students that their lives will be enriched by experiences that spark, sustain, and generate creativity.

If you would like to honor Toula’s legacy of making unique creative opportunities available to ISBVI students and teachers for generations to come, click on the donate button below to support the Toula Oberlies Creative Arts Fund. 

 

 

 

 

IBCF Kicks Off Culinary Partnership with Cunningham Restaurant Group

By: Seth Johnson

Members of the No Limits Leadership Club pose for a photo in the entrance to Bru Burger's Keystone at the Crossing location alongside IBCF and ISBVI staff. Behind them to the right, we see a lit-up Christmas tree.On Monday, Dec. 18, members of the No Limits Leadership Club kicked off a new culinary partnership with Cunningham Restaurant Group with a visit to Bru Burger’s Keystone at the Crossing location.

Accompanied by IBCF and ISBVI staff, the students were able to practice self-advocacy skills as they enjoyed a three-course meal courtesy of the restaurant. After checking out the restaurant’s braille menus, students ordered appetizers and entrees before being treated to delicious desserts, thanks to the kind staff at Bru Burger.

Following the meal, members of the No Limits Leadership Club then paid a visit to Kendra Scott in the Fashion Mall at Keystone, where they made custom pieces of jewelry that will later be awarded as part of a nationwide fundraiser benefiting ISBVI’s 2024 Prom on Feb. 10 and Feb. 11. After purchasing a certain amount of goods from Kendra Scott next year, customers will be entered into a drawing in which they can win jewelry made by members of the No Limits Leadership Club.

IBCF is grateful to Cunningham Restaurant Group and Kendra Scott for providing students with these unforgettable experiences, and we look forward to continuing our ongoing culinary partnership with Cunningham Restaurant Group in 2024.

2023 Holiday Tree Sale and Family Event

Saturday, December 2nd
 8:00AM - 3:00PM

IBCF Made-To-Order Breakfast in Churchman Cafeteria

8:00AM - 11:00AM
Adult Admission $10 & Kids Admission $5
Pancakes, Omelets and Biscuits and Gravy

Additional Churchman Cafeteria Events

9:00AM - 10:30AM
Visit with Santa Claus
Children may share their wish-list on Santa’s lap while parents take photos.

9:00AM - 11:00AM
Horticulture Program Sale
Purchase Magic Reindeer Food and holiday decorations made by students in the Greenhouse.

10:00AM - 10:45AM
Enjoy the Butler University Student Ensemble performing holiday and jazz music.

Christmas Tree and Wreath Sale at the ISBVI Tree Farm & Shed

9:00AM - 3:00PM
Firs, Pine, and Spruce Trees Available for Purchase- $15 & Up
Hand-Made, Fresh Wreaths - $20 & Up

Additional Tree Farm & Shed Activities 

11:30AM - 12:00PM
Caroling with ISBVI Choir Teacher Ms. Pivec and ISBVI Students

11:00AM - 1:00PM
Visit with Santa Claus at the Tree Farm

1:00PM - 2:00PM
Rudolph Ryan and a Real Live Reindeer at the Tree Farm

 

Looking Back on the 2023 Through the Looking Glass Gala

By: Seth Johnson

On Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) hosted another sold-out Through the Looking Glass Gala at the Renaissance Indianapolis Hotel in Carmel.

A collage features seven images from the 2023 Through the Looking Glass Gala, including photos of attendees enjoying themselves at the event and photos of Lindsey Jordan, Laura Alvarado and Christine Ha while up on stage.

A collage of photos from the 2023 Gala taken by Grant Michael Photography.

Having become an annual tradition for so many of IBCF’s dedicated supporters, the event’s 11th installment was yet again a red-carpet affair, with elegantly dressed guests showing up in masquerade-style masks to coincide with the event’s masquerade theme.

Prior to the event’s program, guests took part in the Bling Ring and Football Toss games, along with the much-loved Bourbon Pull, while mingling at the cocktail reception. During this time, guests were also invited to check out all the various silent auction packages on hand, which were strategically displayed on tables throughout the Gala reception area.

When asked during the reception what he enjoys most about the Gala each year, IBCF board president Michael Parent said it all comes back to community.

“My favorite part is seeing our community of supporters, building relationships, and raising funds for a collective goal — while also having a lot of fun,” Parent said.

IBCF board members and staff pose for a photo with Christine Ha against a white backdrop displaying various 2023 Gala sponsors.

IBCF board members and staff pose for a photo with Christine Ha.

Following the event’s cocktail reception, Gala attendees gathered in the hotel ballroom for the 2023 program and live auction, while enjoying a three-course meal. Following remarks from IBCF executive director Laura Alvarado, Gala committee chair Lindsey Jordan, and IBCF board president Michael Parent, the audience was treated to an exceptional keynote speech from MasterChef Season 3 winner Christine Ha. As she shared in an Instagram post following the Gala, Ha’s journey as a chef who’s blind spoke to the importance of the 2023 Gala Fund-A-Need, which raised financial support for an adaptive culinary kitchen and arts program for students at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

“Cooking for oneself is a step towards independence,” said Ha in her Instagram post. “That’s why I was insistent on learning how to cook after losing my vision. It’s empowering and a confidence booster.”

Following Christine Ha’s keynote speech, IBCF board member Kathy Nimmer introduced a video from 12 Stars Media detailing the adaptive culinary arts program, which includes support from community partners Ivy Tech Community College and Culinary Arts School and the Cunningham Restaurant Group.

“When I got exposed to the School for the Blind by Laura and Lindsey and heard about everything that they do, it really just seemed like a natural [fit] for us to get involved,” said Cunningham Restaurant Group chief operating officer Mike O’Donnell in the video. “What we intend to do is bring some students here to the research and development arm of our company and teach them how to make a snack or maybe take their careers into the restaurant business.” Starting in December, Cunningham Restaurant Group chefs will work with ISBVI high school students once a month, building foundational culinary skills.

Through the video, Gala attendees were also introduced to Chef Jody May, the first individual who is blind to graduate from Ivy Tech’s culinary arts program. Along with Ivy Tech hospitality chair Chef Jeff Bricker and ISBVI Student Training and Employment Program director Judy Reynolds, May will help build a curriculum for ISBVI students to learn the ins and outs of cooking.

As part of the Fund-A-Need, Gala attendees helped fund an accessible culinary classroom designed by the Reitano Design Group with the input of IBCF and ISBVI leadership. This accessible kitchen has been designed to travel back to the College Avenue campus after a temporary relocation to IPS School 94. The Colocation construction will begin summer 2024, building a state-of-the-art campus that will house the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Indiana School for the Deaf on one campus.

Thank you to all the 2023 Through the Looking Glass Gala attendees and sponsors who helped make the 2023 Gala a record-breaking revenue year.

Revisit the 2023 Through the Looking Glass Gala via these photo galleries, including a General Photo gallery, a Red Carpet photo gallery, and a gallery of photos taken in the Photo Booth.

The image outlines all of the sponsors for the 2023 TTLG Gala. Presenting Sponsor: Eye Surgeons of Indiana. Platinum Sponsors: IU School of Medicine -Department of Ophthalmology and Allergan, an AbbVie Company. Gold Sponsors: Midwest Eye Institute, Abrams EyeCare, and Regions Bank. Silver Sponsors: Bosma Enterprises, Glaukos, Lauth Family Foundation, Mimi’s Market, Grossnickle Eye Institute, Price Vision Group, and Whitewater Eye Centers. Supporting Sponsors: Cunningham Restaurant Group, Johnson Brothers, Mike Clayton - Bourbon Aficionado, Lux Lab, Rejuvenate Eye and Face Medspa, Yuengling, Carmel Magazine, A Taste of Indiana, Metalmark Fine Jewelry, Sertoma Club of Broad Ripple, Scout & Cellar, Love Your Look, E&J Gallo Winery, Moyer, The W. Nail Bar, and Reitano Design Group.

ISBVI Students Take Part in Virtual Cooking Class with Christine Ha

By: Seth Johnson

Six ISBVI students pose for a photo with Chef Jody May in the lobby of Ivy Tech’s Culinary and Conference Center. Two of the students are wearing a white chef’s hat. Chef May is wearing one as well.On Aug. 16, a group of six ISBVI students took part in a very special virtual cooking class led by MasterChef Season 3 winner Christine Ha at the Ivy Tech Culinary and Conference Center.

Known for being the only chef who’s blind to win MasterChef, Ha kicked off the course by introducing herself to the students, giving them a bit of background on how she got to be where she is today.

“I started teaching myself to cook when I was about 20 years old, and I was in college. So it’s definitely possible to become really good at it if you enjoy it,” Ha said. “If you don’t, that’s totally okay too. Cooking is not for everybody, but you should learn to cook a little bit of something because eventually you’ll want to be independent and learn to feed yourself.”

Over the course of the hour-long cooking class, Ha walked the ISBVI students through her recipe for Chinese cold sesame noodles, giving them firsthand food prep pointers to help them navigate the kitchen as individuals who are blind or visually impaired. In addition to Ha’s virtual instruction, the ISBVI students were also provided with in-person expertise from Jody May, the first individual who’s blind to graduate from Ivy Tech’s culinary arts program.

As Christine Ha walked the students through her recipe, she also made sure to share several bits of wisdom she’d picked up over the course of her life’s journey.

“One of our core values at all my restaurants is, ‘Be better today than you were yesterday,’ and that’s kind of the philosophy I live life by,” Ha told the students. “That was really something that stemmed from my time on MasterChef.”

Christine Ha is scene on a large screen in a kitchen at the Ivy Tech Culinary and Conference Center as she communicates with ISBVI students via Zoom. To the left of the screen, we see Chef Jody May, who also helped instruct the students in person.After they had successfully prepared the recipe, the students reconvened to give the noodles a taste test before heading back to the ISBVI campus. When asked to reflect on the experience overall, a pair of ISBVI students shared that they hope to continue honing their skills in the kitchen for the sheer fact that it will help them to become more independent.

“I think it's important because I really want to be independent as an adult and not rely on anyone else,” said one student. “So if I can learn how to cook and be independent in that way, then that means for the rest of my life I won't have to rely on anyone to do things for me. I can just do it myself.”

“I want to become independent so I can just live on my own and not have to worry about buying food every day,” added another student.

On Saturday, Oct. 7, Christine Ha will serve as the keynote speaker at IBCF’s annual Through the Looking Glass Gala, held at the Renaissance Indianapolis Hotel in Carmel. Fittingly, this year’s “Fund-A-Need” at the Gala will support an adaptive culinary arts program for youth who are blind or have low vision.

To bring this adaptive culinary arts program to fruition, be sure to purchase tickets to the 2023 Gala at bit.ly/TTLG.

 

Amanda Bruce is Helping Students Achieve Their Dreams

By: Seth Johnson

Amanda Bruce stands next to a plant outside of the ISBVI school building, as she poses for a photo. Bruce is wearing a blue and white t-shirt that features the words “ISBVI Hero” on it.Since her start as a life skills teacher at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), Amanda Bruce has made sure she meets each and every one of her students where they’re at.

“We work on our timeline, however long it takes us to get there. And I totally accept that and support that,” Bruce says. “It may not be the typical timeline for students, but with my students, we support what it takes for them to reach their lifelong goals.”

Having worked as a life skills teacher for the entirety of her professional career, Bruce was drawn to work at ISBVI after hearing about the school’s close-knit staff.

“I had just heard what a wonderful place it was here, how everybody worked as a team, and that it was like a big family,” Bruce says.

After originally joining the ISBVI staff as a middle school life skills teacher, Bruce then worked as a high school life skills teacher before eventually ending up in her current role as a transition-aged life skills teacher (ages 18-22).

“I have grown with some of these kids throughout most of their educational careers,” Bruce says. “We started in middle school together, we moved to high school together, and then we’ve worked on those transition skills from age 18 to 22 — getting them ready for Adult Services and life after high school.”

While preparing her students to live independently, Bruce will often take them on trips out into the community, whether that’s a visit to a nearby restaurant or the Indiana State Fair.

“I really like to help them make those connections in the classroom and apply it out in the real world,” Bruce says. “So I love to get out in the community and do extended activities based on what we’ve done in class.”

With her specific age range of students, Bruce particularly places a major emphasis on career exploration and independent living skills.

“We work on Expanded Core Curriculum, but we focus on career exploration and job skills,” she says. “We focus on educational opportunities and training after high school based on what they want to do after school as far as a job. That also includes independent living skills. So if they would like to live in an apartment with a roommate but they don’t quite have those skills, we work on that.”

At the end of the day, Bruce simply finds joy in seeing her students work toward their dreams.

“I love watching them become more independent,” she says. “My goal for every one of my students is to be as independent as possible across all areas based on their abilities.”

Quest for Excellence Helps Support ISBVI Food Pantry

By: Seth Johnson

Since 2011, Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) has provided students and their families with a food pantry of goods to help supplement any food needs they might have.

A photo shows various canned goods neatly stacked in the ISBVI food pantry.After learning of a gap in funding last spring, the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) stepped in to make sure the food pantry could still operate at full capacity. In addition to IBCF financial support, IBCF received grant support from a small nonprofit known as Quest for Excellence.

“It was a need that I felt was very important to help give those kids the best environment,” says Patti Foltz, Quest for Excellence president. “They already have enough going against them — food should not be an issue.”

In addition to supporting the ISBVI food pantry, Quest for Excellence also helped fund the 2023 ISBVI summer camps.

“I learned about the summer camps, and I thought it was very, very important that the students had that opportunity because so many kids just kind of flounder in the summer,” Foltz says.

Since Quest for Excellence first started contributing to IBCF initiatives, Foltz has grown all the more passionate about the foundation’s cause.

“After being at the graduation ceremony and hearing those young people speak, it was just a very inspiring, emotional God moment for me,” Foltz says.

In reflecting on the food pantry and the financial support it now receives from IBCF, ISBVI school psychologist Selina Ho couldn’t be more grateful.

“When IBCF stepped in, it was such a beautiful thing,” she says. “The food pantry has just been an integral part of the support for our families and our staff since 2011.”

Supporter Spotlight: Huntington Bank

By: Seth Johnson

Since 2017, Huntington Bank has worked to push the mission of the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation forward, helping to fill key roles on the IBCF board while also making regular financial contributions to the foundation.

Former Huntington employee and current IBCF board member Chris Munoz is seen at the 2022 Senior Banquet, as he gives a 2022 senior his senior gift basket on behalf of IBCF. Both Chris and the ISBVI senior are sharply dressed.As the Indiana Market President, Scott Ransburg emphasizes that Huntington Bank ultimately strives to be much more than just a bank.

“Our mission is to make people’s lives better, help businesses thrive, and strengthen the communities that we serve,” Ransburg says. “We not only like to help and support where we can financially, but I think it’s really important for us to roll up our sleeves and be in the community. So it’s not uncommon that you’ll see a bunch of green shirts out at a food bank or being extremely active on boards.”

Although no longer an employee of the bank, current IBCF board president Michael Parent first joined the IBCF board during his time at Huntington. After visiting the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired for a tour, Parent immediately became aware of the foundation’s importance and has served on the IBCF board ever since.

“You go out there, you see the facilities, you meet the kids, and you just want to get involved,” Parent says.

