How funders, volunteers and strategic problem-solvers are transforming technology for ISBVI students.
Written by IBCF Board Member, Kim Borges
To some, it may look like just a tablet. But to Zoey Krier, it’s her passport to an unexplored world of discovery. A tool transporting her imagination to new places and introducing her to a host of new things.
“B is for baby,” Zoey says, focusing intently on the digital alphabet program.
Brittany Krier beams as she watches her kindergartener.
“She’s exploring letter and number recognition and tracing letters to practice handwriting,” said Krier. “The assistive technology is helping her to build literacy skills in ways that are engaging and empowering for her.”
The past year has been an evolution for Zoey. It’s also been an evolution for the very technology she and other Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) students are using in mastering those skill sets. Brittany Krier is involved with both.
Krier and Steven Tyler are the co-founders of MAPT Solutions, an Indianapolis-based strategy firm specializing in innovation and problem-solving – two especially valuable qualities during a global pandemic that required ISBVI students and teachers to adapt to remote learning essentially overnight.
“Our mission at MAPT involves doing good work that matters for our clients,” said Tyler. “We’re creative problem-solvers who focus on helping clients push past constraints and bridge the gaps they have.”
Those early days of at-home learning quickly revealed ISBVI faced a significant technology gap that limited both students and teachers from fully thriving in their educational experience. It was a challenge the school needed to rapidly address. And in a time unlike any other.
IBCF launched an emergency technology campaign, and within seven months, the Foundation had secured funding for all the students’ technology needs at the school. ISBVI Superintendent Jim Durst notes the unique, direct impact those contributions are making in supporting each student.
“One size does not fit all related to learning and technology at ISBVI,” said Durst. “The ability to address our students’ individual needs and learning styles through the outpouring of financial generosity from IBCF is momentous.”
The IBCF Board of Directors and Executive Director felt strongly about helping the school also address the obstacles that prohibited 1:1 student technology in the past. Now, with the dollars in place, people power was another valued project resource. A group of ISBVI staff and IBCF volunteers was recruited to form a Technology Task Force and analyze the complexities surrounding technology at ISBVI while offering insights and expertise.
“Without the pandemic, this wouldn’t have been a priority,” said Tyler, noting how big challenges often present their clients with bigger opportunities. “This project involved rethinking their entire technology infrastructure and creating a new technology roadmap, something we’d normally do in two-year period.”
Something they’d instead need to tackle in less than six months.
For Krier, the challenge involved her personal and professional worlds colliding. She was initially hesitant.
“This project was interesting and personal for me,” she said. “But it was also uncharted territory for us. We have experience working in technology and with education partners but addressing barriers to equitable access to technology represented a new challenge. We had to really ask ourselves, ‘Are we the right partners for this?’”
Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation Executive Director Laura Alvarado was convinced they were.
“We needed to take a deeper dive of both the outside obstacles and inner processes at the school,” said Alvarado. “Both needed some reflection and new strategies to help the school be successful not only now, but for years to come. MAPT Solutions offered the perfect mix for us; Brittany and Steven had worked directly in both early learning and K-12 environments and designed solutions within their past roles that bettered those environments. I knew they could guide us through some difficult conversations to define new approaches as a team.”
Krier and Tyler met with each Technology Task Force member to learn more.
“It’s important for us to really understand all sides of the problem,” said Krier. “These were conversations where we put the good, the bad and the ugly on the table which can be difficult; however, everyone handled it wonderfully and honestly. We asked a lot of questions including, ‘How do we align technology with the school’s broader goals of student independence? How do we create a gateway for students to the rest of the world?’”
Tyler and Krier additionally sought out the knowledge and life experience of ISBVI teachers in their research. “Some of the ISBVI staff are blind or visually impaired,” said Tyler. “They also have empathy and understanding in working with the students. For us, it was important to have inclusion on both sides of the equation as we considered any barriers or constraints related to the technology adoption. We want the technology to complement the excellent instruction teachers are providing.”
All those conversations and research are today paying off, with students like Zoey leveraging new digital devices like her magnified tablet along with the traditional educational instruction her teacher provides. Brittany is grateful for both.
“Zoey, just like her siblings, is expected to grow and become all that she can be in this world. I parent her with high expectations and seek educational environments for her that share in that vision. The ISBVI technology initiative is just one example of how the school sets a culture of heightened expectations for students with special educational needs.”
How does Durst view the evolution of this massive project executed in such a short amount of time?
“The ability to access information in a timelier fashion has been a significant gamechanger for students and our staff,” said Durst. “The opportunity to provide and receive instruction and share information, both virtually and in person, has improved the teaching and learning experience at ISBVI. And the commitment of all involved moved the experience forward at a level we could not have anticipated.”
Tyler and Krier also applaud the determination everyone has demonstrated in undertaking a project no one saw coming just one year ago.
“They have embraced this opportunity,” said Tyler. “They didn’t think about it being a problem and instead provided encouragement. They viewed it through a leadership lens and challenged assumptions. That’s leadership.”
Durst anticipates students and teachers will continue to leverage the new technology well into the future.
“The technology provided to the school has created a new normal,” he said. “Previously, many students shared technology due to the significant cost and availability, but this project has allowed the school to provide a 1:1 computing experience for all of our students. The new normal will include a more integrated technology approach both in and out of the classroom.”
Krier and Tyler also have lasting takeaways from the experience.
“Every ISBVI student deserves every bit of educational opportunity,” said Tyler. “This was about reimagining possibilities and leveling the playing field for students with visual impairments, so they have the opportunities and support to leverage technology in their educational experience.”
It’s that very support that will empower Zoey and all of her ISBVI classmates to keep learning and growing – no matter where they are.
Written by Braden Worrell
How does the Lauth Family Foundation identify organizations to support?
We look for causes that are near and dear to us as individuals. Our Board of Directors is made up of my family, which includes my parents and my siblings and their spouses. Each of us are charged with identifying causes that we feel we can support and are worthy of the support that we have to offer. Historically, we have focused on medical, arts, and education initiatives.
Growing up in Indianapolis I was always aware of the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), but my more personal involvement came in 2016 through my sister who is an Optometrist. She was serving on the committee that plans the Through the Looking Glass Gala and asked if I wanted to get involved. I excitedly said yes, and I served on that committee for the next three years. Being a committee member for something like a Gala you naturally become financially involved, raising money to fill in some of the gaps that naturally exist for any type of school, but especially at ISBVI. It's just such an amazing school and it's done so much for children with visual challenges all over the state. They are doing the hard work here locally, and we’re happy to support them.
What highlights come to mind from your Gala committee experience?
Most of my interactions with the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) revolves around the Gala. One of the highlights of being at the event each year is always getting to listen to the children perform. Music is such a big part of the curriculum at ISBVI. A variety of ensembles perform and it’s just incredible to experience the enthusiasm of the teachers and students, it’s just so infectious.