Much like Parent, Chris Munoz also joined the IBCF board while employed by Huntington Bank. Although he’s since moved onto another role in the field of finance, Munoz remains passionate about the mission of IBCF while also serving as the current board treasurer.

“What’s kept me involved is the people,” Munoz says. “It’s the idea that what we’re doing is making a huge difference with kids.”

When asked why he’s proud to support the mission of IBCF, Ransburg specifically cites the recent work that was done by the No Limits Leadership Club to help make Conner Prairie more accessible.

“Laura, IBCF executive director, provides great leadership there,” Ransburg says. “It’s really neat to see what IBCF does as far as helping people learn.”

A Look Back at the 2023 No Limits Celebration

By: Seth Johnson

A close-up, black-and-white photo shows A.J. Croce singing and playing piano on stage at the 2023 No Limits Celebration.On Saturday, July 22, the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) hosted another successful No Limits Celebration at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), with a headlining performance from acclaimed musician A.J. Croce.

A tradition that dates back to 2019, the No Limits Celebration serves as an annual kick-off to the No Limits Arts Series — a multi-faceted arts initiative centered on strengthening accessibility that’s made possible with support from Lilly Endowment, Inc. Held every year on the anniversary weekend of the Americans with Disabilities Act being signed into law, the No Limits Celebration showcases an artist that mirrors the strengths and abilities of the children ISBVI and IBCF serve. Having hosted artists such as acclaimed jazz pianist Matthew Whitaker and Grammy award-winning bluegrass fiddler Michael Cleveland in recent years, IBCF welcomed A.J. Croce to the ISBVI stage in 2023, who was accompanied by Grammy award-winning bassist David Barard.

Upon arriving at ISBVI for the 2023 No Limits Celebration, guests were invited to take part in a pre-concert reception, complete with a meal catered by the Jazz Kitchen and live music from local jazz artist and ISBVI alumni Steven Jones. While walking to and from the pre-concert reception, attendees were encouraged to check out an accessible photo exhibit highlighting the first-ever Toula Oberlies Creative Arts Fund (TOCAF) grant, which made it possible for ISBVI theater teachers Janelle Pivec and Josh Baxter to take a group of 15 high school students on a multi-faceted theater adventure in Chicago.

“I now understand that artwork can have braille and audio attachments that aid visually impaired people accessing them,” said one 2023 No Limits Celebration attendee on the photo exhibit as part of their post-event survey.

A wide shot shows several tables of sharply dressed guests in Churchman Dining Hall for the No Limits Celebration pre-concert reception. In the distance, on the right side of the photo, we can see the multi-colored No Limits sign that several guests posed for photos next to during the reception.With the help of event staff and volunteers, No Limits Celebration attendees had no trouble navigating the ISBVI campus as they made their way from the pre-concert reception in Churchman Dining Hall to A.J. Croce’s performance in the ISBVI auditorium. “I was struck by how friendly all the people were — not only the staff, but the people attending the event as well,” said an attendee via their post-event survey. “All members of our party thought it was an absolutely beautiful event — from the hospitality to the performance to the emcee (Ms. Nimmer) and the staff/volunteers,” another attendee added.

Prior to A.J. Croce’s performance, attendees viewed a short film from 12 Stars Media documenting a partnership between the No Limits Leadership Club and Conner Prairie. Through this partnership, ISBVI students advised the living history museum on ways it could be more accessible to all. Now as a result, Conner Prairie staff will receive audio description training this fall so that they can eventually give audio-described tours of Conner Prairie to visitors who are blind or visually impaired.

“I loved seeing the impact the students made by advocating for changes,” said one attendee via their post-event survey. “If young people can make a difference, it brings more awareness to adults for us to step up and advocate for change.”

Following the film, longtime IBCF board members David Thomas and Toula Oberlies (represented by her daughter Sara Oberlies Brown) were presented with awards in honor of their many years of exceptional service on the IBCF board. An IBCF board member herself, emcee Kathy Nimmer eloquently spoke on the contributions David and Toula have made to IBCF over the years, including David’s influence on IBCF’s ongoing work with arts partners in the community and the endowed fund named in honor of Toula which provides ISBVI students with once-in-a-lifetime arts opportunities.

A photo taken from the left side of the ISBVI auditorium’s balcony shows A.J. Croce performing at the piano on stage on the far right, with bassist David Barard featured on the left of the stage. The above angle shows several rows of the auditorium’s lower level, each of which is all but full of concert attendees. To the left of the stage, we also see an ASL interpreter. Above the stage, a screen with open captioning reads “Rolling on”.After an outstanding performance from A.J. Croce and David Barard followed by a brief intermission, emcee Kathy Nimmer sat down with A.J. Croce for an engaging Q&A, which also included some questions from the audience on hand. “I loved the candor and deep honesty from both of them,” said one attendee of the Q&A in their post-concert survey. “Kathy asked terrific questions. I wasn't aware of Mr. Croce's impairment until he described it, so that was helpful to understand the connection,” another attendee added.

In reflecting on the No Limits Celebration as a whole, several attendees also shed light on the event’s overall accessibility, whether it was the ASL interpreters on hand or the audio description devices that were available.

“I really had no idea of all the accommodations available for everyone to enjoy any presentation/musical event,” commented one individual.

“It gave me a new perspective on what accessibility is and the need for it,” said another attendee.

While these accommodations may have been new to some attendees, they made others at the event feel very included, ultimately pointing back to what the No Limits Arts Series is all about.

“A great effort has been made to include everyone,” said one attendee of the 2023 No Limits Celebration. “I especially appreciate this since I am totally blind and deaf in one ear.”

For the full collection of photos from the 2023 No Limits Celebration, click here to view a slideshow from Grant Michael Photography. We would again like to thank all of the No Limits Celebration attendees, volunteers and sponsors for making this year’s event a success!

A graphic features logos of all the 2023 No Limits Celebration sponsors, including Lilly Endowment, Inc., Regions Bank, Opendate, Sweetwater, Jazz Kitchen, Piano Solutions, and Sertoma Club of Broad Ripple. At the top of the graphic, bold font reads “THANK YOU to our No Limits sponsors!” Beneath all of the sponsors’ logos, the logos for Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation are also featured.

12 Stars Media Short Film Spotlights No Limits Leadership Club in Action

By: Seth Johnson

At the 2023 No Limits Celebration, the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) premiered a short film from 12 Stars Media looking back on this year’s partnership between the No Limits Leadership Club and staff at Conner Prairie.

Over the course of the film, Leadership Club students Dylan and Minnie explain some of the conversations they had with Conner Prairie staff on ways the living history museum could be more accessible. In particular, a specific exercise is highlighted in which Conner Prairie staff wear goggles that mirror the vision of students in the No Limits Leadership Club.

To see the students in action, check out the video below, which features both audio description and open captioning.

Recognizing the National Charity League - Carmel Chapter

By: Seth Johnson

After playing a crucial role in last year’s No Limits Celebration, the National Charity League - Carmel Chapter again helped to make the 2023 No Limits Celebration a successful event, thanks to their dedicated volunteer support.

Mothers and daughters from the National Charity League - Carmel Chapter pose for a photo next to a 3D No Limits sign in ISBVI’s Churchman Dining Hall. The sign reads “no limits” in black letters on top of an orange base.

In addition to helping out with setup for the 2023 No Limits Celebration’s pre-concert reception in Churchman Dining Hall on July 21, the mother/daughter volunteer group also returned to Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired the following day, helping to fill in several volunteer roles that made this year’s event run smoothly.

As a mother who works as the liaison between IBCF and the National Charity League – Carmel Chapter, Aruna Ramkaransingh says she and her daughters Sonia and Suria love supporting the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation in whatever ways they can.

“As a multi-generational philanthropic organization of mothers and daughters, we at the National Charity League donate close to three million hours annually to over 6,000 charities in the United States,” Ramkaransingh says. “We work together to build social awareness and serve our communities through leadership and compassion. IBCF is exactly the kind of philanthropic gem we love to partner with! Our involvement with IBCF inspires us to make a small but mighty contribution in supporting the unique work of the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We feel so honored to have the privilege of uplifting the children who attend the school so that they may rise above their challenges to make a profound impact in this world!”

Please join us in thanking the National Charity League – Carmel Chapter for their continued support of IBCF and their dedication to volunteering at our events!

IBCF Featured in July Issue of Special Needs Living Magazine

By: Seth Johnson

In their July issue, Special Needs Living Magazine published a story spotlighting the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation which specifically highlighted the No Limits Arts Series and its origins. Click here to view the full story.

A photo shows the first page of IBCF's "Nonprofit Spotlight" story in the July issue of Special Needs Living Magazine. This particular page features text, along with two photos. One photo shows the No Limits Leadership Club posing for a photo with Conner Prairie staff, and the other photo is a professional portrait of 2019 No Limits Celebration performer Matthew Whitaker.The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF), in partnership with the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), was awarded the Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation Grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. in December 2018 to create, launch, and sustain the No Limits Arts Series.

A multi-faceted arts initiative, the No Limits Arts Series is centered on strengthening accessibility not only in arts organizations throughout Marion County, but also at ISBVI. As a part of this series, IBCF hosts an annual No Limits Celebration and Kick-Off event every July on the anniversary weekend of the Americans with Disabilities Act being signed into law. Each year, an artist takes the stage at the No Limits Celebration that mirrors the strengths and abilities of the children ISBVI and IBCF serve.

Having hosted artists such as acclaimed jazz pianist Matthew Whitaker and Grammy award-winning bluegrass fiddler Michael Cleveland in recent years, IBCF will welcome esteemed singer-songwriter A.J. Croce to the ISBVI stage on July 22 for the 2023 No Limits Celebration.

“The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation is passionate about bringing high-caliber artists to the ISBVI auditorium stage each year whose career and artistry shine a light on abilities and confront perceived notions surrounding those with vision impairments. A.J. Croce is a multi-talented performer - pianist, singer, and songwriter, who will transform the audience musically and challenge any limiting perceptions,” says IBCF executive director Laura Alvarado.

Reflecting upon inclusiveness at ISBVI, the school auditorium underwent a major transformation in 2018 as part of the grant from Lily Endowment Inc., upgrading all the audio and lighting technology and integrating video and wheelchair seating for the first time. The auditorium now serves as a learning laboratory for artistic classes and endeavors with students, as well as a public space for films and performances, making the campus more of a community gathering space.

In addition to accessible seating, the 2023 No Limits Celebration will also have assistive listening devices, open captioning, ASL interpretation, Braille and large print programs, and audio description available, ensuring the event is accessible to all.

MEET THE NO LIMITS LEADERSHIP CLUB

While welcoming the community onto the campus of ISBVI for accessible arts experiences, the No Limits Arts Series also encompasses another component. Headed up by IBCF executive director Laura Alvarado and ISBVI staff member Tara Abella, the No Limits Leadership Club is an after-school club comprised of ISBVI high school-aged students who are nominated by ISBVI teachers based on their outstanding character in the classroom.

The Leadership Club meets weekly throughout the school year to learn ways to strengthen their voice, increase knowledge surrounding advocacy, develop leadership skills, and connect to their community. Every school year, the No Limits Leadership Club also partners with a local arts organization, helping to address the inequities for access in each arts organization, create and implement solutions together that dissolve physical and social barriers to inclusion, and widen doors for all people with disabilities as increased access evolves in each partner organization and beyond.

Since 2019, the No Limits Leadership Club has partnered with several prominent arts organizations in the Indianapolis area, including ArtMix, Eiteljorg Museum, Heartland Film, Capital City Chorus, Phoenix Theatre, and Dance Kaleidoscope. Most recently, the Leadership Club also teamed up with Conner Prairie in the spring of 2023, advising the Hamilton County living history museum on ways they can be more accessible to all.

After welcoming the Conner Prairie staff to ISBVI and giving them a tour of the school, the No Limits Leadership Club made several visits to Conner Prairie throughout the 2023 spring semester, touring the museum’s indoor space in the winter months before eventually exploring their outdoor space in the spring. As part of these visits, the No Limits Leadership Club students led the Conner Prairie staff in some unique exercises, including one where the staff was able to walk in the students’ shoes.

“When we were at Conner Prairie, we decided to teach some of the staff members on a daily living tool that us blind and visually impaired people use, and that is the white cane,” says No Limits Leadership Club member Dylan, who graduated from ISBVI in May. “We had different sets of goggles to match our vision levels. They used a cane, had the goggles on, and walked with us to get an experience of how we navigate in our daily lives.”

Through taking part in this student-led exercise, the Conner Prairie staff was truly able to understand what improvements need to be made to their museum to make it more accessible to individuals who are blind and visually impaired.

“We noticed that when the staff were wearing the goggles that a lot of them said things that a lot of us related to,” says No Limits Leadership Club member Minnie. “The staff observed some improvements that could be made to the accessibility of the museum, and the only way they would’ve known that they needed to improve on those things was through experiencing our vision.”

After going through her first year in the No Limits Leadership Club, Minnie ultimately appreciates the ways in which it has helped her grow.

“It is a club you have once a week that helps you build your confidence in yourself and the way you present yourself. But also, at the same time, you’re a part of something that’s helping to make other arts organizations more accessible,” Minnie says. “I think it’s a good opportunity to improve your self-confidence, while also helping to make arts organizations more accessible.”

Looking Back on the 2023 ISBVI Graduation Ceremony

By: Seth Johnson

On Friday, May 26, the 2023 graduation ceremony was held at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), with 11 graduating seniors receiving their high school diplomas or certificates of completion.

Held in the historic ISBVI auditorium, the ceremony took place the morning after the annual ISBVI Senior Banquet, at which all 11 graduating seniors received gift baskets put together by the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation and our community of supporters.

ISBVI 2023 valedictorian Kaitlyn Overshiner stands on stage in the ISBVI auditorium as she delivers a speech to the audience on hand.As part of the graduation ceremony, ISBVI Class of 2023 valedictorian Kaitlyn Overshiner delivered a powerful speech, thanking all of those who helped the students get to this point in their lives while also looking ahead to all that she hopes the Class of 2023 will accomplish.

“The teachers and staff here at ISBVI are the best in the world. It has been our teachers who have helped us realize our dreams, so let’s give a round of applause for our teachers,” Overshiner said. “Our parents have been with us every step of the way and without their love and support today would not be possible, so let’s give a round of applause for our parents.”

In her speech, Overshiner also acknowledged all the unique obstacles this graduating class overcame in their time at ISBVI.

“Today, we celebrate the Class of 2023 and the fact that we have persevered and achieved our goal of graduation,” Overshiner said. “It has not been easy. We have had to overcome so much, such as visual impairments, the Coronavirus, and an America that seems more divided than ever, in addition to the everyday struggles of being teenagers. Together, we have persevered and thanks to our hard work, determination, and friendships we have not only survived, but we have thrived.”

In closing, Overshiner urged the Class of 2023 to remain confident and determined going forward, knowing that they have “the abilities and strength” to overcome any obstacle that comes their way.

The ISBVI graduating class of 2023 lines up in the school’s Student Center prior to heading into the 2023 Graduation Ceremony.“Overcoming blindness has taught me that disability does not define us; it is our determination and hard work that shape our destinies,” Overshiner said. “It is not about what we lack but what we can achieve with the abilities we possess. We must not let our limitations hold us back from pursuing our dreams and making a positive impact on the world.”

Following the 2023 commencement address from child advocate Jack Levine, those in attendance were treated to a moving performance of the song “Unstoppable” from the ISBVI middle and high school choir. To close out the ceremony, all the 2023 ISBVI graduating seniors received their diplomas, with family and loved ones cheering them on.

We at IBCF would like to congratulate the ISBVI Class of 2023 yet again on this major life accomplishment! We wish you all the best as you move on to the next chapters of your lives and cannot wait to see all that you accomplish.

 

Horticulture Teacher Elizabeth Garvey Retires After 34 Years at ISBVI

By: Seth Johnson

Elizabeth Garvey smiles for a photo in front of the ISBVI greenhouse door. Garvey is wearing sunglasses, a white shirt and green overalls.Since joining the staff at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) in 1989, Elizabeth Garvey has transformed the school’s grounds while also cultivating the ISBVI horticulture program. Now after 34 years, though, Garvey is set to retire, leaving behind a storied legacy of introducing students to the art of gardening.

A graduate of Purdue University, Garvey truly embraced her love of working with people and plants in college, where she majored in horticulture and minored in therapeutic horticulture. While earning her master’s degree from Ball State University in landscape architecture, Garvey became enamored with the ISBVI campus as she was working on her thesis, which focused on the school’s connection with the Monon Trail.

After finishing her coursework at Ball State, Garvey approached then-ISBVI superintendent Michael Bina about coming on board to head up the school’s grounds crew, but Bina had an alternative proposition.

“He said, ‘No. I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think I’d like to use your undergraduate degree in horticulture to start a horticulture program,’” Garvey says. “I said okay. When they hired me, they hired me as a year-round position, so I got to work with the kids during the school year. And then, in the summer, I stayed on to maintain the flowerbeds and do all the maintenance that needed to be done in the summer.”

When she first started working at ISBVI, Garvey says the greenhouse had not been built yet. Instead, she teamed up with her mentor teacher to find other ways that she could introduce students to horticulture.

“When they hired me, my mentor teacher was Marc Reynolds, who was the industrial arts teacher,” Garvey says. “So I had a room over there in D dorm out of his wood shop. He got a few light stands, and we just started propagating plants. Then, we had higher aspirations, so we started growing perennials, and we built some cold frames. It was wonderful because we had this opportunity to put our classes together. So his students and my students built cold frames, and we built the soil bench that’s in the greenhouse right now.”

After the greenhouse was built in 1995, Garvey and Reynolds continued working together to make sure it was fully equipped for future ISBVI horticulture students. “When we finally got the greenhouse, our classes were once again together, and we built all the benches in the greenhouse,” Garvey says. “We poured the concrete sidewalk, and we did the landscaping.”

Since the early days of her class, Garvey says she has also coordinated plant sales featuring plants grown by ISBVI students. As she’s been able to recruit more and more volunteers to help at the greenhouse over the years, ISBVI plant sales have blossomed into beloved Broad Ripple-area events. With help from the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation, Garvey was also able to start a website for the ISBVI greenhouse, allowing even more people to be informed about upcoming plant sales.

“We got our website back when the pandemic hit, and we ended up having our first online plant sale,” Garvey says. “We couldn’t have done it without IBCF because the state doesn’t allow us to use credit cards. I think that really put us on the map, and people took notice.”

In reflecting on her time as ISBVI horticulture teacher, Garvey is ultimately grateful for the opportunity she’s had to help students grow closer to nature.

“I’m just passionate about helping kids get out into nature because if you don’t see something you might not be curious about it or maybe even a little intimidated by it,” she says. “I think that plants and gardening have so much to offer our students when it comes to work skills and team building. I really think what drives me and keeps me going is seeing the kids embrace and enjoy learning about plants.”

Looking ahead to the future of ISBVI’s horticulture program, Garvey expresses confidence in her successor.

“Through a friend of a friend of a friend, we found Carmen Breedlove,” Garvey says. “She was a teacher in Westfield-Washington Schools, where she’s been teaching developmental preschool. She knows IEPs back and forth, so she has a lot of experience working with kids with disabilities. That makes me feel so good because I know the kids are going to be in good hands with her.”

At the end of the day, Garvey hopes Breedlove can find as much fulfillment in the role of ISBVI horticulture teacher as she did during her 34 years at the school.

“I just hope that I can be around to be a mentor to her and support her with whatever she needs,” Garvey says. “I hope she falls in love with our kids the way I did.”

 

Another Year of Enriching Opportunities at the ISBVI Summer Camps

By: Seth Johnson

Every June, Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) hosts a pair of summer camps uniquely catered towards children with visual impairments. The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation is a proud sponsor of these camps that continually enrich the lives of children with vision impairments, providing youth with so much more than just a weeklong adventure.

Open to children ages 9-15 who are blind or have low vision, Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) Camp welcomes campers to take part in a wide variety of adventurous activities, including archery, horseback riding, axe throwing and more. Aligned with both ECC and STEM standards, the common thread of this weeklong, overnight camp is that it pushes children with visual impairments outside their comfort zones and supports every student in accomplishing each particular activity with adaptations best suited for that child. As a result, children learn to see themselves as successful, and in a variety of roles ranging from climber to engineer.

A young female camper with blonde hair is seen drawing a bow and arrow as she participates in archery at ISBVI’s Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) Camp. Between the ages of 10 and 15, Eleanor Habecker was a regular attendee at EYH Camp, only missing out on a few years during that time span due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In looking back on all the fun she’s had, Eleanor fondly remembers the trips she and her fellow campers took to a local waterpark.

“Last year, and then a few years before COVID, we went to a waterpark, and it was a whole lot of fun,” says Eleanor, who has very limited vision due to optic nerve hypoplasia. “That was probably my favorite activity because there was a lot of stuff to do. I had a lot of fun going down the waterslides and floating down the lazy river.”

While taking part in these fun activities, Eleanor also managed to make a lot of new friends at EYH Camp. “I have some of my closest friends from going to the camp — one I still have sleepovers with today,” Eleanor says. Reflecting even further on this point, Eleanor’s father is grateful for the ways in which EYH Camp has positively impacted his daughter’s social life.

“I’ve appreciated that Eleanor gets to hang out with more kids who are blind,” says Philip Habecker. “I think it’s good for her to be around other kids who have an understanding of who she is and what life is like in her shoes.”

Being from Goshen, Indiana, the Habecker family has also felt plenty comfortable sending Eleanor to ISBVI in Indianapolis for EYH Camp each year.

“We always know that she’ll be really well taken care of,” says Eleanor’s mother, Liz. “We know she’s got great people there for her.”

Much like the Habecker family, Pauline Valvo has found that the ISBVI summer camps best suit the needs of her daughter, Stella. Having attended ISBVI since the age of 3, Stella has SOX2 anophthalmia syndrome and was born without eyes. As Stella has grown up, Pauline says she’s had trouble finding summer camps that meet her daughter’s specific needs. This all changed, however, when Stella was of the age to attend Camp Abilities at ISBVI.

Students participate in a game of beep baseball in a grassy lawn on the ISBVI campus. In this photo, the pitcher is seen mid-pitch as he throws the ball to the student at bat. Behind the batter, students and camp staff members sit and cheer on their fellow campers.Also held every June, Camp Abilities is a one-week comprehensive educational sports day camp for students ages 7-15 who are blind or visually impaired.  Students experience a variety of health and fitness activities that can inspire lifelong dedication to valuing fitness, while learning about blind/low vision specific sports such as beep baseball, goalball, and five-a-side soccer.

By attending Camp Abilities, Pauline says Stella discovered her love for track, which has positively impacted her life in more than one way.

“She got exposed to track through Camp Abilities, and she loved it,” Pauline says. “So she ended up participating on the track team at school this fall. It’s something she can do anywhere. When we go to parks, she wants to practice running. Participating on the track team has now helped her with her social skills. I’ve seen her grow in terms of developing friendships.”

Prior to attending Camp Abilities, Stella was able to attend some other summer camps in the Indianapolis area with the help of a one-on-one aide. Ultimately, though, Camp Abilities has been the summer camp experience that best meets her needs.

“There’s just something different that happens when you’re in an environment that’s designed for your unique abilities,” Pauline says.

 

Conner Prairie Staff to Receive Audio Description Training After No Limits Leadership Club Partnership

By: Seth Johnson

Over the course of the 2023 spring semester, the No Limits Leadership Club met with staff at Conner Prairie, advising the living history museum on ways it could be more accessible to all.

Two high-school aged males stand at a podium in the ISBVI auditorium as they present Conner Prairie staff with recommendations on making their museum more accessible.After several months of meaningful conversation, the Leadership Club students presented the Conner Prairie staff with access strategies to consider that would improve the museum’s overall accessibility. Having now taken some time to contemplate the students’ input, Conner Prairie has decided that they would like to have staff members trained in audio description so that they can give audio-described tours of the museum.

In November 2023, Conner Prairie staff members across multiple public-facing departments will take part in a two-day audio description training session led by Toni Bader and Edie McDonnell, who have extensive experience in audio description in Central Indiana. Following the initial two-day training session, the Conner Prairie staff members will then take part in two follow-up practice sessions with Bader and McDonnell, in the hope that they will then be fully equipped to lead audio-described tours of Conner Prairie on their own.

As a result of these training sessions, the Conner Prairie staff will also apply what is learned to develop audio description recordings that can be utilized by guests. Future plans would include recording the audio description tours for self-guided experiences upon request, or if staff are unable to facilitate a tour.

Funding for Conner Prairie’s audio description training will be provided by a subgrant from the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation, which was made possible by the Lilly Endowment's Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation grant. After receiving training from Bader and McDonnell, Conner Prairie plans to launch their audio description offerings in the spring of 2024. Once these services are in place, guests of the museum who are blind or low vision will be able to register for an audio description tour at no additional cost outside of general admission or a museum membership. Additionally, Conner Prairie plans to use a portion of the funding to purchase headsets and receivers for staff and guests that participate in the tours.

To learn more about Conner Prairie’s work with the No Limits Leadership Club, be sure to attend the 2023 No Limits Celebration featuring An Evening with A.J. Croce, where 12 Stars Media will be premiering a documentary-style short film focused on the partnership between the IBCF Leadership Club and Conner Prairie.

IBCF Continues Tradition of Gift Baskets for Graduating ISBVI Seniors

From left to right, Stacy Ress and Cristina Brown of Eye Surgeons of Indiana pose for a photo at A Taste of Indiana.Continuing with tradition, the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation and its excellent network of supporters have put together gift baskets for each of the seniors who will be graduating from Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) this year.

With contributions from IBCF board members, staff and supporters, as well as ISBVI staff, all of the 11 graduating ISBVI seniors will receive a gift basket at the annual Senior Banquet (held the night before ISBVI graduation) that was carefully crafted for them.

Gift baskets for two ISBVI seniors are arranged on the school’s front steps. Both of the baskets are also accompanied by a suitcase and a laundry basket full of dorm supplies.Sponsors for this year’s senior gift baskets included Kelly Alexiou, Laura Alvarado, Kim Borges, Kristina Davis, Eye Surgeons of Indiana (coordinated by Cristina Brown and Stacy Ress), Patricia Foltz, Becca Hopson, Carmie Klein, Jenny Lurkins, Chris and Kelly Munoz, Kathy Nimmer, Michael and Hailey Parent, and Hannah and Jared Wilson.

On the Thursday before the annual ISBVI Senior Banquet, IBCF board members, staff and volunteers gathered at A Taste of Indiana, who graciously helped in putting the ISBVI seniors’ gift baskets together. IBCF is incredibly grateful for the longstanding partnership it has with A Taste of Indiana and the steadfast support we receive from A Taste of Indiana owner Mark Kolbus.

Congratulations to the 2023 ISBVI Senior Class!

ISBVI Students Take Part in Agape Therapeutic Riding Program

By: Seth Johnson

Throughout the 2023 spring semester, ISBVI students visited Agape Therapeutic Riding in Cicero, Ind., where they took part in various equine-assisted programs.

An elementary-aged child is seen riding a horse at Agape Therapeutic Riding.Founded in 1994, Agape Therapeutic Riding teaches horseback riding and horsemanship skills to meet the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive goals of everyone they serve. Made possible by a donation to the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation from the parents and grandparents of Zoey Krier, a current ISBVI student, ISBVI classes of Pre-K through fifth grade students (all skill levels), as well as middle and high school life skill students, made three visits each to Agape Therapeutic Riding, allowing the students to build relationships with the horses while also growing towards being their best selves.

A third grade teacher at ISBVI, Tara Abella says her students developed strong bonds with the horses at Agape.

“The kids had a really great time — they really enjoyed riding the horses,” Abella says. “They were really excited and asking if they could ride that same horse again the next time.”

An elementary-aged child is seen wearing a protective horseback-riding helmet as she brushes a miniature horse at Agape Therapeutic Riding.For many of the ISBVI students who took part in the Agape Therapeutic Riding visits, it was the first time they had ever ridden a horse.

“I really appreciate the donor who gave the funding so that they could go more than once because the students really wanted to continue the relationships with the horses that they had,” Abella says. “They just had a really great time because a lot of these kids don’t have these kinds of opportunities.”

A middle and high school life skills teacher at ISBVI, Tami Purkey says the Agape staff did an excellent job of working with her students.

“They were very helpful,” Purkey says. “The ladies there made every type of accommodation that was possible.”

Purkey was particularly impressed with the growth in confidence she saw from one of her students while he was at Agape Therapeutic Riding.

“We went to the State Fair at the beginning of the year, and one of my students wouldn’t touch the animals,” Purkey says. “The first time he was there [at Agape], he got on a horse and road it. So, it was a huge accomplishment for him to be on the horse. I thought that was so cool.”

Now that her students have completed their three sessions at Agape Therapeutic Riding, Purkey hopes they can return to the facility and meet with the horses again someday.

“They really enjoyed the horseback riding and would love to do it again,” Purkey says. “They definitely enjoyed themselves enough to want to do it more.”

 

Announcing the 2023 TOCAF Grant Award Winner

By: Seth Johnson

Following the inaugural Toula Oberlies Creative Arts Fund (TOCAF) grant which supported the Bright Lights, Big City, Chicago Extravaganza, ISBVI teachers Sean Bradley (band and piano) and Leslie Walsh (art) were announced as the recipients of the 2023 TOCAF grant on Thursday, May 18.

From left to right, ISBVI teachers Sean Bradley and Leslie Walsh pose for a photo in the ISBVI auditorium with IBCF executive director Laura Alvarado. Bradley and Walsh are both holding white gift boxes that have the IBCF logo on the front of them.Combining their passions for music and visual arts, Bradley and Walsh have dreamt up a four-day trip to Washington D.C., where they will lead six ISBVI high school students on an enriching, arts-filled adventure in the nation’s capital. Inspired by the patriotic motto of “Justice for All,” Bradley and Walsh’s “Arts for All” excursion will include several accessible arts and music experiences, including Smithsonian Museum tours, a military band concert at the Lincoln Memorial, a tactile tour of the National Gallery of Art, and a guided tour of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts with a focus on accessibility.

By exploring Washington D.C.’s incredible array of accessible arts and music experiences, the hope is that the teachers and students on this trip will be able to bring home stories and knowledge of their experiences and apply them to the classroom and their personal art and musical works. Additionally, the “Arts for All” adventure will incorporate several Extended Core Curriculum (ECC) components, including orientation and mobility, social interaction skills, recreation and leisure, and self-advocacy.