Other fun moments include preparing for the Gala. The past few years we’ve done a casino theme with gambling tables, but no money is exchanged, just chips are used to win tickets and prizes. We need to sort and count the chips and bag them up to give to the Gala patrons. Imagine a group of women, all in our athleisure, standing around a table at the school counting chips and inevitably losing count and having to start over again and again. It’s just a great “behind the scenes” social night with fun conversations and comradery.
I love that IBCF is a local organization and not some large national entity. I have comfort in knowing exactly where the funds are going. The Executive Director, Laura Alvarado, makes herself very available and is always open to having people over to the school. When I was growing up, there was barbed wire fencing around the entire school, and it set a tone that the school was separate from the rest of the community. When Jim Durst became Superintendent, he removed the barbed wire. I think that demonstrated an openness and a welcoming of the community into the school. I believe it’s really important for the community to reciprocate that.
Why do you continue to support IBCF?
I think the greatest reward in participating as a donor and in helping plan the Gala is just seeing that it's grown so much from a new start up event to where it is today. Seeing the progress that's been made and gaining traction in the community is the greatest return for me.
Today we have an enormous challenge with COVID-19 and funding the different technology needs of the students at ISBVI. You'll hear all sorts of parents experiencing angst with
e-learning, everyone is facing this challenge, but technology is crucial for children with visual impairments to be able to learn, now more than ever. If there will be interruptions in their in-person instruction, it's imperative that the technology is available to students to learn and their parents have the tools they need to assist them.
I can complain about my own challenges surrounding my kids but it's nothing compared to what a lot of ISBVI families are dealing with each day. The Lauth Family Foundation is extremely grateful to be able to contribute to the foundation and school that does so much to make sure that students with visual impairments are on equal footing with all other students in the wake of the pandemic.
At Drs. Price, Shepler, & Hall Family Eye Care, Dr. Herb Price is an independent primary health care provider who examines, diagnoses, treats and manages diseases and disorders of the visual system, the eye and associated structures as well as diagnoses related systemic conditions.
Written by Braden Worrell
What first drew you to Eye Care?
Ever since I was a young child I was interested in healthcare. My parents, both Holocaust survivors, encouraged me in that endeavor. In 1971, I graduated with a Doctorate of Optometry Degree. My first job was in Logansport at the Howard Clinic which was renting space from St Joseph Hospital. The nuns that owned the hospital closed the hospital and as a result the Howard Clinic closed as well. So I decided to go into private practice and opened my own clinic in Logansport. And I've been doing that ever since.
How did you first connect with IBCF?
Around 2011, I attended an event with Tom Sullivan as the keynote speaker and I was so impressed by his story, his love of life, and his message that it changed my life. He said he wanted his life to count for something, and he understood it was not enough to just make a living, but to do something to give back. I was so inspired by his words that I came back to my practice looking to provide hope and encouragement to my patients, many of whom were gradually losing their vision. His message that life can be a beautiful thing despite the challenges made me a better doctor because I could share that vision. It gave me a better appreciation of how I could communicate with my patients.
Later that year, we celebrated our 40th anniversary of being in business with a large event and over 400 people in attendance. I invited Tom Sullivan to come and share his story with everyone. That night we collected donations and donated all the proceeds to the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation.
As I became more involved with the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation, I was so inspired by the students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. They face so many of their own challenges, yet the Foundation and the School provides them with so many opportunities to thrive. When I attended the Through the Looking Glass Gala, the school jazz band was there playing music and they played so well. I went up and spoke with several of the students and was so impressed with their skill level and passion. It just shows you that if you have the desire to do something, and if you have the encouragement, you can accomplish anything.
As an IBCF Board Member, what do you think is your biggest challenge ahead?
I think that technology is going to be more and more important for these students. I’ve been in contact with a company that has designed a pair of glasses that can scan text and read out loud the information to a person with visual impairments. It’s a great little device, but the technology is very expensive.
I think one of the most important things for people to understand is that when we're talking about the cost of technology for these children’s special needs it's very expensive. For example, if you're buying a regular laptop computer, you might be able to get a nice one for a thousand dollars, right? But when you're talking about a laptop or tablet for a child that's visually impaired, you're looking at six to ten times that cost. And I think that's what people need to understand so that they really appreciate the fact that their dollars are going a long way. I’m grateful we have fundraising opportunities like the Through the Looking Glass Gala and for the Lilly Endowment grant for the No Limits Arts Series. I think No Limits is a great title because we provide these students with the opportunity, and with the teaching at the school and the right equipment, there are no limits to what they can achieve.
These programs will enhance the students' lives so that they can be independent as they become older. As the students graduate from the school, we want to provide them with an opportunity to have no limits in their lives.
Chuck Roach, President-Elect of the Broad Ripple Sertoma Club
This week, we spoke with Chuck Roach, President-Elect of the Broad Ripple Sertoma Club.
Sertoma International is a service organization, founded in 1912. Sertoma is an acronym for “Service to Mankind”. The Sertoma Club of Broad Ripple was chartered in 1958 and is now the largest club in the Nation at 134 members.The Sertoma Club of Broad Ripple is a 501(c)(3) dedicated to Serving Mankind through the fundraising efforts of Casino Parties that the club conducts year round.
Written by Braden Worrell
What is the Sertoma Club mission and how do casino parties support that mission?
We’re a unique organization in that we've been around since 1958 and our main mission is to raise funds that we can turn around and give away to charities. We're not an organization that gets together socially to market businesses or our own business, instead we're looking for members who want to have fun, enjoy meeting and interacting with new people, and at the same time provide an opportunity for many charities to do some things that they could not typically do otherwise. There are over 800 clubs throughout the country, but we're one that has the unique way of generating funds through our casino parties. There aren't too many other clubs that approach the Sertoma Club mission in that way.
The casino gaming started shortly after our club was founded and was simply entertainment for the members at first. It went over so well that members started building upon the idea. It has done nothing but get bigger and bigger. The Broad Ripple Club has about 40 portable tables and gaming equipment and can now entertain parties of 70 to over 400 people. This past year we did about 45 Casino Parties and have had $140,000 dollars come in for charities. Since the Club’s inception we’ve given away $2.7 million dollars and we’ve had a lot of fun doing so.
How did the Broad Ripple Sertoma Club get involved with IBCF?
We have a sponsor committee of 10-12 people who identify groups for potential financial support. This committee asks these groups to present at Club meetings and share more about their mission and work. Around 2016, IBCF Executive Director, Laura Alvarado, gave a presentation to us one day about programs at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and shared more about the students’ needs. I think the thing that impacted me, and many of our members, was learning about the sensory approach to enhancing the students’ education and their learning process.