While guiding their students through the “Arts for All” adventure, Bradley and Walsh also hope to broaden their own arts horizons as well. When he’s not in the classroom at ISBVI, Bradley can be seen performing with the award-winning Soma Quartet as the group’s tenor saxophonist. Considering his own musical pursuits, Bradley is personally excited to experience a performance from one of the nation’s top military bands.

“The nation’s top military bands are the equivalent of professional orchestras in the band world,” Bradley says. “To hear an ensemble of that caliber, live and in-person, is inspiring for me as an educator, but also as a performer. It shows me what I can still accomplish with my performance aspirations, and it gives me a model to work toward as I teach my students.”

Additionally, Bradley is excited to learn from the accessible arts experiences in Washington D.C. and bring elements of them back to his classroom at ISBVI.

“I’m perhaps most excited about accessibility on this trip,” Bradley says. “The most that I have geeked out about anything while planning this trip is reading all of the accessibility options on the websites of the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Center. Attending a tour that highlights accessibility will inspire me to make sure all of our concerts at ISBVI are as accessible as possible.”

With a love for contemporary art, Walsh is especially excited to visit the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. Like Bradley, she looks forward to learning from the accessible arts experiences in Washington D.C. and bringing elements of them back to her classroom at ISBVI.

“This trip will inspire me to make more art accessible to my students but also renew the spark as an art educator and artist as I view and learn more about all the art in these famous galleries,” Walsh says.

Thank you to all the Toula Oberlies Creative Arts Fund applicants and supporters! Special thanks to the Crosser Family Foundation - a fund of the Hamilton County Community Foundation, Richard W. Averill Foundation, Janet C. Hohnholt, the John and Shirley Woerhle Fund - a fund of the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana, Jeffrey and Cassandra Short, Pete and Anne Schroth, and Don and Tricia Stogsdill.

We are also thankful to the 2023 TOCAF grants review committee and IBCF finance committee for all their efforts to bring the TOCAF fund and award to life: Toula Oberlies, Nick Oberlies, Sara Oberlies Brown, Jim Durst - ISBVI superintendent, and IBCF board members and staff - Becca Hopson, Kristina Davis, Kathy Nimmer, Michael Parent, Amanda Black, Laura Alvarado, and Chris Munoz.

Save on 2023 No Limits Celebration Tickets This Memorial Day Weekend

By: Seth Johnson

This Memorial Day Weekend, you can save on tickets to the 2023 No Limits Celebration featuring An Evening with A.J. Croce as part of a special Memorial Day Weekend four-pack ticket offer.

An orange, black and white graphic prominently features the words “4 TICKETS FOR ONLY $180” at the top. Below it, we see an image of A.J. Croce next to the No Limits Arts Series logo, along with bold text that reads “MEMORIAL DAY OFFER”. The graphic also displays other important information, including the concert’s date (July 22), location (ISBVI Auditorium), and official billing (An Evening with A.J. Croce). At the very bottom of the graphic, we see the words “OFFER GOOD 5/26 - 5/29” next to a small IBCF logo in the lower right corner.From May 26-29, four-packs of tickets to the 2023 No Limits Celebration will be available for $180, equating to a savings of $60 or four tickets for the price of three. Set to take place in the historic 1930s-style auditorium at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), the concert will be preceded by a reception featuring local jazz pianist Steven Jones and a meal catered by the Jazz Kitchen — all of which is included with the price of admission. Following A.J.’s performance, attendees are also encouraged to stick around for a post-concert Q&A in the ISBVI auditorium between Croce and event emcee Kathy Nimmer.

The No Limits Arts Series aims to strengthen inclusiveness and remove social barriers in the arts for individuals with disabilities. In keeping with the goals of No Limits: An Arts Series Focused on Access for All, made initially possible by the Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation grant from Lilly Endowment, IBCF in partnership with ISBVI, brings artists of all abilities to the stage that mirror the strengths and abilities of students at ISBVI. The public is invited onto the school grounds to not only experience internationally known artists and musicians but learn about the programs at ISBVI helping students succeed academically and socially.

“The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation is passionate about bringing high-caliber artists to the ISBVI auditorium stage each year whose career and artistry shine a light on abilities and confront perceived notions surrounding those with vision impairments. A.J. Croce is a multi-talented performer - pianist, singer, and songwriter, who will transform the audience musically and challenge any limiting perceptions,” says IBCF executive director, Laura Alvarado.

A virtuosic piano player, A.J. Croce toured with B.B. King and Ray Charles before reaching the age of 21, and over his career, he has performed with a wide range of musicians, from Willie Nelson to the Neville Brothers; Béla Fleck to Ry Cooder. Son of the late Jim Croce, A.J. has blazed his own trail as an artist, releasing 10 studio albums including 2021’s By Request.

Click here purchase your discounted four-pack of tickets this Memorial Day Weekend to the 2023 No Limits Celebration.

 

IBCF to Welcome Acclaimed Musician A.J. Croce for 2023 No Limits Celebration

By: Seth Johnson

A.J. Croce poses for a portrait photo, smiling. Croce is wearing glasses with a black shirt and a black leather jacket.The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) is excited to welcome acclaimed musician A.J. Croce to Indianapolis on Saturday, July 22 for the foundation’s annual No Limits Celebration. Held in the historic 1930s-style auditorium at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), the concert will be preceded by a pre-concert reception featuring a local jazz artist and a meal catered by the Jazz Kitchen — all of which is included with the price of admission.

The No Limits Arts Series aims to strengthen inclusiveness and remove social barriers in the arts for individuals with disabilities. In keeping with the goals of No Limits: An Arts Series Focused on Access for All, made initially possible by the Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation grant from Lilly Endowment, IBCF in partnership with ISBVI, brings artists of all abilities to the stage that mirror the strengths and abilities of students at ISBVI. The public is invited onto the school grounds to not only experience internationally known artists and musicians but learn about the programs at ISBVI helping students succeed academically and socially.

“The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation is passionate about bringing high-caliber artists to the ISBVI auditorium stage each year whose career and artistry shine a light on abilities and confront perceived notions surrounding those with vision impairments. A.J. Croce is a multi-talented performer - pianist, singer, and songwriter, who will transform the audience musically and challenge any limiting perceptions,” says IBCF executive director, Laura Alvarado.

A virtuosic piano player, A.J. Croce toured with B.B. King and Ray Charles before reaching the age of 21, and over his career, he has performed with a wide range of musicians, from Willie Nelson to the Neville Brothers; Béla Fleck to Ry Cooder. Son of the late Jim Croce, A.J. has blazed his own trail as an artist, releasing 10 studio albums including 2021’s By Request.

Following his performance, A.J. Croce will take part in a Q&A with event emcee Kathy Nimmer, reflecting on his life’s journey as a musician. Concert attendees are also invited to attend this intimate sit-down conversation at no additional fee.

Click here to Purchase Tickets for the 2023 No Limits Celebration

 

Supporter Spotlight: Arthur Dean Family Foundation

By: Seth Johnson

The Arthur Dean Family Foundation was founded in 2016 with the intent to support, center and uplift the organizations, leaders and grantee partners making a difference for youth and families in Hamilton, Marion and Whitley Counties. For this reason, they are supporters of the work the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) is doing to invest in children with visual impairments.

A portrait photo features the Arthur Dean Family Fund staff. From left to right, we see Haley Logan, Angela Brito de Rodriguez, Ruthie Purcell-Jones, Drew Black, and Dr. River Sturdivant.Having supported IBCF since late 2021, the Arthur Dean Family Foundation has helped to fund the “Nothing About Us Without Us” campaign, the recent installation of interactive Promethean boards in classrooms at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), and staff renewal grants for IBCF’s two full-time staff members.

In reflecting on why the Arthur Dean Family Foundation is passionate about the work IBCF is doing in the community, Arthur Dean executive director Ruthie Purcell-Jones pinpoints the fact that IBCF’s mission is one that’s rooted in equity.

“There are not a lot of organizations in town that are dealing with young people who are, in many ways, oppressed by the system because of something that is completely out of their control,” Purcell-Jones says. “So, for us, it is an equity kind of issue.”

As the Arthur Dean Family Foundation has continued its support of IBCF, Purcell-Jones says she’s been impressed with the leadership of IBCF executive director Laura Alvarado.

“I just have a lot of confidence in her leadership abilities and her determination and ability to make things happen there, as well as her ability to build the relationships that allow those things to happen,” Purcell-Jones says. “A big piece of why we support the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation is because of the tremendous leadership that she provides.”

In reflecting on Alvarado’s many strengths as an executive director, Purcell-Jones praises her ability to galvanize the IBCF board of directors.

“I think Laura has an incredibly good relationship with her board and is working very hard with her board to continue to grow and develop their governing capabilities,” Purcell-Jones says. “I appreciate that about her.”

While astutely steering the foundation, Alvarado also maintains meaningful relationships with the children IBCF is impacting, which Purcell-Jones sees as being vitally important as well.

“Even though, in general, you are a fundraising organization for the School for the Blind, you have deep relationships with some of those Leadership Club kids that you work with, and that’s a very important piece in what we are about,” Purcell-Jones says.

Regions Bank Employees “Share the Good”

By: Seth Johnson

On Tuesday, April 18, Regions Bank continued their steadfast support of the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) and Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), helping with a spring cleanup of the school’s Shakespeare Garden as part of the bank’s annual Share the Good outreach program.

A woman with blonde hair and a headband is seen kneeling as she pulls weeds from the ground.Originally established in 2004 as part of a schoolwide effort with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, ISBVI’s Shakespeare Garden contains plants that are mentioned in William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. In recent years, ISBVI horticulture teacher Elizabeth Garvey says the garden has been occupied more often due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s become a very important outdoor meeting place for classes, with all the benches we have out there,” Garvey says.

As part of their April 18 visit to ISBVI, Regions Bank employees helped to weed, edge and mulch the garden, giving it new life. This outdoor work coincided with Regions Bank’s overall Share the Good theme for 2023, which focused on environmental outreach surrounding Earth Day.

“The theme gave all of our associates across our 16-state footprint an opportunity to go out in the community and find unique and innovative ways to really highlight awareness of being environmentally thoughtful,” says Regions Bank Community Relations Officer Schiela Pena.

Having supported IBCF and ISBVI for several years, the Regions Bank team jumped at the opportunity to spruce up the ISBVI grounds as part of this year’s Share the Good volunteer work.

“We tried to look at ways we could support our community partners,” Pena says. “We do so many things with the Blind School, and you have so many different innovative programs to highlight. From that standpoint, it was a great way to think about how we could get our associates out to learn more about the school while also giving back.”

Through their longstanding partnership with IBCF, Regions Bank has gained a new appreciation for the role that ISBVI plays in the community.

“Through Laura’s partnership, we just continue to find innovative ways that we can help,” Pena says. “I don’t think people know how amazing this school is and the things it does.”

Alumni Spotlight: Nikki Finke

By: Seth Johnson

Note: In celebration of ISBVI’s 175th anniversary, we’re catching up with alumni to learn more about the school’s impact on their life. Nikki’s story is the third in our series of Alumni Spotlights.

Nikki Finke poses for a photo in front of a brick wall. Nikki has dark brown hair and is wearing glasses, a brown corduroy jacket and a green-and-black plaid button-up.Nearly a year after graduating from Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) as the 2021-22 salutatorian, Nikki Finke is exploring all her options as she looks to find a job that best fits her interests.

One of four students featured in IBCF’s “Nothing About Us Without Us” campaign, Finke will graduate from Bosma Enterprises’ rehabilitation program on May 5 after adding a variety of real-world skills to her toolbelt. As part of Bosma’s manual skills class, for example, Finke learned how to do various things with her hands, like plumbing, woodwork and basket-weaving.

“I made a box. I weaved a basket. I took apart a few things and put them back together, like a sink, a toilet and a doorknob. Next, I think we’re doing drywall,” Finke says of the manual skills course at Bosma.

As part of Bosma’s personal management course, Finke has also discovered a newfound love for cooking. “There are a few recipes I even did blindfolded,” she says. Going forward, Finke says she would like to continue exploring her culinary horizons. In particular, Finke says she’d like to learn more about Asian and Mexican cuisines, as well as baking.

While going through her training at Bosma, Finke has also continued making art. As a matter of fact, she’s recently received a few commissions.

“One of the clients at Bosma actually commissioned me for an album cover that their niece is doing,” Finke says.

When reflecting on her time at ISBVI, Finke pinpoints a pair of teachers who really helped in fully realizing her passions for art and horticulture.

“Mrs. Walsh really helped me cultivate my creative ability,” Finke says. “Mrs. Garvey opened up a hidden passion for plants. I wasn’t into plants before I got to ISBVI, so she kind of opened my eyes to that.”

As she begins to explore employment opportunities, Finke is also grateful for her time in the No Limits Leadership Club and how it’s empowered her in day-to-day life.

“It definitely helped me find my voice, advocate for myself and be self-confident,” Finke says of the No Limits Leadership Club. “Bosma has continued to help with that too.”

 

Abrams EyeCare and Indy Eleven Team Up to Benefit IBCF

By: Seth Johnson

Logo featured for Abrams EyeCare Logo for the Indiana Blind Children's Foundation Logo for the Indy 11 Professional Soccer Team

Abrams EyeCare and our own Indy Eleven professional soccer team are partnering on a special promotion to benefit the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation AND…  You can help while enjoying an amazing and fun night out with Indy Eleven.

With each ticket purchased through the below link in bold, Abrams EyeCare and Indy Eleven will donate $5 to the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation!

Click here for a discounted ticket link to see Indy Eleven play in April and an automatic $5 donation will be made to the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation. 

You have your choice of four different matches in April.  Come and cheer on our local soccer team while helping to contribute towards this incredible cause that invests in children with visual impairments so each child will thrive in school and daily life!

Abrams EyeCare is proud to be the “Official Eye Care” Partner of Indy Eleven and to take care of the visual health of the men’s and women’s teams!

Thank you Abrams EyeCare and Indy Eleven for this amazing support and giving our organization and mission a spotlight in our community.

An Update on IBCF Board Leadership

By: Seth Johnson

We would like to thank the outgoing IBCF executive board leadership for their steadfast service over the past two years! As they move on from their leadership roles, these five excellent individuals will still remain on the IBCF board continuing to bring our mission to life.

A graphic features photos of IBCF's outgoing and incoming board leadership. On the top, text reads "2021-2023 Outgoing IBCF Executive Board Leadership". Below, we see photos from left to right of Becca Hopson (President), Kristina Davis Smith (Vice President), Michael Parent (Treasurer), Stephanie Jackson (Secretary), and Amanda Black (Assistant Treasurer). The IBCF logo is displayed in the middle of this graphic. On the graphic's lower half, text reads "2023-2025 Incoming IBCF Executive Board Leadership". Below, we see photos from left to right of Michael Parent (President), Kim Borges (Vice President), Chris Munoz (Treasurer), and Kelly Alexiou (Secretary).

Thank you:

Becca Hopson, Outgoing Board President

Kristina Davis Smith, Outgoing Board Vice President

Michael Parent, Outgoing Treasurer

Stephanie Jackson, Outgoing Secretary

Amanda Black, Outgoing Assistant Treasurer

Prior to serving as IBCF Board President from 2021 to 2023, Becca Hopson served as IBCF Board Vice President from 2019 to 2021. In this timespan, she’s seen the foundation overcome several obstacles to continue pushing its mission forward.

“These past four years in executive leadership, has been complex in ways that no one could have imagined,” Hopson says. “I'm honored to be with a foundation, and part of a leadership team that has been focused on forward thinking while shining light on our mission from a deep place of purpose.”

Hopson continues, “There have been so many initiatives that I'm proud to be a part of with IBCF. To name a few - setting in motion an emergency technology campaign that was launched shortly after the pandemic shut everything down, supporting the first Board peer-to-peer fundraising campaign in 2021, and our commitment to making an impact through diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. We have grown as a foundation, and we continue to better understand how to integrate accessibility and belonging for the whole person, navigate systems within education and individual resources for those we serve around the state, and build a strong, expansive community. IBCF has great momentum, and I'm looking forward to these next years to come and deepening IBCF's impact in our community.”

A new slate of IBCF board officers now begin their two-year executive leadership term following in the footsteps of the previous leadership team. These individuals include:

Michael Parent, Board President

Kim Borges, Board Vice President

Chris Munoz, Treasurer

Kelly Alexiou, Secretary

In his new role as Board President, Michael Parent looks forward to reaching even more children and their families through the work of IBCF.

“It’s a privilege to be chosen as the next IBCF Board President,” Parent says. “Over the past five years of witnessing the transformational impact the Foundation has had on hundreds of blind and low vision children in Central Indiana and throughout our State, I am thankful to be able to be a part of our exciting future. With the collective effort of our staff, board, ISBVI, and our incredible donors, we will continue to invest in children with visual impairments so they can thrive in school and daily life.”

 

Supporter Spotlight: 12 Stars Media

By: Seth Johnson

Zach Downs (left) and Rocky Walls (right) examine a document detailing the construction of the current 12 Stars Media office in Noblesville. The two men are standing in a doorway and have thoughtful looks on their faces.As the co-founders of 12 Stars Media, Rocky Walls and Zach Downs both share a passion for telling meaningful stories.

“We love using documentary-style video to tell stories, and that’s what we’ve always done,” Walls says. “We tell the stories of interesting characters who inspire communities to make positive changes.”

Having worked with everyone from large corporations to small nonprofits since their start in 2007, 12 Stars Media was contacted by IBCF executive director Laura Alvarado in 2017 about working together on video content highlighting the foundation’s initiatives. In particular, Walls vividly remembers the first time he and the 12 Stars Media team were invited onto the campus of Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) for a tour.

“Being of the mindset of telling stories that are centered around people, we were just like, ‘Man, there’s all kinds of great stuff going on here.’ From the horticulture classes to the Christmas tree farm to the Braille Challenge,” Walls says. “As we walked around, we were just like, ‘Wow! There will be plenty of stories to tell.’ So we jumped on board.”

12 Stars Media quickly got to work on putting together a video for IBCF’s 2017 Through the Looking Glass Gala highlighting the arts and music programs at ISBVI. Since then, 12 Stars Media has continued making videos for IBCF Galas, while also highlighting other IBCF programs like the No Limits Arts Series.

As a matter of fact, 12 Stars Media was awarded a Regional Emmy for the short documentary they did on the No Limits Arts Series, which specifically highlighted the Leadership Club’s partnership with the Eiteljorg Museum. Looking back on his experience with that project, Walls admits the documentary is a great example of why he loves working with IBCF.

“At the beginning, you get to hear ideas and experiences that the students had while checking out the Eiteljorg for the first time,” Walls says. “And then, by the end of the documentary, which is almost a year later, the Eiteljorg opens an exhibit titled Please Touch! featuring Michael Naranjo’s sculptures, and there’s audio commentary about the sculptures. Guests are invited to touch the artwork and experience it in a very tactile way, which was a big part of the feedback that the students gave when it came to their experience at the Eiteljorg. Seeing that progression was just so incredibly valuable.”

As 12 Stars Media has continued working with IBCF over the years, Walls says he’s really enjoyed getting to know the students and staff at ISBVI.

“Because the relationships are formed over a longer period of time, you just enjoy them more,” Walls says. “It’s just more enjoyable when you spend more time with people, getting to know them and understanding them.”

While getting to know ISBVI students and staff over the years, Walls says he’s also gained new perspective on the vast spectrum of visual impairments that children in Indiana are faced with.

“It’s not just whether or not a person is blind or has a visual impairment — it’s much more complex than that,” Walls says. “A person’s needs, goals and lived experience are widely varied, and that’s why it’s so important to listen, get to know a person and understand each individual. That’s been really valuable to us.”

Currently, 12 Stars Media is in the process of documenting this year’s partnership between the No Limits Leadership Club and Conner Prairie. 12 Stars Media also recently created a digital photo journal recapping the Bright Lights, Big City, Chicago Extravaganza theater trip, which you can check out here.

Alumni Spotlight: Kwaku Dakwa

By: Seth Johnson

Note: In celebration of ISBVI’s 175th anniversary, we’re catching up with alumni to learn more about the school’s impact on their life. Kwaku’s story is the second in our series of Alumni Spotlights.

Kwaku Dakwa poses for a photo in an office-like setting, wearing a checkered shirt and holding what appears to be the grip of a white cane in his left hand. Kwaku is a Black male with short, curly hair, a beard and a vivacious smile.Since graduating from Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) in 2014, Kwaku Dakwa hasn’t let anything stop him from chasing his dreams.

“I’m lucky that the only thing wrong with me is not being able to see,” says Dakwa, who was born with glaucoma. “Why not show people what you can do and not what you can’t do?”

After previously taking part in the school’s Short Course program (now known as L.E.A.D.S.), Dakwa came to ISBVI as a full-time student in August 2012 for his junior year of high school. While at ISBVI, he particularly remembers Judy Reynolds being a teacher who made a big impact on him.

“She was definitely a tough teacher, but it came from good intention,” Dakwa says of Reynolds. “She was someone who really did her best to prepare us for the real world and also kept it real. She pushed me to be a better writer and to be more responsible. I feel like that really helped me become the person I am today.”

Originally from Bloomington, Dakwa lived in the dorms while attending ISBVI, which also wound up being beneficial for him in the long run.

“When I went to college, I had a one-up on people since I had already lived in a dorm setting,” he says. “It was definitely a good environment for learning how to live with other people.”

With a passion for radio, Dakwa went on to attend Ball State University after graduating from ISBVI, where he studied broadcast journalism.

“When I lost my vision, I got my laptop, and that’s when streaming radio and YouTube got big,” Dakwa says. “I started finding out about all these people like Howard Stern. That’s when I learned that radio could be more than music — I realized I could tell stories with it and share my opinions. I like connecting with people, interviewing them, and also making them laugh.”

As a part of his degree at Ball State University, Dakwa was required to complete an internship in his field. This is what led him to intern at much-loved Indiana radio station WTTS-FM (92.3), where he developed a relationship with longtime radio personality Laura Duncan.

“I went in for the interview, and they said, ‘We don’t usually do internships because we’re a smaller staff. But it seems like you like this a lot, so we’ll give you a chance,’” Dakwa says. “So I went in there and learned a lot about production from them.”

Having now graduated from Ball State University, Dakwa is taking all that he’s learned about audio production over the years and using those skills in the real world. Currently living in Indianapolis, he works as a podcast coordinator with the marketing firm Maverick Solutions.

Supporter Spotlight: Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria

By: Seth Johnson

While they may be known for dishing up delicious Chicago-style pizza, Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria is also a business built on giving back to the community.

Staff and students from ISBVI’s STEP program pose with staff from the Lou Malnati’s Broad Ripple location. The group appears to be standing in front of a large mural that’s been painted on a wall, which prominently features the Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria logo.In 1971, co-founders Lou and Jean Malnati hosted their first annual charity event to raise a scholarship fund for a local athlete. Ever since then, the much-loved pizza chain has worked to serve the community however it can — hence why Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria is a strong supporter of the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation.

“We like to continue the vision of Lou and Jean,” says Jennifer Trenner, grassroots marketing and sales specialist with Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria. “We’re all about community.”

Since first having a conversation with IBCF executive director Laura Alvarado last January, Trenner and her Lou Malnati’s team have donated pizza on multiple occasions to IBCF functions, while also treating students and staff on the TOCAF Bright Lights, Big City, Chicago Extravaganza to a multi-course meal. Additionally, the Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria in Broad Ripple has offered career development opportunities to ISBVI students as part of the school’s Student Training and Employment Program (STEP).

“We did that last summer, and I’m sure we’re going to do it again this summer,” Trenner says of the pizzeria’s involvement with STEP. “That was really beneficial for all parties.”

In reflecting on their partnership with IBCF, Trenner says she and the Lou Malnati’s team have simply enjoyed all the interactions they’ve had with students, staff, and teachers.

“You guys have such a great group of people over there,” Trenner says. “When we first started talking to Laura, it just felt like a good foundation to be a part of. The school is right there near Broad Ripple. The kids are wonderful, and the teachers are great.”

Esteemed Pianist Visits with ISBVI Students

By: Seth Johnson

Rachel Chen can best be described as a piano extraordinaire.

A student is seen sitting at a piano in the ISBVI piano lab with both hands on the piano. Behind him, Rachel Chen appears to be giving thoughtful instruction with a hand on the student’s right shoulder. Currently pursuing her doctorate in Piano Performance at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, Chen started her piano studies at the Levine School of Music in Washington D.C., where she received a “From the Top” scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. In 2007, she represented Taiwan in the 40th International Piano Competition in Usti nad Labem of the Czech Republic, before making her Carnegie Hall debut just three years later.

Having earned her Master of Music in Piano Performance and Pedagogy and her Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance at the University of Michigan, Chen also has a passion for teaching piano to students with special needs, which is why music teacher Sean Bradley invited her to work with piano students at ISBVI.

“While I was studying at IU, Rachel and I were panelists on an Inclusive Music Teaching Panel put on by the Music Teachers National Association piano chapter at IU,” Bradley says. “While preparing for the panel, I learned that she has spent a lot of time teaching, researching, and better understanding how to teach students on the autism spectrum. Although she didn’t have prior experience working with students who are blind or have low vision, I knew that her experience teaching students with other disabilities would make her a great fit.”

On Feb. 1, Chen came to ISBVI, giving middle and high school students some individualized piano instruction. Although she had never worked with blind or visually impaired students before, Bradley says Chen quickly picked up on how to be accommodating.

“One of our middle school students couldn’t believe that was her first time teaching students who are blind,” Bradley says. “He came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Mr. Bradley, Ms. Rachel has worked with blind students before, right?’ After I told him that was her first time, he exclaimed, ‘No way! She knew exactly how to work with us — doing things like hand over hand — and she was polite to always ask before coming up behind us and letting us know she was nearby.’”

While the students were impressed with Chen as a professor, she admits she was also impressed with them as aspiring pianists.

“I was really impressed that they learn by just listening. That’s incredible,” Chen says.

On February 28th, Chen will return to ISBVI again, this time leading students in a masterclass before treating them to a recital in the school’s historic auditorium.

“She will be performing one of her final doctoral recitals at IU on March 2, so it’s all the more reason to have her perform for our students,” Bradley says.

Both of Chen’s visits to ISBVI were made possible with support from the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation.

ISBVI Alumni Spotlight: Kathy Nimmer

By: Seth Johnson

Note: In celebration of ISBVI’s 175th anniversary, we’re catching up with alumni to learn more about the school’s impact on their life. Kathy’s is the first of several alumni we plan on spotlighting in the coming months.

Kathy Nimmer is seen sitting on playground equipment as she poses for a photo with her guide dog Tate. Positioned on a platform behind Kathy, Tate is a black dog with big, droopy ears and a friendly face. As an educator of three decades, Kathy Nimmer admits it was the teachers she had at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) that led her down the path she’s on today.

“I took pieces from all of those teachers at the Blind School, and then used them in who I am now,” Nimmer says. “People were not just surface-connected down there. It was a lot of care, compassion, and support that went into the experience at the Blind School.”

A 1987 graduate of ISBVI, Nimmer taught English at Harrison High School in West Lafayette for 29 years before transitioning into her current role as SEEDS program director with the Tippecanoe School Corporation (SEEDS is a mentorship program for new teachers in the district). In addition to being an ISBVI alumni, Nimmer has also served on the IBCF board since 2020.

After starting school in her hometown of West Lafayette, Nimmer eventually transferred to ISBVI in 1980 as her visual impairment continued to worsen due to cone-rod dystrophy. Before attending ISBVI, Nimmer remembers that she and her family were impressed by the student-led tour they received of the school.

“That was impactful because to that point I actually knew nobody who was visually impaired,” Nimmer says. “Having someone with low vision take us around was influential to all of us.”

While attending ISBVI, Nimmer had a few teachers who really made an impact on her. One of those was her piano teacher, Linda Francisco, who helped Nimmer to fully realize her talent as a pianist.

“She was a game-changer for me. We clicked really early teacher-to-student, and we’re still friends now,” Nimmer says. “I just had a lot of grief that I was dealing with, but piano was that oasis for me. And then, once I discovered I was actually good, it became so fulfilling.”

Another teacher that really made a mark on Nimmer was science instructor Becky Heck.

Kathy Nimmer (right) poses for a photo with her former ISBVI teacher Linda Francisco (left). “We dissected frogs, and we did all kinds of interactive things that they would have absolutely waved me from or had me just be passively involved in at public school,” Nimmer says. “I was highly aware that that was unique and impactful.”

Like many students who travel from across the state to attend ISBVI, Nimmer lived in the on-campus dorms from Monday through Friday and would only visit home on weekends. Through living in the dorms, she learned some important life lessons.

“I just remember that whole structure of learning about humans you’re living with,” Nimmer says. “Some of them you like, and some of them you don’t like. It helped me to be more flexible and open-minded about all different kinds of people. Some of the house parents were fantastic too. I loved some of them to the moon and back.”

Ultimately, Nimmer couldn’t be more thankful for the ways that ISBVI staff influenced her life.

“The Blind School wasn’t the first time I had great teachers, but people like Linda Francisco and Becky Heck demonstrated to me what that personal connection was like,” Nimmer says. “Because the classes are so small by default, there’s a lot of one-on-one time and a lot of relationship building. That mattered, and I wanted to be for them what they were for me.”

 

Congratulations 2023 Braille Challenge Participants

By: Seth Johnson

We at the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation would like to congratulate the winners at this year’s Indiana Regional Braille Challenge and Cane Quest!

Made possible with support from the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF), the annual competition developed by the Braille Institute returned to its regular in-person format this year at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), after two years of going virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The in-person return of the Indiana Regional Braille Challenge demonstrated the need for children and families impacted by vision impairments to gather once again for this daylong. fun-filled program that motivates youth with vision impairments to engage in braille studies,” says IBCF executive director Laura Alvarado. “While this program motivates youth and their families to support their children's braille studies all year long, the Braille Challenge brings children and families together to learn, laugh, and connect in deep, meaningful ways that transcend the competition. Friendships and bonds are formed between fellow students and families, creating a tight-knit community who can rely on one another for support and guidance now and for years to come.”