We have a lot of educators in our group, I was formerly the Principal of North Central High School here in Indianapolis. I think a lot of us were very interested in learning more about how the school is exploring technology and adding to the repertoire of educational tools being provided to the children. An interest of the National Sertoma Organization is in students who have difficulty hearing. I think because of that particular approach it was a natural progression into seeing what we could do with students and adults with visual impairments as well. The conversations with Laura have made an incredible impact on our group. We decided IBCF was an organization that we wanted to consider giving funds.
Today, we’ve done four Casino Parties at the annual Through the Looking Glass Gala. We provide blackjack, roulette tables, craps tables, Caribbean poker and Texas Hold ’em. We’re not pushing gambling because there is no money involved, we just provide chips that you can turn in for special prizes. It’s a great way to have fun, learn some new games from our guys if you’ve never played, and all in a low-pressure environment where you can’t lose.
We were so impressed with the organization and how the IBCF team works so hard to pull off such an event, that doesn't happen very easily. We work with a wide range of venues and different organizations, so we see a wide level of ability and to pull off an event of that magnitude is impressive. The Through the Looking Glass Gala not only helps IBCF, but it helps us to push ahead and continue with our mission as well.
Why does Sertoma continue to support IBCF and the students at ISBVI?
We’re always hoping that a student will continue to improve and gain confidence in who they are and what they can achieve, even if they’ve been handed somewhat of a stacked deck against them. IBCF is a specialist in this area, and so we know the funds that we’re able to generate and turn back around to the school for special projects like the new Sensory Room, has great impact. We have the highest degree of hope that whatever funds are given to an organization, like IBCF, will have the greatest impact on students possible. I encourage all the students to never give up. If they work hard, believe in themselves and continually learn new things throughout their lives, then they’re going to be able to give back to society in an incredibly enthusiastic way.
Elizabeth Sherwood, Vice President Community Development Relationship Manager
This week, we spoke with Elizabeth Sherwood, Vice President Community Development Relationship Manager at Huntington.
Huntington is a regional bank holding company headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, with $114 billion of assets and a network of 839 full-service branches, including 12 Private Client Group offices, and 1,434 ATMs across seven Midwestern states. Founded in 1866, The Huntington National Bank and its affiliates provide consumer, small business, commercial, treasury management, wealth management, brokerage, trust, and insurance services. Huntington also provides vehicle finance, equipment finance, national settlement, and capital market services that extend beyond its core states.
Written by Braden Worrell
How did you first encounter the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF)?
At Huntington we want to help where the need is greatest, and my role is to focus on underserved communities.
At first, I knew nothing about the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI). A colleague and I were invited to tour the school to discuss a potential partnership and see if Huntington could help the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF). When we arrived, we were so knocked out by the beauty of the campus. It seemed like Indianapolis’ best kept secret. What really blew us away was when we went inside and saw what the school does for the students. I saw how the school really changes the lives of these students through individualized academic programs and comprehensive skill training.
I could see how the faculty and the staff truly care about the students; they had such a terrific relationship with them. The students have so much to contribute to society and just need some help in learning skills and getting an education - like any other kid in the country. This school is wholly prepared to help these students. Huntington’s culture is based on inclusion; our brand revolves around “Welcome” and that means ‘Welcome to All.’ I believe IBCF’s mission is the same.
The school has the same goal of inclusion and wants to give these students the knowledge, skills and tools to succeed. We want to help with that. That is why we chose to support the Student Training and Employment Program (STEP). The Student Training Employment Program (STEP) gives high school students who are blind or visually impaired an opportunity to develop valuable skills and learn the fundamentals of finding and keeping a job.
What experiences have personally impacted you since supporting IBCF?
Last year I had a macular tear and had three eye surgeries in one year which involved a temporary partial loss of vision. I knew I would slowly recover my vision, but for more than a month, I could not see out of one eye. That experience was very scary: my depth perception was completely off, I could not drive, struggled to read and just go about my everyday life. This experience made it clear to me that supporting this Foundation and the School’s assistance programs is exactly what we need to do because it helps people who constantly live with visual impairments succeed.
We have many talented, dedicated and compassionate colleagues at Huntington who want to serve in their communities. One way they can do that is to serve on the boards of non-profits like IBCF. We have bankers with financial expertise who can assist non-profits with handling their accounts or fundraising. One of our colleagues, Michael Parent, is an IBCF Board Member and serves as the Treasurer.
Why do you continue to support IBCF?
Corporations are looking for skilled employees who will bring value to the company. ISBVI is an untapped resource for employees who can add tremendous value to a workforce. Any business is better when different perspectives, voices and talent sets are included. These students are smart and have a lot to contribute. Companies should consider hiring them as interns or employees and supporting programs like STEP. These students deserve the best chance to be included in society and succeed. When you see behind the scenes at the school and meet these students, it becomes clear that, with some support and assistive technology, children with visual impairments can accomplish great things. A little corporate support can make this happen. I would encourage other corporations and individuals to support IBCF as well.
Dear IBCF Supporters,
The last week has been a time for reflection for all of us at the Foundation. Our efforts as an organization over the last 27 years have always been focused on educational equity and inclusion for all children impacted by visual impairments. We represent a community of individuals of diverse abilities, races, ethnicities, and religion. Our hearts go out to the family of George Floyd and all black people who have suffered unjust violence and attacks. Now is the time to stand alongside the black community in solidarity. We hear you, we see you, and we are listening. Black Lives Matter.
Our efforts over this last year through our No Limits programming have been focused on empowering youth to lead and create improved access for those with visual impairments and disabilities throughout our community. However, now more than ever, race will play more of a role in how we move the conversation of inclusion forward. We believe that learning never stops. Education is a way to create change, but only if that education presents many viewpoints and experiences. We vow to ensure our Leadership Club students hear from black leaders in our community and that our black students have more opportunities to share their truth. We will invest in future programs and educational efforts at ISBVI that reflect and include diverse voices and approaches. We will continue our efforts towards diversifying our Board and staff.
While we understand that this is the beginning of our actions, we recognize as an organization that these efforts must continue to grow and evolve. A well-balanced education is key to our students’ success. However, learning must never really stop no matter your age. As I have forged conversations with my own daughters about the incidents of racial inequity and injustice brought on by recent acts of violence this past week, I find myself looking to resources that help facilitate the conversation. While I do not pretend to have all the answers, I know this. Our children are watching and listening. They have questions, some of which are difficult to answer. I realize now more than ever that we are on a journey together and recognizing that is a start towards a better more inclusive community.
This week we spoke with Mark Kolbus, Co-owner of A Taste of Indiana.
A Taste of Indiana is a locally-owned, family-run business. We love being able to offer over 170 products made in Indiana, which celebrate our great state. Our products are well-made and of the highest quality, demonstrating the pride that Hoosiers take in the state of Indiana and in their own workmanship.