Below are the results from this year’s Indiana Regional Braille Challenge. (Note: Students’ last names are excluded to honor their privacy.)

Braille Challenge Results

Several high-school aged students sit at desks as they type on braillewriters. All the students are wearing light blue t-shirts and appear to be deeply concentrating.Apprentice (Grades 1-2)

  • 1st Place: Lucille

Freshman (Grades 3-4)

  • 1st Place: Willow
  • 2nd Place: Georgia

Sophomore (Grades 5-6)

  • 1st Place: Emma
  • 2nd Place: Michelle
  • 3rd Place: Kallin

Junior Varsity (Grades 7-9)

  • 1st Place: May
  • 2nd Place: Jazmine
  • 3rd Place: Matthias

Varsity (Grades 10-12)

  • 1st Place: Mattix
  • 2nd Place: Kylah
  • 3rd Place: Leah

Cane Quest Results

Trailblazers (Middle School and High School)

  • 1st Place (Tie): Jazmine and Emily
  • 2nd Place: Dylan

Scouts (Elementary School)

  • 1st Place: Matthias
  • 2nd Place (Tie): Michelle and May

Congratulations to all our participants for a job well done!

 

Looking Back on the 1st Year of TOCAF Grant Magic

By: Seth Johnson

From Nov. 30-Dec. 1, ISBVI students and staff traveled to Chicago as part of the Bright Lights, Big City, Chicago Extravaganza — a trip made possible by the Toula Oberlies Creative Arts Fund (TOCAF). Now, thanks to the wonderful work of 12 Stars Media, you can relive the magic of this engaging theater excursion through a digital photo journal recapping each and every part of the adventure.

ISBVI students mingle in front of “The Bean” in Chicago’s Millennium Park.A multi-faceted theater adventure, the Bright Lights, Big City, Chicago Extravaganza fit several theater experiences into a limited amount of time, as ISBVI students took part in a half-day improvisational workshop at Second City Chicago, attended an accessible Broadway Chicago production of The Lion King, and toured DePaul University’s Theatre School. Over the course of the trip, the group of high school students had a multitude of “Ah ha” moments, as they learned more about expressing themselves and pursuing their creative interests.

“Our students are awesome, and I know that each of them has a bright future,” says ISBVI teacher Janelle Pivec, who imagined the Chicago theater experience along with ISBVI teacher Josh Baxter. “This experience opened up a whole new world of possibilities for them to seize new adventures because they now can understand how people make their career in theater a reality. Our students have shown great depth in their acting since the trip, and I have seen more creativity and talent emerge.”

An easy-to-digest and fully accessible digital product, the Bright Lights, Big City, Chicago Extravaganza photo journal serves as a great way to commemorate the first-ever TOCAF grant experience, explains the TOCAF grant’s namesake.

“As you read through the journal that was created, you will understand the importance of the experience that the students had and the impact it had on them,” says Toula Oberlies. “The fund not only supported the project that was created by the teachers but motivated the creation of a new theater program at ISBVI. This coming year will be the second project, and I’m very, very excited to see what that turns out to be.”

In the coming months, IBCF will provide teachers with a TOCAF presentation that includes updates on the 2022 grant award and experience, while also talking through the 2023 TOCAF application process. Applications will launch in March with the TOCAF committee reviewing applications in April. The 2023 TOCAF grant award will then be announced in May.

 

Braille Challenge Celebrates In-Person Return

By: Seth Johnson

After two years of going virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indiana Regional Braille Challenge and Cane Quest returned to in-person competition at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), welcoming students and their families to the ISBVI campus from Jan. 28-29.

Braille Challenge participants stand in a row across the ISBVI auditorium’s stage, ranging in age from elementary school through high school. ISBVI director of outreach Cara Kennett speaks at a podium to their right. Behind them, red curtains serve as the backdrop along with various monster-themed cutouts.Developed by the Braille Institute to motivate students to practice and hone their braille literacy skills, Braille Challenge is an annual competition open to students grades 1-12 who can read and write braille. Braille Challenge contestants are divided into five categories and tested on fundamental braille skills that include reading comprehension, spelling, speed and accuracy, charts and graphs, and proofreading.

Regularly held at ISBVI, the 2023 Indiana Regional Braille Challenge was made possible with support from IBCF and those who made donations to our foundation through the Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit Program (NAP).

An eleventh-grade student at Warsaw Community High School, Kylah first started competing in Braille Challenge back in third grade. For her and her family, Braille Challenge is something to really look forward to every year.

“It’s different from normal weekends. We have things to do. We have places to be,” says Kylah, whose sixth-grade brother, Kallin, now competes in Braille Challenge too. “We also don’t get to go down to Indy very often.”

While they always enjoy seeing the event’s theme every year (The 2023 theme was Where the Wild Things Are), Kylah and Kallin’s parents also really appreciate the way their family is treated at the Indiana Regional Braille Challenge.

“They treat them [the students] like kings and queens — they pull out all the stops,” says Kylah and Kallin’s father, David. “They set you up in a hotel. They give you these great meals. They work really hard, and they have this amazing banquet for the kids.”

While the kids are competing in their Braille Challenge events, parents and guardians are also invited to attend educational workshops, ultimately giving the whole family something to look forward to.

“A little one-night-away thing at a hotel is always fun when you have kids,” says Kylah and Kallin’s mother, Amanda. “I’m always excited to see what the family sessions are going to be too. I think it’s just as much fun for us as it is for the kids.”

At the end of the day, Amanda and David simply love how much their children are embraced at the Indiana Regional Braille Challenge every year.

“They remember our kids, even though they aren’t there [at ISBVI] all the time,” Amanda says. “That means a lot to us as parents because it’s like, ‘These people care!’”

 

Supporter Spotlight: Little Eyes Pediatric Eye Care

By: Seth Johnson

From the moment they started caring for patients, Little Eyes Pediatric Eye Care has been a dedicated supporter of the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation.

Dr. Schuetz and Dr. Wilson pose for a fun photo with fellow members of the Little Eyes team. Everyone in the photo is seen jumping in the air with arms outstretched, as they smile gleefully.“We wanted to make sure we had a partnership with the community when we started off, and we thought, ‘Well what better way than making a donation on behalf of Little Eyes to your awesome organization for every pair of glasses that’s sold.’ Since the very first pair of glasses we ever sold, we’ve been contributing to you,” says Dr. Jeremy Ciano, whose 4-year-old son inspired him to start Little Eyes.

As Ciano explains, Little Eyes makes a donation to IBCF with every pair of glasses they sell. At the end of every month, their office then writes a check to IBCF in support of the foundation’s cause

“We had a passion for kids, and then once we learned about the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation, we wanted to make sure we were doing something that also promoted you guys,” says Dr. Katherine Schuetz of Little Eyes.

Over the years, Little Eyes staff members have attended several IBCF events, which have given them an even greater understanding of the lives their impacting.

“The ability to go and tour the school is always super profound and powerful,” Schuetz says. “Having a better understanding of the practical challenges the students have makes us all the more fervent in trying to fundraise and support IBCF. There’s a lot of need for very specific tools for these students, and we want to do our part to help them get through in whatever way we can.”

While raising funds for IBCF, Little Eyes staff have also volunteered their time to the foundation. As a matter of fact, Little Eyes Dr. Hannah Wilson joined the IBCF board just last summer.

“I just wanted to do more and become more involved as I learned more about IBCF,” Wilson says. “The mission is so great and something we at Little Eyes are passionate about.”

As he reflects on Little Eyes’ longstanding partnership with IBCF, Dr. Ciano ultimately explains that the foundation aligns perfectly with his three main passions.

“You really hit on the three biggest passions in my life: supporting local, children, and the eyes,” Ciano says. “To be able to support a local organization that’s helping children with visual impairments really hits all three of those major categories. It’s just awesome to partner with you guys.”

Little Eyes Pediatric Eye Care is located at 1372 S. Rangeline Rd. in Carmel. Learn more about their pediatric optometry services by visiting LittleEyes.com.

ISBVI Students Embark on Chicago Theater Adventure Thanks to First-Ever TOCAF Grant

By: Seth Johnson

On a brisk day in late November, ISBVI students and staff exit a Miller Transportation bus just outside of Chicago’s iconic Millennium Park, as they make their way towards Cloud Gate a.k.a. “The Bean” for a class photo. For many of these students, this marks the first time they’ve ever been to a big city — much less Chicago. As the next 24 hours unfold, however, the group makes the Windy City its oyster, while learning a lot in the process.

On Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 15 ISBVI high school students, along with ISBVI and IBCF staff, made their way to Chicago as part of the Bright Lights, Big City, Chicago Extravaganza. Dreamed up by ISBVI teachers Janelle Pivec and Josh Baxter, this trip was made possible through the Toula Oberlies Creative Arts Fund, an endowed fund in honor of the legacy of long-time IBCF board member, Toula Oberlies, that provides ISBVI students with once-in-a-lifetime creative arts opportunities.

As part of the Bright Lights, Big City, Chicago Extravaganza, students worked with Second City Chicago in a half-day improvisational workshop, experienced an accessible Broadway Chicago production of The Lion King, and toured DePaul University's Theatre School. While taking part in these engaging arts experiences, the students gained a wealth of knowledge on the multi-dimensional world of theater performance, as they explored everything from acting games to set and costume design.

Upon learning of the TOCAF grant opportunity, Janelle Pivec and Josh Baxter quickly got to brainstorming an experience that would impact ISBVI students.

“When I first spoke with [IBCF executive director] Laura Alvarado about the grant, I started thinking about all the opportunities that I have experienced in the arts over the course of my schooling, and I knew that this was the way to have those same eye-opening experiences for our students,” Pivec says. “I instantly started thinking about how the grant would allow our students to get closer to the performing arts and artists, and that proximity would make those experiences so much more meaningful.”

As Baxter and Pivec began to consider a potential destination for their theater adventure, Chicago eventually emerged as the frontrunner.

Three high school-aged women sit in a row on the left, next to a man on the right who appears to be prompting an audience to give them applause. The man’s mouth is open, as he smiles with an exuberant expression. All three of the women are smiling too.“Chicago seemed like the Hollywood of the Midwest to us, and we knew we could organize a big city experience for our students,” Baxter says. “After researching the rich theater scene in Chicago, we knew we had picked the right place that had multiple options for all our needs.”

After visiting The Bean, Baxter and Pivec took their students to The Second City for the first leg of their immersive Chicago theater experience. While at the historic improv comedy destination, the students engaged in a myriad of improvisational games, while exercising their acting skills.

“The guy that was working there was named Nick, and he got everyone from the group involved in these neat improv games that we played and could take back with us,” says ISBVI student Nate of the group’s time at Second City. “Those got us interacting with people in our class and were just fun engagement games.”

While at The Second City, Baxter and Pivec were also impressed to see their students using some of the skills they’ve worked on in theater class at ISBVI.

“Our theater class was at times intentionally shaped around providing the students with the improv skills we would need to be prepared to have a great Second City experience,” Baxter says. “Although it would have been fine if we hadn’t known much about improv or acting beforehand, it was noticeable that our students were more than prepared to enjoy Second City at a higher level due to their practice with theater and improv fundamentals. Second City was a great way for our students to work towards getting comfortable with acting through the semester and put it on display at a world-class theater institution. They were impressive educators who were as entertaining as they were informative. Second City was more than we expected it could be.”

Following their Second City workshop, the students briefly returned to the hotel to freshen up before heading to an accessible Broadway Chicago production of The Lion King, where students accessed audio description, the narration of the visual elements on stage, via audio description headsets.

A group of ISBVI students and staff stand under the theater marquee for Broadway’s “Lion King,” posing for a photo. Behind them, city lights shine in the Chicago night’s sky.“They had people come in from the audience to go on stage, which was pretty cool,” says ISBVI student Tyler. “You don’t normally see that down here in Indianapolis — you usually see it in the big ole fancy cities.”

This awestruck reaction to The Lion King  production was ultimately one that Baxter and Pivec observed from all their students throughout the show.

The Lion King  is known for its innovative, immersive experience, and we knew that the students would be enveloped into the show,” Pivec says. “The moment the first animal walked past our students, their smiles never left their faces.” 

To close out their Chicago adventure, the ISBVI students were treated to an immersive tour of DePaul University’s Theatre School. After engaging in a panel discussion with DePaul University theater students, the ISBVI students were led on a tour of the five-story Theatre School, with stops in the woodworking shop, costume room and more.

“I think that was just awesome because you never really think about that when you’re watching the play itself,” says ISBVI student Cory of the DePaul Theatre School tour. “But then, when you go behind the scenes and look at all that, it’s like, ‘Wow! There’s really so much hard work that goes into everything that they do.’”

To close out their time at DePaul, the students took part in a workshop led by voice/speech teacher and dialect/vocal coach, Sammi Grant, who in addition to speaking to students about her career was able to relate to the students as a student and theater professional with a visual impairment

“Showing our students what it took to put together what they had been to the night before really brought everything home for them,” Baxter says of the overall experience at DePaul. “From an actors panel, to wigs, costumes and makeup, to vocal direction, DePaul opened our students’ minds up to how many ways there are to enter into the world of theater.”

A high school-aged man stands amidst a crowd, as he examines two small planks of wood that are used in designing theater sets at DePaul University.Having now had some time to reflect even further on the trip, both Baxter and Pivec couldn’t be happier with how everything went.

“Trips with large groups of students, even fun ones, can be tiring, and have their issues. This trip was fortunate to escape pretty much anything negative,” Baxter says. “It was seamless and had an energy with the whole group that sustained everyone there. Whenever something goes really right in life, it has a feel to it, and this trip had that feeling.”

As the students head into their second semester of theater class at ISBVI, Baxter and Pivec hope they continue to expand upon the knowledge they picked up while in Chicago.

“I hope that our students continue to hone their skills of storytelling and character development as we continue our work in theater class,” Pivec says. “The experience in Chicago pushed them to think more about creating a story and less about going for the funny punchline.  I also hope that the students continue to be open to the possibility of participating in any and all aspects of theater in their future.”

 

 

 

IBCF and ISBVI Team Up with Mapt Solutions for Strategic Planning Process

By: Seth Johnson

The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) and Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) are currently in the joint process of putting together carefully crafted strategic plans, with the help of locally based strategic consulting firm Mapt Solutions.

Mapt Solutions co-founders Steven Tyler (left) and Brittany Krier (right) pose for a photo, seated on a short flight of cement steps that lead up to a building’s doorway.

Having experience with several other education-related organizations, Mapt Solutions focuses on working with ambitious leaders who see the potential for better. Headed up by Brittany Krier and Steven Tyler, the firm was approached by IBCF and ISBVI in early 2022 to begin constructing separate-yet-aligned strategic plans for both entities.

“Both recognized the need to do strategic planning for their own organizations, and they also recognized the benefits that could come from aligning their planning processes together,” Tyler says. “Because while they are two organizations that have their own plans, their missions are complimentary and reliant on each other in many ways.”

To facilitate the planning process, Mapt Solutions is using a three-phase approach with IBCF and ISBVI, beginning with what they call a landscape review.

“A landscape review is used to fully understand the current situation that the organization is in, both their internal operations and their unique position in their field,” Tyler says. “So how they compare to other similar organizations and how they fit in as one nonprofit in their community.”