Written by Braden Worrell
How did you and IBCF first meet?
One day Laura Alvarado came into our store to put together several of our gift baskets for their upcoming Gala event. When I found out she was with the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation, I immediately had a soft spot for the Foundation and the kids at the School. My late grandfather-in-law went blind later in life and was just the sweetest person and super nice to me. Occasionally at a get-together, I’d see him sitting by himself because others didn’t know how exactly to engage with a person with a visual impairment. I’d go and sit with him and talk about anything, fishing or golf, etc. You realize when you start talking to someone who is blind that they just want to be treated like a sighted person. He was a great man so I was happy to get involved with the Foundation.
What has your relationship with IBCF looked like since you met?
We moved here in the fall of 2017, so we've been helping out IBCF for about 3 years now. We’re all about creating beautiful gift baskets full of local foods and products.
It’s a fun experience putting together all the baskets. Laura and her volunteers will come into the store where we have these long assembly tables to organize all the basket items, food products, and decorations. We build each basket from the ground up and assemble them so you can see every product facing out towards the front, they look great. People really like to see the baskets “all dolled up” as we say and they make great gifts and fundraiser auction items for the Gala.
We’ve made baskets for two of the IBCF Galas now and most recently for the 2020 ISBVI graduating seniors who didn’t get a graduation ceremony because of COVID-19. We wanted to make these baskets extra special with crinkle, bows and ribbons and customized for each student. One basket had a lot of macaroni and cheese, I think someone is really going to enjoy that. To all the 2020 ISBVI graduating seniors: “Enjoy your baskets and good luck in all your future endeavors!”
IBCF turns around and helps us out during Christmas which is our busiest season by far. A few of the volunteers and IBCF Board and staff will come over to the shipping department and help us fulfill orders as a “thank you” for supporting the Blind School. We get a lot of interest in our baskets after the Gala event. People will call and say, “I saw one of your baskets at the Gala”. It always ends up bringing us more business, so it’s a great relationship.
This week, we spoke with Bryan Avery, Head of Sales and Marketing at Horse Soldier Bourbon. You can read more about their incredible story on the website.
WE ARE A GROUP OF FRIENDS WHO HAVE BANDED TOGETHER AFTER YEARS OF SERVICE TO OUR NATION. OUR DEDICATION TO SERVING OTHERS AND PASSION FOR ADVENTURE HAVE LED US ON A NEW QUEST.
HORSE SOLDIER BOURBON WHISKEY IS AUTHENTIC, AWARD-WINNING, AND ALL-AMERICAN.
Written by Braden Worrell
Horse Soldier Bourbon is ingrained with storytelling. From the eye-catching label design featuring the mounted soldier, to the fact that every ounce of their whiskey touches distilling equipment made out of repurposed steel from the World Trade Centers. When you see one of their bottles you instinctively want to learn more.
Bryan Avery receives weekly fundraising requests from 501c3’s asking for a bottle of their amazing bourbon to auction off. However when IBCF reached out, Bryan was drawn into IBCF’s own story.
“It’s part of our mission to do charitable work and to support the communities that we’re in where we can. As a small company, we can’t always just write a check, but we can give most people a bottle signed by some of the Horse Soldiers and then the organization can auction that off and make more than we ever could by writing a check.”
Bryan attended the 2019 Through the Looking Glass Gala and was able to visit ISBVI during his trip to get a behind the scenes look and experienced a shift in his perspective.
“When Laura took me on a tour of the facility and told me about the work that they’re doing, I was like, ‘Holy cow! Why wouldn’t we get involved?’ I don’t have a connection to anyone with a visual impairment, but to meet some of the faculty, understand what their mission is and where their struggles are financially, it drew me in personally. I now have a 180-degree different perspective. I love that when you get into the school, you see kids that are highly motivated. It’s just like when you meet a veteran who has unfortunately lost his leg or arm and they're working their butt off. It's inspiring and when you meet these kids that are pushing themselves to a point that the average person who is not sight impaired doesn't do, that's huge to me.”
“I feel a little bad about the way I used to think or judge others based on their appearance, and assuming things about how they handled their life, without knowing their story. Now I love hearing and learning about those stories. So if I can help support a cause to raise money for a new tablet for a kid that uses a different device, then I’m happy to support at whatever level we can, even if we never know how much that means to them.
My experience with IBCF has been eye-opening, no question about it. I love it and it makes me want to try to do more."
Stay tuned for a virtual “Whiskey and War Stories” event with a few of the Horse Soldiers benefiting IBCF.
Introduction to Digital Inclusion
The COVID-19 crisis and the need for distance learning has exposed the technology disparity in school districts across the country. While this disparity isn’t new, the coronavirus has triggered a global movement to shift classrooms online which has prompted a new drive and motivation to resolve this disparity. Many school districts in the last ten years have tried to improve technology equity by providing Chromebooks, iPads, or tablets to youth in middle or high school grades. However, the device is only one part of the battle towards full inclusion.
Digital equity is the condition in which individuals and communities have the technical capacity to participate in society. This digital equity is necessary to provide all individuals opportunities at employment, education, and civic engagement.
The barriers to digital inclusion that currently exist at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) are many and as diverse as the students impacted by the school. While the common thread among our students is a visual impairment, each student has a varying degree of vision loss and acuity. Their vision ability is what drives the type of adaptive device and application that is most appropriate for the student to learn and communicate. This means there is not one type of device or digital application that would best serve all of our students as reflected in most school districts across the country. Many school districts hand out one type of device to all of its students and use one unified platform for students and teachers to utilize for instruction and learning. This type of approach just isn’t applicable at ISBVI.
IBCF, in partnership with ISBVI, is now seeking emergency funding of $69,852 to immediately provide full and appropriate technology support to 15 ISBVI students and families this summer. The idea is to pilot and test learning management platforms that are accessible and integrate well within technology serving children with visual impairments with a goal of then launching a full technology campaign that funds technology for all 128 full-time ISBVI students.
Regions Bank is the first donor to step up and generously support this effort, so we spoke with Kathy Lovell, Senior Vice President, Disability Services and Outreach Manager; Kim Borges, Vice President, Market PR Specialist; and Schiela Peña, Vice President Community Relations Officer; to hear more about the “Why” behind their support of this digital inclusion initiative.
Regions Financial Corporation is a bank holding company headquartered in the Regions Center in Birmingham, Alabama. The company provides retail banking and commercial banking, trust, stockbrokerage, and mortgage services.
Written by Braden Worrell
Question: What is the relationship like between Regions and IBCF?