To gather information for this review, Mapt Solutions conducted over 50 interviews with ISBVI board members and staff, as well as ISBVI parents, students, IBCF board members and staff, as well as stakeholders. This information was then synthesized into a written document, known as the landscape review.

“The document helps everyone involved in the process build a shared understanding of where the organization is and what opportunities are in front of them.” Tyler says. “Then, we can collectively make choices on how to move forward.”

Now that the landscape review is complete, Mapt Solutions will begin the second phase of its strategic planning process with IBCF and ISBVI. Tyler refers to this phase as “an exercise in making choices.”

“You’re saying, ‘There are many options on the table. But where do we think we can make the biggest impact? What’s most aligned with our mission, and where are we uniquely positioned to succeed.’ To help answer these questions, we work with leaders through a series of exercises.” Tyler says.

Lastly, Mapt Solutions will guide IBCF and ISBVI through phase three of their strategic planning process, which focuses on implementation.

“In phase 3 we help organizations create an implementation plan to jumpstart the rollout of the new strategy,” Tyler says. “Generally focused on the first 6-12 months, the implementation plan sets the organization up for success to build momentum behind the new strategy and not let it become a dusty document on a shelf.”

As Mapt Solutions continues working with IBCF and ISBVI through this three-phase strategic planning process, Tyler says it’s been awesome getting to know all the passionate people affiliated with both entities.

“Every person that we meet is dedicated to the kids, cares deeply about the mission and only wants to see their impact expand further,” Tyler says. “No matter how good it is, they want to see it get better and are invested in making it better. There’s no one here coasting — everyone is here to push forward.” 

Another Jolly Year at the Holiday Tree Sale and Family Event

By: Seth Johnson

An outdoor snapshot from the Holiday Tree Sale and Family Event shows several people taking part in various activities. On the left, for example, individuals enjoy hot chocolate and cookies, while on the right, people weight in line to purchase their holiday trees and wreaths.On Saturday, Dec. 3, the Holiday Tree Sale and Family Event returned to the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, welcoming community members young and old to kick off their holiday season with a fun-filled day at ISBVI.

In keeping with tradition, hundreds of pines, firs, and spruce trees were available for purchase from ISBVI’s two-acre tree farm, along with a selection of pre-cut firs, plants, and wreaths. As families browsed the wide array of holiday greenery on hand, they were also invited to enjoy a made-to-order breakfast in Churchman Cafeteria from 8 to 11 a.m. benefiting IBCF. Throughout the day, Santa Claus made his rounds as well, while ISBVI carolers and classical guitarist John Alvarado provided the proper holiday soundtrack.

An ISBVI tradition that dates back to 2001, the Holiday Tree Sale and Family Event was initially started by former ISBVI teacher Dave Schnieders, who still plays a big part in the event to this day.

Dave Schnieders poses for a photo in the ISBVI tree farm. Dave is wearing a red winter coat, blue jeans and a winter hat, with a big smile on his face.“We planted 100 white pines along the fence back there by the Monon Trail,” says Schnieders of the tree farm’s origins. “Those were fifth graders who did that. We said, ‘By the time you’re seniors, those trees will be big enough that you can sell them.’”

Considering the sale’s humble beginnings, Schnieders has enjoyed seeing the Holiday Tree Sale and Family Event transform into something that brings out the whole community.

“It brings the neighborhood onto the ISBVI campus, and they get to see how cool it all is,” Schnieders says. “It’s definitely a big community event, and I’m excited and pleased that it’s become that.”

As the Holiday Tree Sale and Family Event has blossomed into what it is today, Schnieders says he still has students who keep coming back to it decades later.

“Now they show up with their wives and families, which is really cool,” he says. “They laugh and say, ‘Wow. When we put these trees in, I never thought it would turn into this!’”

Supporter Spotlight: National Charity League – Carmel Chapter

By: Seth Johnson

For Debra Wilson, Geri Imler and their daughters, volunteering at Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation events is truly a joy.

“Selfishly, I think we get even more from it than you guys get from us,” Wilson says with a laugh.

A group of mothers pose with their daughters in ISBVI’s Churchman Hall ahead of IBCF’s No Limits Celebration. All around them, tables are seen, decorated with black tablecloths and red bows.All a part of the National Charity League – Carmel Chapter, Imler, Wilson, and their daughters have volunteered at several IBCF and ISBVI events, including the No Limits Celebration in July, the NCASB Conference Championship Track Meet in September, and the Holiday Tree Sale and Family Event on Dec. 3.

As a multi-generational philanthropic organization of mothers and daughters, the National Charity League (NCL) donates close to three million hours annually to over 6,000 charities in the United States. Consisting of about 200 mothers and their daughters, the NCL’s Carmel Chapter was thrilled when they first found out about IBCF and its mission.

“When you guys came up, I instantly jumped on it,” Wilson says. “You’re dealing with a foundation for blind and visually impaired children, and it’s special. It just warmed my heart.”

Once a high school English teacher, Imler has since shifted her focus to volunteerism since having twin girls. Through NCL’s Carmel Chapter, she’s enjoyed being able to share her passion for helping others with her three daughters.

“I’ve always been a volunteer and my kids have seen that,” Imler says. “But then, when I came across this, it was a way for them to volunteer with me, see why I do it, and look into other worlds. Carmel can sometimes feel like a little bubble of blessing for everybody here, so I wanted them outside of that bubble to see that sometimes it’s not always as easy as people make it look. And to feel that type of gratitude when you’re able to help somebody who has it a little bit harder than you.”

Through volunteering with IBCF, Imler hopes her daughters can gain some meaningful perspective.

A group of mothers and their daughters pose with Santa Claus and his sleigh at the Holiday Tree Sale and Family Event.“I want them to be able to see that there aren’t just financial challenges. There are also other challenges that people face, and they’re able to overcome them while still being positive in life,” Imler says. “So when they [my daughters] come up against a challenge that they’re not used to in their own lives, they can maybe draw on that experience of seeing how other people do it with such grace and such joy and realize that it’s not the end for them.”

Looking forward, NCL’s Carmel Chapter is especially excited to volunteer at the 2023 ISBVI summer camps, which are made possible with support from IBCF.

“I cannot wait for when you guys do the summer camps and our girls get to help there,” Wilson says. “That’s going to be huge for them.”

Promethean Boards Provide ISBVI Teachers with New Classroom Potential

By: Seth Johnson

ISBVI elementary math teacher Ali Ardaiolo has noticed an immediate difference in terms of student engagement since she first started using the newly installed Promethean board in her classroom.

“It’s been like night and day in here,” says Ardaiolo, who teaches third, fourth and fifth grade math at ISBVI. “The kids are so engaged in lessons now.”

Middle school math teacher Linda Baker is seen using her Promethean board. Linda appears to be speaking with a hand outstretched, as a geometry problem appears on the board’s digital display.In late October, Promethean boards were installed in 20 instructional classrooms at ISBVI, providing teachers with a new realm of possibilities when it comes to interactive instruction. Made possible through the work of the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF), this initial round of 20 Promethean boards was funded by 2022 Through the Looking Glass Gala attendees, Nina Mason Pulliam Trust, Arthur Dean Family Foundation and Frank Andrews. We at IBCF are now actively working to have 13 more Promethean boards integrated into the remaining instructional classrooms at ISBVI by the end of February 2023.

The acquisition of the Promethean boards is the next step of ensuring ISBVI students have access to the most modern technology at all times. This commitment was made by the foundation when the pandemic hit, and it will continue to be a strong focus of our fundraising in the future.

With an enlarged display, Ardaiolo has found it much easier to work through math problems as a class, especially thanks to the Promethean board’s zooming capabilities.

“For a math worksheet, I can share it on the screen from my computer and blow it up,” Ardaiolo says. “Then, I put it in the Whiteboard app, and I can write on it. When it’s on the screen and everyone can see, it’s amazing.”

Like Ardaiolo, middle school math teacher Linda Baker has already gotten busy with integrating the new Promethean board into her classroom.

“I can put a PDF of a worksheet on here, and then I’m able to annotate it,” Baker says. “I can have the kids come up to the board, and we can do it all together.”

Baker has also found that her students enjoy when she displays visuals on the board, considering how large the screen is. At the beginning of each class, for example, she likes to display a math-related cartoon or meme for her students to enjoy before the day’s lesson.

“One of the nice things about the Promethean board is that it’s a living bulletin board, for lack of a better word,” says Baker, who adds she’ll sometimes even treat her students to a math-related music video on the Promethean board from time to time.

Since having her Promethean board installed, ISBVI art teacher Leslie Walsh has already started thinking through potential interactive opportunities she can provide her students with.

“In my head I’m thinking, ‘Maybe we could even contact an artist virtually, or see if there’s someone at a museum who we could talk to about something,’” Walsh says.

Additionally, Walsh has simply enjoyed having the capability to show her students enlarged examples of art.

“They’re able to see the examples that I have in a much larger way,” Walsh says. “They can go up really close to it, as opposed to my phone or my iPad, which have tiny screens.”

On Dec. 6, ISBVI teachers and staff will receive their first official Promethean board training, allowing them to get an even better grasp on the many ways this technology can be used in the classroom. Going forward, be sure to stay tuned to the IBCF newsletter and social media channels for future updates on how these Promethean boards are making an impact on the teachers, students and staff at ISBVI.

“Nothing About Us Without Us” Campaign Results Reveal Several Successes

By: Seth Johnson

On Thursday, Nov. 17, the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) held the “Nothing About Us Without Us” campaign wrap-up at Half Liter BBQ in South Broad Ripple, in celebration of the many positive outcomes that came from the digital awareness campaign.

Kyan, EJ, Nikki and Samantha pose for a picture against a brick wall backdrop. Kyan (top left) and EJ (top right) stand, while Nikki (bottom left) and Samantha (bottom right) sit, all four smiling.As part of the celebration, campaign ambassadors were invited to enjoy a delicious meal, while learning more about the campaign’s successes from IBCF partner 1909 Digital. Through this event, ambassadors were also given the chance to interact with “Nothing About Us Without Us” campaign leaders Samantha, Kyan, Nikki and EJ, who were all in attendance as well.

Below are just a few of the successes that came out of IBCF’s “Nothing About Us Without Us” campaign. Again, we would like to thank all of the ambassadors who made this campaign a success, including the wonderful teams at 1909 Digital and 12 Stars Media. Additionally, we would like to thank the Arthur Dean Family Foundation for their gracious support in making the “Nothing About Us Without Us” campaign become a reality!

Campaign Successes

  • 171,499 total video views across all IBCF social media channels.
  • The campaign landing page was viewed an outstanding 6,966 times.
  • Ambassadors were engaged and posted weekly for six weeks. This tactic led to a large amount of localized awareness as evidenced by over 1,000 clicks attributed to ambassador and organic posts.
  • An Instagram reel highlighting Samantha's cooking aspirations was watched more than 3,000 times.
  • A Facebook ad highlighting Kyan's musical aspirations was viewed 131,938 times.
  • Local publication Indy Maven featured Nikki and Samantha as “Mavens in the Making,” shedding light on their goals for the future.
  • An image of EJ was the campaign's most shown Google Ad. The image featured a dark, side profile photo of EJ and challenged viewers to learn about people living with visual impairments.

Acclaimed Beadwork Artist Visits ISBVI Through IBCF’s Partnership with Eiteljorg Museum

By: Seth Johnson

A class of second and third grade students makes their way into the elementary art classroom at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), as they prepare to embark on another creative adventure. This isn’t just any other Tuesday in art class, however, as Leslie Walsh’s students will have the unique opportunity to learn from nationally acclaimed Haudenosaunee raised beadwork artist Karen Ann Hoffman, who’s set to lead them in an interactive beadwork activity.

“What I do is put different shapes and textures together to make something out of beads,” Hoffman tells the class.

Karen Ann Hoffman (seated to the right) sits across the table from a young, white male student (seated to the left), both with intent looks on their faces. Hoffman appears to be speaking with the student about some of her beadwork, which sits in between them on the table.A citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, Hoffman creates beautiful decorative pieces following the traditions of Iroquois raised beadwork. Honored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 2020 as one of their National Heritage Fellows, she produces two to three large pieces each year, with some in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, the Field Museum, the Iroquois Indian Museum, and the Oneida Nation Museum.

Hoffman’s visit to Mrs. Walsh’s art classes at ISBVI was again made possible through a partnership between the Eiteljorg Museum and the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) that dates back to April 2019. Through this partnership, high school students at ISBVI also met with former Eiteljorg artist in residence named Emily Guerrero in October, who led them in another hands-on activity. Additionally, the No Limits Leadership Club at ISBVI continues to advise the museum on the accessibility of its galleries, in an effort to make its galleries more enjoyable for all.

Through her residency in particular, Hoffman says her hope was to show the students at ISBVI, along with all the other community groups she met with, that the Eiteljorg Museum welcomes everyone with open arms.

“We want to expand that notion that everybody can come and visit this amazing art,” Hoffman says of her Eiteljorg residency. “That’s what we’re really trying to demonstrate to the community.”

The Hot Room Yoga Studios Continue Supporting IBCF Through NAP Credit Program

By: Seth Johnson

Much like the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF), The Hot Room and their yoga studios are all about creating a more inclusive world for all.

A man of South Asian descent (Ashish Kalgaonkar) stands in front of the front desk at The Hot Room’s Downtown Indy location. Ashish is wearing a gray hoodie with white drawstrings which reads “Peace,” “Love” and “Yoga” in arched, white font over top of a white droplet illustration and “The Hot Room” in white font. Ashish is smiling and in a relaxed pose, with one arm leaning on the desk.“We really want to make yoga a very diverse place,” says Ashish Kalgaonkar, who co-owns The Hot Room with his wife Hye Jin. “I think yoga studios may have this perception of only being for a certain type of individual, and we really want to open that up, being that we’re both people of color. We’re trying to get different bodies — different shapes, sizes and orientations — in here so that people can really experience what yoga can offer them. The mindfulness and focus on breathing are so essential, just from a day-to-day perspective.”

Founded in 2013, The Hot Room now has five locations in Indiana and Illinois where they teach over 90 Original Hot Yoga, Baptiste-inspired Hot Power Vinyasa, Inferno Hot Pilates and Yin classes every week. At each of these facilities, Ashish and Hye Jin hope to share the healing power of yoga with as many people as they can.

“We really, truly believe that spending some time on yourself — even if it’s just an hour a day to breathe — is one of the most therapeutic things that you can do for your life,” Ashish says.

Fittingly, Ashish and Hye Jin first met IBCF executive director Laura Alvarado when she came in for a class at their 96th Street location. After striking up a conversation with Alvarado, The Hot Room co-founders discovered they share a similar passion for making the world a better place.

“We just think everything the foundation is doing is so critical to providing pathways to people,” Ashish says. “That aligns with our mission and vision as well. If we’re creating community, it has to be for everybody.”

For this reason, The Hot Room supports IBCF financially each year through the Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit Program (NAP). Through this program, IBCF has been awarded the ability to distribute $11,100 in tax credits to eligible donors allowing IBCF to earn $22,200 in contributions towards its mission and educational programming at ISBVI. This year's NAP donations will benefit the 2023 Braille Challenge, a one-day event designed to support and reinforce the importance of braille literacy among children with visual impairments.