Kim Borges: This reflects so much more than just connecting at a surface level. Our relationship with IBCF is something that is truly an integrated partnership. I knew and worked with Laura Alvarado before she started as IBCF’s first Executive Director. We reconnected and became involved with ISBVI through the Nine13 Sports “Kids Riding Bikes” program, then it really just snowballed. In January of this year the school was gracious enough to welcome us to the campus for an Officer's meeting, and it was amazing to see our associates observe the culture of the school and experience the attitude towards independence in just an hour and a half. This is a place about what's possible.
How is this Digital Inclusion initiative going to help these students?
Kathy Lovell: We believe that this is an important community that hasn't always been included in the conversation, so providing this distance learning support gives ISBVI students the same opportunities that other students are given – which is really important. It's giving students the opportunity to advance and be independent. I fully believe that individuals with disabilities should be given equal access to develop their skill. Even though an individual may be blind or may have low vision, there should be no limits put on them as far as what they want to do with their life and how they want to live.
We have no idea where we're going with this COVID-19 future. These students don't deserve to be left behind. They need to have the same opportunities to grow and develop and be successful individuals in the future. By fostering this type of program, it gives individuals with visual impairments the opportunity to learn on their own terms and in the way that they learn best.
Considering this year marks the 30th anniversary of the ADA being signed into law, why is this year an important time to give to digital inclusion initiatives like this?
Schiela Peña: Regions is truly pleased to be able to make this contribution, especially as we look to the future and further advance our community partnership with IBCF. This donation demonstrates our commitment to advancing educational opportunities and helps ensure digital inclusion for ISBVI students.
Kathy Lovell: I can’t think of supporting a more meaningful project than this in honoring the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, legislation that's devoted to promoting equal access for everyone. We look forward to having other corporate and community partners join us in supporting this effort to make technology accessible to all students at ISBVI.
We have taken a very proactive approach in addressing the ADA. The one thing I'm most proud about at Regions is creating a culture of disability awareness. So, when we develop a new product or service, there’s no convincing our business group partners that it’s important, our teams embrace it as part of our culture. I think the technology piece is particularly important because of what we're going through right now with the pandemic. We've realized that we’re going to be relying more on technology, so ensuring that technology is accessible is key.
We’re looking for ways that we can be more accessible and work outside the box. I think one of the best ways to do that is forming these types of partnerships and listening to the individuals that are using the technology. You listen to the non-profits that are working with those consumers to make sure you're getting it right. It’s about spending a lot of time getting out into the community and developing relationships and partnerships so that we have a better feel for what we're doing and if we're on the right track. I think technology is the key to the future, especially with distance learning.
I also think that's the reason why this opportunity is the right time with our current environment and celebrating the 30th anniversary of the ADA in a unique way – but also realizing that there's more work to be done.
How has No Limits influenced Regions involvement with this Digital Inclusion donation?
Schiela Peña: I’m the mother of two small children and we had the opportunity to have the kids go to the No Limits Matthew Whitaker concert last year. It was overwhelming to see how Matthew engaged with my boys. I have a child with a disability, he's on the spectrum, and had a hard time dealing with all the things that were going on, and Matthew and his whole band dialed into him. As a mother you think, here's somebody who has a disability who is reaching out to someone else to help them be strong. That's what Matthew said, “He's strong, you're fine, you're going to be great.” I look back at that and think that there's something more that these students and staff are offering that you know these kids would not get anywhere else.
Seeing how Laura and her team have worked so hard to make sure that they’re really knocking down those barriers and making sure they’re always considering what’s possible, it makes you think “oh my word.” It’s a way of flipping the script and having a different perspective on life and saying “there are No Limits.”
ISBVI students absolutely need the technology; the need is critical. It's helping to remove a barrier so the students can keep up and continue to learn. It was great that we have the ability to be an advocate. We have great partners throughout the bank that helped move things forward quickly.
The impact of IBCF and ISBVI would simply not be possible without the generous support of our supporters. Their generosity provides students with visual impairments the essential educational equipment, resources, and programs that are not available anywhere else in the state. As a way of giving back to our sponsors, we want to share the stories of the people who help us make impact.
This week, we spoke with Dr. Jeremy Ciano, OD, of RevolutionEYES and Little Eyes.
RevolutionEYES thinks outside-the-box! When he was in his 3rd year of Optometry school, Dr. Jeremy Ciano envisioned a revolutionary new concept that would provide his patients with high-end customer service and exclusively unique products, while featuring the latest in modern medical technology. In 2007, that dream became a reality, when RevolutionEYES opened in Clay Terrace.
The Little Eyes team strive to provide the finest in pediatric optometry services for children ages 6 months to 13 years old.
Written by Braden Worrell
Tell us about your company and how you first encountered IBCF.
I came home one day and my four-year-old son said “Daddy, I want to be an optometrist when I grow up.” And I’m like, “oh man, that's awesome. I'll come work for you someday!” And my four year old son looked me in the eyes and said, “Daddy, you can't work for me, you're not good with kids.” And I thought, “Well, that's not cool, but he's pretty cerebral so maybe he's going somewhere.” So I asked, “What do you mean?” And he responds, “Well I'm going to have my own place someday and it's going to have little chairs and little glasses and I'm going to call it, Little Eyes.” I thought “that's actually brilliant” and we sat down and actually wrote it down right then and there on the spot and in August 2013 we launched, Little Eyes.
Right out of the gate we wanted to back a charity. We wanted to be able to make a donation to a certain foundation with every pair of glasses that we sell from day one. So we started doing some research and fell absolutely in love with the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation.
So how did you then become directly involved with IBCF?
It really was just a real simple email to Laura, I said, “Hey, this is what we want to do. Would you mind if we wrote you a check every month? It's not going to be a lot in the beginning because we're ramping up this brand new business…” but she was so gracious to just have anything that we could contribute. We've grown over the last five years, our checks have grown proportionally and we've been absolutely honored to write that check every month. We’re excited to promote a small local business and we love they’re right here in our backyard.
What about IBCF’s mission captured your attention personally?
Helping children when we have a pediatric practice goes hand in hand. Vision is the number one sense that we live our life through, so you couldn't ask for a more perfect fit for a pediatric optometric practice than with IBCF. It was almost too good to be true because it fits into every category of what we want to do: it's local, it’s vision, and it's children. It's a great organization that is doing something wonderful for the community. It's a match made in heaven.
And we let our patients know that too, that with every pair of glasses or procedure a portion goes to IBCF. And we don't do it as a marketing, we just do it because we want people to feel good. We want people to understand that we're part of the community. We want them to understand that there's a higher purpose than ourselves. It’s not only them making a purchase that supports a small local business, but that it's also going towards a local cause and we're part of the community.
Since becoming a supporter of IBCF and the students at ISBVI, how has your perspective on people with visual impairments changed?