To learn more about how you can support IBCF by making a NAP tax credit donation, be sure to visit this link. Currently, IBCF has $2225 left in tax credits to distribute, allowing us to raise an additional $4450 before December 31.

 

Eiteljorg Museum and IBCF Continue Partnership Rooted in Accessibility

By: Seth Johnson

Less than a week after visiting Conner Prairie to give the living history museum feedback on the accessibility of its Headless Horseman Festival, members of ISBVI’s No Limits Leadership Club file into the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art as part of another after-school trip. The students are met by Alisa Nordholt-Dean, who gives them a warm welcome while also discussing some of the accessibility improvements the museum has recently made.

Members of the No Limits Leadership Club stand in an art gallery at the Eiteljorg Museum, chatting with museum staff.“We had the wonderful opportunity to work with the previous Leadership Club [from 2019] and loved that those students brought so much information to us and were so passionate about the museum and what we do,” says Nordholt-Dean, vice president of public programs and Beeler Family director of education at the Eiteljorg. “So we’re very excited to hear what you have to say.”

Specifically, Nordholt-Dean and the rest of the Eiteljorg staff are seeking the students’ feedback on updates the museum has made to their newly remodeled second-floor Native American galleries. In addition to making the galleries more spacious, the Eiteljorg Museum now also has audio descriptions for 21 pieces of art featured on the second floor. These detailed audio descriptions were done by local audio describer Jen Anker and can be accessed for playback by scanning a QR code next to each corresponding piece of art.

“As you’re going through and exploring that space, if you encounter anything that you’d like to share with us on what we can do better, please let us know,” Nordholt-Dean tells the students before they venture into the galleries. “We really value your feedback.”

Dating back to April 2019, the Eiteljorg Museum and IBCF have worked together on several initiatives to make the museum and its artistic experiences more accessible to all. After a number of visits to the museum, both mediated and non-mediated, the 2019 Leadership Club worked closely with staff members and key volunteers at the Eiteljorg to provide strategies and solutions to increase access at the museum overall. While the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily halted some of the progress on these items, it did not deter the Eiteljorg Museum from moving forward in specific areas, such as web accessibility and the addition of audio descriptions of artwork in both its permanent and temporary exhibition galleries.

Students experience Michael Naranjo's "Please Touch" gallery alongside Naranjo himself.With the encouragement and support of their partnership with IBCF, the Eiteljorg Museum was able to bring renowned Santa Clara Pueblo ceramic artist Michael Naranjo to the museum in February 2020 as an artist in residence, and host a fully touchable exhibit of his work, Please Touch: The Art of Michael Naranjo. Both the exhibit and Michael’s residency were years in the making and incredibly worth all the time and effort that went into the planning phase.

“He [Michael Naranjo] was phenomenal to work with, and that was absolutely because of the partnership that we have with IBCF,” Nordholt-Dean says.

Now that COVID-19 restrictions have lessened, IBCF looks forward to continuing this enriching partnership with the Eiteljorg Museum, as more and more in-person opportunities become available. While the No Limits Leadership Club continues to identify ways that the museum can be more accessible, IBCF and the Eiteljorg have also worked together to bring Eiteljorg Museum artists in residence to ISBVI, where each artist in residence leads a special activity in Leslie Walsh’s art classes.

Emily Guerrero poses with high school students in Mrs. Walsh's classroom behind the marigold flowers they constructed.Recently, on Wednesday, Oct. 5, for example, Eiteljorg artist in residence Emily Guerrero led students in an activity where they crafted a marigold flower out of several sheets of colored tissue paper. A storyteller and folk artist of Mexica indigenous ancestry, Guerrero explained how the marigold flower is native to the Americas but now holds its own significance in various other cultures.

“People know the name of a marigold, but they don’t know that it was carried over to Europe and Africa. It became another tradition for people there,” Guerrero says. “India uses them for celebrations because they feel they’re radiant. We use them for the Day of the Dead, for calling spirits home. So the same flower, which traveled like a sailor or a migrant, went over the ocean and became new again, and that’s who we are as people. We might leave Indianapolis, go live in Columbus, and we pick up new traditions and stories. So I’m looking for common ground with how we each are unique but also belong to community. We grow where we’re planted, and then we get transplanted.”

Next month, Eiteljorg Museum artist in residence Karen Ann Hoffman of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin will visit ISBVI and lead Mrs. Walsh’s art classes in learning about traditional Iroquois raised beadwork. Looking ahead, IBCF executive director Laura Alvarado looks forward to continuing the foundation’s partnership with Eiteljorg, ensuring ISBVI students are granted engaging arts experiences while also helping the museum to be a more accessible place for all.

"The No Limits programming is a win for arts organizations and our Leadership Club students,” says IBCF executive director Laura Alvarado. ‘Arts organizations learn how to be more inclusive of individuals with visual impairments directly from young people who experience both physical and social barriers on a daily basis. Our students gain the confidence to voice their concerns and ideas for a more inclusive environment for people of all abilities. Through these partnerships, relationships are formed between the arts organization staff and our students. The barriers take on a new meaning to the arts staff because they are no longer an abstract issue for someone they don't know; these barriers now hold a direct obstacle for the students they have come to know and bonded with. This is when the real change or motivation for increased inclusivity happens."

 

NAP Tax Credits to Benefit 2023 Braille Challenge

By: Seth Johnson

The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) is proud to share that we’ve received the State of Indiana 2022/23 grant award from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) through the Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit Program (NAP)!

BrailleChallenge2022BThrough this program, IBCF has been awarded the ability to distribute $11,100 in tax credits to eligible donors allowing IBCF to earn $22,200 in contributions towards its mission and educational programming at ISBVI. This year's NAP donations will benefit the 2023 Braille Challenge, a one-day event designed to support and reinforce the importance of braille literacy among children with visual impairments.

The only academic competition of its kind, Braille Challenge was developed by the Braille Institute to help motivate students to practice and hone their braille literacy skills, which are essential to academic and employment access. Every year, blind and visually impaired students from first through twelfth grades compete in the Challenge, which tests them on fundamental braille skills like reading comprehension, spelling, speed and accuracy, proofreading, and graphs and charts.

After being virtual the last few years, Braille Challenge will return as an in-person event in 2023, making it even more special for students to compete in the event this year.

How NAP Credits Work

For every dollar donated, the donor receives 50 cents or half that amount in tax credits. For example, if you donate $500 towards the IBCF NAP Tax program, you will receive $250 worth of tax credits which comes directly off your total tax liability. 

Eligible Donors

Eligible donors reside in Indiana and must be an Indiana taxpayer in good standing. Individuals, organizations, or corporations are eligible to contribute to the Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit Program. IBCF is now accepting cash contributions of at least $100 or more until we meet our benchmark of $22,200 in donations received/$11,100 in tax credits distributed. Contact Laura Alvarado, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 317-554-2742 to learn more and support this program. IBCF is able to give out $11,100 in tax credits to ELIGIBLE DONORS ON A FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE BASIS.

ISBVI Students Find Serenity in School’s New Sensory Room

By: Seth Johnson

For Jenna Malson and her second and third grade students, the newly constructed sensory room at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) has truly become a sanctuary of sorts.

“If the kids are having a bad day or are stressed out, it brings them calm,” Malson says.

A young child sits inside of a white, 3D cube in the middle of a room with gray, carpeted floor.A sensory room is a therapeutic space with a variety of equipment that provides students with special needs a personalized sensory input to help them calm and focus themselves so they can be better prepared for learning and interacting with others. In recent years, ISBVI has experienced a growth in its population of visually impaired students with additional sensory and mobility challenges such as autism, ADHD and other sensory processing disorders. Due to this population shift, it became apparent through numerous discussions with ISBVI leadership that the creation of a sensory room for children ages 3-11 was necessary to meet the diverse learning needs of students in the pre-school and elementary grades at the school.

Upon learning of this need, the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation assembled a small committee made up of ISBVI education staff and IBCF board members who started meeting monthly in late 2019 to figure out ways to make the sensory room a reality. Through this process, IBCF eventually connected with design-build firm Custom Living, who graciously volunteered to help devise and execute a renovation plan, select the appropriate equipment based on students' needs and assist in IBCF’s fundraising efforts. Thanks to Custom Living and their network of community partners, ISBVI’s sensory room came to fruition in 2020.

Now that COVID-19 restrictions have lessened and ISBVI students are back to in-person learning, the sensory room is utilized on a daily basis by elementary students at ISBVI. For Jenna Malson’s students, the sensory room is now a crucial part of each school day.

“They know the routine,” Malson says of her students when they come to the sensory room each day. “They walk in, and they can choose whatever they want to do. It’s quiet. It’s serenity.”

In the comfort of this serene setting, Malson says she can teach her students in ways she never could before.

“They talk and they laugh,” Malson says. “Sometimes they’re not even aware that they’re learning. We’ll do math problems and things like that, but they just think it’s so fun because they’re in here. So I love it. It’s just peaceful.”

 

 

Heather Holland Is Helping ISBVI Students Master Their Braille Skills

By: Seth Johnson

A student works on her braille writing skills as ISBVI teacher Heather Holland sits next to her at the table giving instruction.Heather Holland has a deep-seated passion for teaching braille. “I think braille is the coolest code ever,” she says.

Having taught at ISBVI since 1994, Holland worked as part of the school’s Short Course program (now known as L.E.A.D.S., a series of free, quarterly workshops focusing on Extended Core Curriculum areas) for several years, where she first discovered her love for braille.

“My favorite piece was when we team-taught [in Short Course],” Holland says. “Everyone could have their specialty, of sorts. I liked math, I liked Nemeth, and I liked braille, so those were my specialties, while other people might have been stronger in science or English.”

In 2020, Holland transitioned into her current role as braille instructor at ISBVI, teaching middle and high school students how to read and write braille. Considering all ISBVI students have different needs determined by their Individualized Education Plan (IEP), Holland constructs her curriculum to meet each child where they’re at. For this reason, some students may even begin by feeling shapes on a page, before Holland introduces them to braille letters.

“I have students who are just beginning, and I start with hand positioning, tracking skills and orientation of the page — all the important, basic things to get your fingers moving in that direction [of reading braille],” Holland says. “I might start with shapes. I might even say, ‘Are these shapes the same, or are they different?’ You just literally want them being confident that their fingers can do what we’re asking them to do. That’s the beginning.”

After students pick up on page orientation, Holland then begins teaching them to read individual letters and words. While progressing through their individualized goals, they are also introduced to braille contractions, which are used as shorthand for common letter groupings (like “ar,” ch” and “ing”) and commonly used words (like “and,” “but,” “can” and “do”).

According to Holland, reading and writing braille tend to go hand in hand as well when it comes to her course’s curriculum.

“I think they’re both really critical pieces,” says Holland of the balance between reading and writing instruction in her class. “A lot of times, even if there’s just a straight reading/fluency goal, we would still do both. I think it helps reinforce all the contractions by brailling it as well as reading it.”

As students move forward in her course, Holland makes sure to keep them updated on the improvements they’re making, which she ultimately finds joy in.

“They’ll be like, ‘How many words per minute did I get?’ They want to achieve and get faster,” she says. “It’s so fun when these kids learn their code — you just see the excitement.”

At the end of the day, Holland finds that her love for the braille code tends to be reciprocated by ISBVI students as well.

“I’ve got a lot of really great students,” Holland says. “I think they’re all really excited about learning braille for the most part. Hopefully, I can build on that.”

 

 

In Memory of Carrie Ellen Cole

Donations will honor Carrie Ellen Cole's life and memoryThe Indiana Blind Children's Foundation is a philanthropic foundation that supports the unique work and programs of the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Your donation today will honor Carrie Ellen Cole's life and memory. Thank you for impacting children with visual impairments so each child will thrive in school and daily life. 

 

 

 

Preliminary Work Begins on Colocation of ISBVI and ISD

By: Seth Johnson

To design a building for deaf children and blind children, one must first understand the children it serves. Individually, architects Chris Downey and John Dickinson are responsible for designing state-of-the-art structures all over the globe, from Dickinson’s expansive work in the realm of DeafSpace and accessible education facilities to Downey’s involvement in projects like the four-block-long Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco. But it is their distinct lived experience with deafness and blindness that gives them the unique expertise that makes them perfectly suited to design for these children.

Now, in partnership with RATIO Architects and American Structurepoint — both with impressive resumes of their own — the pair of accessibility experts are making history in Indiana, as they work closely with the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) and Indiana School for the Deaf (ISD) to reconstruct a new colocation campus on Indy’s northside.

Currently in the preliminary planning stages, ISBVI and ISD will coexist as separate entities on the longstanding grounds of ISBVI off 75th Street and College Avenue. As the team of architects begins laying the groundwork for this historic endeavor, their primary goal is to construct a world-class model for education, purposefully designed to meet the unique needs and develop the unique strengths of deaf children and blind children.

“The design team created several important goals for the project, including protecting the safety of the students, as well as creating one campus with two separate identities on the campus — we can’t forget that,” says Dickinson, an internationally prominent deaf architect. “In order to understand that, we have to understand each of their perspectives. I tell people, ‘It’s not ours — it’s theirs. We’re just here to design their vision and create spaces that embrace DeafSpace and other multisensory elements that distinctly meet their needs and unique way of life .’”

Over the past month, Dickinson, Downey and the rest of the Colocation team have met with students and staff at ISBVI and ISD to fully understand the needs of both student bodies. In doing this, the Colocation team has found that the two schools are approaching this project with mutual care and consideration for each other.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of adjustment to the idea of sharing a campus with a group of students with different needs and opportunities,” says Downey, one of the world’s leading blind architects. “But what’s been most surprising has been the level of collaboration and mutual respect from both sides towards the identities of the students at each school. So it’s been surprising, reassuring and a good harbinger for the whole proposition.”

In these early conversations, the Colocation team has established key pieces of the historic ISBVI campus that will not be altered in the process, such as the clock tower. According to Downey, another important feature of the 60-acre campus is its topography.

“Topography adds to the knowability of the site,” Downey says. “You can recognize where you are based on topography and slopes, and it helps build in some transitions on campus. If it’s all flat, it’s at risk of all feeling the same. Having this topographic difference across the site really breaks down what could be a large, overwhelming campus into three knowable zones.”

While maintaining the campus’ natural beauty, however, the Colocation team also sees this project as an opportunity to make the grounds even more accessible than they already are.

“The high school students we spoke with want more opportunities to be outside, and I feel that myself,” Downey says. “That dynamic exterior environment is so key. It’s just a beautiful site, and we’re going to try to leverage that and improve upon it.”

In reflecting on the unique task they’re faced with, Downey believes this Colocation team can set a standard for how project such as this are handled going forward.

“There’s really a wonderful opportunity and the team has a commitment to setting the standard for best practices in a context that actually elevates the experience for both [the deaf and visually impaired],” Downey says. “It’s a great opportunity, and I think we have a great team to do that.”

And while the task at hand may seem rather daunting, both Dickinson and Downey say ISBVI and ISD have already been great to work with.

“Any project requires great clients, and we feel that with the leadership of these schools,” Downey says. “So all the pieces are there for a truly wonderful demonstration.”

Stay tuned to IBCF’s social media channels for more information on the next Colocation Town Hall Meeting.

 

 

 

 

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