When I visited ISBVI, one of the things that really stood out to me was how expensive technology is for these children that need it the most. Laura told us about the Braille Note Touch that has the magnetic braille keyboard and its six thousand dollars for a single tablet. That blew me away because I had no idea what the cost was. If we're trying to buy an iPad for the office, you're looking at between $500- $1000 dollars, right? That's your standard operating procedure. But, 12 times the cost, right? That's crazy. So really what it did is it opened my eyes that we need to step up our game from a donation standpoint. Now that we have a stronger business, we can give when we can. ‘You gotta do what you gotta do when you gotta do it’, that’s one of my famous quotes.
And why do you continue to support the Foundation today?
Honestly, the people that are involved in the Foundation have been just tremendous. Working with Ms. Alvarado is just an absolute pleasure. I wish that we had more opportunities to help people understand this time of need. This is the time that we need to really give the most and I would just love to help more in any way I can.
The impact of IBCF and ISBVI would simply not be possible without the generous support of our supporters. Their generosity provides students with visual impairments the essential educational equipment, resources, and programs that are not available anywhere else in the state. As a way of giving back to our sponsors, we want to share the stories of the people who help us make impact.
This week, we spoke with Dr. Diana Fisher, R.N., O.D., CEO and Clinical Director at 20/20 Institute. Dr. Fisher is also an IBCF Board Member.
20/20 Institute is proud to provide world class vision correction in a safe, innovative and welcoming environment and to be focused on accurate education to the patient about options for refractive surgery vision correction.
My first connection with IBCF was through Lindsay Jordan, who was a company rep. and IBCF Board Member. She said, “Hey, there’s this Gala that I do for the Blind School, would you be interested in going?” And said “Sure!” I attended and it just blew me away. It was over the top incredible. It was the best fundraiser I have ever been to in my life. And I was like, “okay, I want to get involved in this fundraiser.”
So I started working on the Gala and was then approached to go and tour the School. That was probably the moment when I became more acutely aware of the actual Foundation itself and that the Gala is just one way that the Foundation raises money. I didn't really understand that connection until I went to the school. When I toured the school, I cried the entire time, it was just overwhelming to see how amazing and dedicated the teachers and the staff were. I met the children and went into a classroom and saw the joy that the kids had. It was tears of joy.
It's like a family when you go there and I'm very family oriented, if you know my business it's all about family. And then I had this connection because as a child, I wasn't blind, but I started wearing glasses when I was two years old. So that's the main reason I became an eye doctor is that self-experience and wanting to help others, and so it just pulled my heartstrings.
So then I was invited by the Executive Director to become a part of the Indiana Blind Children's Foundation. And this amazing group of people ties into me as a person because I'm very professional, I own this business and I'm very systematic. The Foundation allows me this business part with the finance and the strategic planning. Because it’s a non-profit business, we’re always asking, “How is this business going to last so that these children are able to maintain an education and have the school for the rest of their lives and for future generations to help them to succeed?”
So as I became more involved in the Foundation, the awareness of the need for the children at that school was just compounded. I didn't realize that the school was funded like any other Indiana public school. They receive the same amount of money as any other public school and obviously these children have greater needs than what can be funded with that. So the Foundation is there to augment the school funding from the state because there's honestly just no way that they could survive and do everything that they do for these children without additional funding, it's just not possible. So that's what we're there for and that's what I'm so passionate about. These kids need so much more technology, training, and life skills and help to get a job.
“As I became more involved in the Foundation, the awareness of the need for the children at that school was just compounded. They get the same amount of money as any other public school and obviously these children have greater needs than what can be funded with that.”
I went to the high school graduation last year and heard the valedictorian and the salutatorian speeches and it was probably the best high school valedictorian and salutatorian speeches I've ever heard in my entire life. These kids are going to Purdue and IU. They are highly intelligent, very capable human beings. They want to be social workers, they want to be engineers, and they can be all of these wonderful things if given the opportunity, but they have to be given the opportunity. People have to be aware of what they're capable of and I don't think as a society we even have a glimpse of that. So that's why I’m a part of the Foundation, it's not just about money, it's about making a future for these kids.
Now as a full time advocate, I have things all around my office that point to IBCF and ISBVI. For example, the students did this beautiful artwork for me that's displayed in the office hallways. The students also made these little artwork magnets. We hand them out to our patients as just a little give away. It’s about constantly having the awareness that most people don't really think about students with visual impairments. I’m constantly planting those little seeds by talking about what the school is, who's involved, and what they do there. So, I really am trying to get the word out there and I hope that other people and organizations can get involved.
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. Children with sensory disorders can often experience sensory overload triggered in numerous ways that can be frightening for them. A safe calming environment with the appropriate equipment can help children with sensory disorders understand how to strengthen coping skills that better prepare them for future incidents. Sensory rooms often have dim lighting, soothing colors, swings, and equipment like weighted blankets and vests. While some students need to calm down, others may need to recharge his or her "battery" through activities specifically designed for his or her abilities. The goal is to essentially stimulate each child's brain as he or she needs it, so that following their time in the sensory room the child is actively ready to learn and receive information in the classroom.
The Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) is a nationally recognized school known for its innovative programming and exceptional blind and low vision specialists who have expertise in educating students with visual impairments. However, the need to serve a growing population of visually impaired children with additional sensory and mobility challenges such as autism, ADHD and other sensory processing disorders, due to a recent population shift, prompted a big community effort this year. It became apparent through numerous discussions with ISBVI leadership that the creation of a sensory room for children ages 3-11 was necessary to truly meet the diverse learning needs of children in the pre-school and elementary grades at the school.
The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation assembled a small committee of individuals who started meeting monthly in late 2019 to figure out ways to make this sensory room a reality. We are thankful to our sensory room committee members and friends at Custom Living for helping us devise and execute a renovation plan, select the appropriate equipment based on our students' needs and assist in our fundraising efforts. The following video showcases how local company, Custom Living, not only made a big difference in the lives of our students, but also leveraged business partnerships to assist in this significant renovation.
Thank you to our current supporters: Custom Living, Tom Lazzara, Nicholas H. Noyes Jr. Memorial Foundation, The JC Benkert Charitable Fund, The McCaw Family Foundation, Carmel Glass & Mirror, Jack Laurie Home Floor Designs, Lowe's, Sherwin Williams, Dr. Stephanie Jackson-Colbert and 12 Stars Media
We have $5000 left to raise to ensure our students have the appropriate sensory equipment designed for their needs. For those of you who are experiencing financial hardships of your own, we know that this is not the time to give. But for those of you who are able to help, any level of support makes a difference and is greatly appreciated.
Motivated by Custom Living and their efforts to leverage business partners? Share your thoughts about businesses in our community that might be able to help by participating in this short 5-10 minute survey. IBCF wants to learn more about our supporters, their reasons for giving and engagement, as well as align with future supporters to grow the community around our students.
Thank you for supporting the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF). Over the last five years, the foundation has experienced wonderful growth because of supporters like you who believe in the success of children with visual impairments.
Because of your support, the foundation has made a deep impact on children and families through some of the following efforts:
- The expansion of the 3D Print Lab which now integrates students in the creation of 3D printed objects used as learning tools in the classrooms.
- Funding a week-long overnight summer camp (Expanding Your Horizons Camp) each year dedicated to building confidence and self-esteem in children with visual impairments.
- Supporting braille literacy and family engagement workshops on an annual basis that build sensitivity and strengthen family relationships through the Indiana Braille Challenge.
- Year-round investments in access technology including the purchase of ten SMART Boards for classrooms, as well as the integration of BlindSquare technology and GPS App throughout the ISBVI campus which details points of interest and intersections for safe, reliable travel both outside and inside.
- Integrated and maintained annual program partnerships with Nine13sports, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana, and Indy Women in Tech (IWIT)-The Eureka! Exchange to benefit the academic and social well-being of children with visual impairments.
- Renovated the ISBVI Auditorium, with support from Lilly Endowment, Inc., with all new audio, lighting, video capabilities and access technology transforming ISBVI into a more welcoming community engagement space that hosts a wide array of performances and experiences for people of all abilities.
- Most recently established a committee of community members and businesses to design and build a sensory room to help children ages 3-11 with sensory issues to increase coping skills, and improve focus and motor skills development.
We value your interest and commitment to the IBCF mission. In order to continue to develop the necessary tools and programs for success in partnership with ISBVI, IBCF wants to learn more about our supporters, their reasons for giving and engagement, as well as align with future supporters to grow the community around our students.
IBCF is partnering with a team of students from Indiana University to gather your input through a short online survey. All information you provide will be kept confidential, only a summary of responses will be provided to the foundation unless the supporter indicates wanting any follow-up communication. Please click on the survey button below to complete this short 5-10 minute survey to help us learn more about those who support our mission.
Over the last week, ISBVI staff have had to get really creative on teaching students, utilizing a variety of tools to meet each student’s specific need. Many of our students do not have access to technology such as a BrailleNote Touch, iPad, laptop, internet or sometimes WiFi for that matter. Each student needs an individualized approach to learning at home dependent upon their need, as well as what tools they have at home.
ISBVI Outreach Vision Support Specialist, Margiy Outten, recently shared her adapted lesson plan on teaching braille remotely. Utilizing a muffin pan, tennis balls and Zoom, Margiy and her elementary aged student were able to practice braille skills remotely.
Braille is a system of raised dots that can be read with the fingers by individuals who are blind or have low vision. A braille cell is made up of six raised dots in two parallel rows, each having three dots. Sixty-four combinations are possible using one or more of these dots. The dot positions are numbered one through six. The left vertical column of dot positions are numbered 1,2,3 and the right vertical column of dot positions are numbered 4,5,6.
The muffin pan represents the dot positions while the tennis balls represent the raised dots. Margiy instructed her student to move the tennis balls into different dot positions, helping her student understand and feel how different letters may be created. This helps early braille learners learn the braille alphabet, but more importantly stay motivated to practice learning braille.
Why is Braille Literacy Important?
Louis Braille's invention of the six dot reading and writing system revolutionized the way people who are blind perceive and interact in the world. Even in today's technology driven world, braille is critically important. School leadership is often asked, why teach braille when there is so much audio driven technology out there? The response, would you stop teaching a sighted child how to read or write because of audio driven technology? The answer of course is no. However, the real answer is that braille and technology can go hand and hand. Technology can actually be used to teach braille in ways that have never been accomplished before.
Learning and mastering braille code opens doors for individuals who are blind. Children need to be literate, to be able to read, write, and count. Learning braille helps children develop grammar, spelling, and understand punctuation. These skills bring intellectual freedom, personal security, independence, and equal opportunities when they grow up. Studies continue to show that individuals who know braille are more likely to achieve academic success and obtain jobs.
It takes a supportive environment for children to learn braille. This is one of the numerous reasons the foundation supports the Indiana Braille Challenge each year. Not only does this competition bring children and families in from around the state to participate, it provides family members an opportunity to deepen their knowledge and learn new ways to support their child's needs. Each child is also celebrated for participating, motivating children to continue their studies and participate the following year.
The following video exemplifies how it brings families together while celebrating each child year after year. Enjoy!
Family Engagement through the Braille Challenge
Group photo of STEP students all wearing yellow STEP T-shirts.
As you know, all Indiana schools are closed until May 1, 2020. As ISBVI teachers and staff are busy staying connected to students and their families, we thought we would take this opportunity to stay in touch with our supporters by showcasing an amazing ISBVI program that the foundation invests in each year because of your collective support.
While National Disability Employment Awareness Month falls in October, employment inclusion at ISBVI is practiced and modeled in the school and the community throughout the year. One example of this is through STEP (Student, Training & Employment Program), a partnership program between ISBVI and Bosma Enterprises. The program helps high school students who are blind or visually impaired between the ages of 16-22 explore various career paths, learn essential job skills, and develop an employment portfolio over a span of four weeks during the summer months each year. Youth are assigned a job coach and work at various STEP community partnership employment sites during daytime hours, but stay at ISBVI each week, only leaving to go back home on the weekends.
The video below focuses on STEP and how the program benefits youth with visual impairments. However, I believe as you watch this video you will come to understand that it's not only STEP participants who benefit from inclusion in the workplace. This video features audio description and offers closed captioning so individuals of all abilities can enjoy its content fully.
STEP (Student Training and Employment Program) Audio Described from IN Blind Children's Foundation on
Click on the picture above to watch the video about STEP (Student, Training & Employment Program)!
Video description provided by Audio Eyes. Captioning provided by 12 Stars Media.
I know your email inbox has most likely been inundated with information about closures, social distancing, and the financial impact of the COVID-19 situation. No doubt, we are in for some uncharted territory as we all experience day to day updates and information from around the world. As social distancing becomes a part of our new normal over the next few weeks or even months, the IBCF Board of Directors and I feel strongly about staying connected to our community.
We realize that the foundation has become, in many ways, a window into what is happening at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI). Currently ISBVI, like many other schools in our community, has closed its doors until April 5th. ISBVI leadership is looking at ways to keep students engaged and learning while at home, however there isn't a one size fits all answer. E-learning for ISBVI students can be challenging as the majority of our families do not have access to assistive technology at home.
My goal over the coming weeks is to simply inform, reflect, and show gratitude for what we have accomplished together over the years through your support. I believe strongly, now more than ever, this is a good time to remind ourselves who we have been fighting for and why. What better way to do this than through video!
IBCF started a partnership years ago with media partner, 12 Stars Media, to help us communicate our story more effectively using the power of video. These videos feature the programs, students, and families we support. They also showcase the five investment areas at the school that we believe help children with visual impairments grow both academically and socially to find success. Those investment areas are; access technology, arts and music, career development, family engagement, and health and wellness programs.
According to the Americans for the Arts, "Artistic activities directly exercise and strengthen the cognitive and physical skills that generally challenge children with specific needs such as oral, tactile, visual, sensory, and motor skills." The arts play a crucial role in connecting people, communicating ideas, and shaping the world around us. It seemed only fitting to utilize our arts and music video first to showcase the amazing arts programs at ISBVI and connect us all.
IBCF Arts and Music Video from IN Blind Children's Foundation on
Click on the picture above to watch the video about the Arts at ISBVI.
In 2018, IBCF received the Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc., to encourage community building and celebrate creativity.
Our mission and tagline for this grant is “No Limits: An Arts Series Focused on Access for All.” On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act being signed got the ball rolling on access points like wheelchair accessible ramps and signage in most venues around the country, but there is still much progress to be made to be truly inclusive for all people. So, in order to lead by example, we wanted to provide our community a look into our own transformation here at ISBVI, as well as what initiatives we were launching outside our walls to create access in the surrounding community. We decided to create a journal to document the progress from January to July 2019 in four key grant areas: The Student Leadership Club, the Advisory committee, the ISBVI Auditorium renovations, and, the main event, the Inaugural No Limits Celebration on July 26.
The interactive, digital journal was created in an entirely accessible format so that people using screen readers can experience the journey as well. We hope you enjoy it.
No Limits Digital Journal - Volume 1
IBCF is pleased to announce an exciting new partnership with TCC Gives, the community foundation that is supported by TCC Verizon Wireless. Their support for our new program, "Not Just a Phone," will provide ISBVI middle and high school students with iPhones, data plans, and hot spots. Using the BlindSquare app in conjunction with state-of-the-art iBeacon technology, our students will be able to work with our Orientation & Mobility (O&M) teachers to navigate the world in a way that increases their independence, enhances their preparation for life after they leave ISBVI, and supports the skills they need to be successful in college, the workplace, and beyond. We are particularly grateful to TCC Verizon employee Tony Lacharite who has supported this project from the start and will spearhead TCC employees to volunteer to install the technology. Thank you, TCC Gives and Julie Moorehead, for your mission of strengthening communities by helping people!
On November 5, the Butler B.I.G.S. (Bulldog Initiative for a Generous Society) hosted their first Goalball Tournament alongside the ISBVI Goalball team. Goalball came into being just after World War II, and is a sport specifically developed for people who are blind or have low vision. All players wear blindfolds, and it is a fast-paced and competitive sport. Cara Burchett, ISBVI gym teacher, and the ISBVI Goalball team served as mentors for the players recruited by Butler B.I.G.S. and from the Butler Chapter of Delta Gamma, all of whom were trying the sport for the very first time. A great time was had by all!
While our partnership with the Butler B.I.G.S. is new, our school has had a long and meaningful partnership with the young women of the Delta Gamma sorority. In addition to substantial fundraising (over $9K raised in 2018!), these incredible young women volunteer at ISBVI to do various activities with the students like tutoring, game nights, and assist with the IBCF annual Gala. In addition, the ISBVI students visit the Delta Gamma house throughout the year for parties and dinner, and form supportive friendships with college students while still in high school.
In early March, ISBVI will host the Indiana Regional division of the international Braille Challenge for the 11th year, a wonderful competitive event that's completely funded by donations from supporters of the IBCF. This year, thanks to a generous gift from Ossip Optometry, we will also be able to include a Braille Book Fair, modeled in many ways after the book fairs Scholastic has offered for many years to sighted children. With input from some of our students, a dedicated group of ISBVI parents, teachers and staff, as well as board and staff members from the IBCF we have been working hard to flesh out the logistics of making a catalogue and order forms available in both text and Braille for students to submit their top six book choices. Thanks to the support from Ossip, IBCF will be purchasing Braille books our students most want to read (the same kinds of books their sighted peers want to read, only larger and much more expensive) based on their book wish-lists. Each Braille Challenger will receive three books in Braille to take home and continue their love of reading throughout the year. Our deepest thanks to Ossip for their incredible support and for making the joy of choosing books available to all children!
Thank you to all our supporters who made 2018 another record-breaking year! We are happy to share that we provided over $141,000 in support for students, programs and staff at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) in 2018. This year's "check" was presented to James Durst, ISBVI Superintendent, at the annual Winter Holiday music program. This concert is a fitting venue for this annual presentation, since it showcases the best of what ISBVI is all about: nurtured and supported by teachers, staff, parents, and volunteers, our students are able to step out of their previous comfort zones and work together to create something beautiful. The middle school and high school choirs and bands looked especially beautiful, too, in their new uniforms purchased - by the way - with some of IBCF donor support from 2017!
What, you say? Given our record of weather-related postponements of our annual golf event when we've scheduled it in the summer, how can we possibly think it's a good idea to try it in March? The answer: It's still golf, but with a whole new twist we think you'll love! So put Sunday, March 10 on your calendar, and get ready for IBCF's Topgolf Family Fun(draising) Event. It's competitive. It's fun for the whole family. It's a sport you can enjoy whether you're an aspiring golf pro or whether you're picking up a club for the first time. It’s accessible to the population we serve – that is, easily adaptable for those who are blind or have low vision. Best of all, you play in climate-controlled bays, so you can play in any weather - even if it snows! Stay tuned!
Registration Has Closed for this Event
The Dollar General Literacy Foundation recently awarded the Indiana Blind Children's Foundation a grant to support youth literacy. This grant is part of more than $3.4 million the organization awarded to 915 recipients on August 28, 2018 to programs in 44 states. The School will use the award to purchase additional refreshable Braille display devices for the high school Braille reading classes. We're deeply appreciative Dollar General's deep commitment to access to the gift of reading for all students.
This past August, the Indy Women in Tech (IWIT driven by group1001) hosted the IWIT Championship at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Brickyard Crossing Golf Course, a major LPGA event. For the second year, they collaborated with the Octagon program called The Eureka! Exchange (TEE), which is an opportunity to engage school students in important aspects of STEM learning in a non-intimidating way. This year, in a collaboration coordinated by IBCF, ISBVI 8th graders were invited to spend the morning in various STEM activities, especially selected for our students because of their emphasis on tactile and auditory experiences. Along with their ISBVI math and science teachers, our students were mentored and encouraged by volunteers from the tech-focused organizations Codelicious, Nine13sports, Rolls-Royce, and IUPUI's Indiana University School of Infomatics and Computing. Students rode bikes attached to output simulators, constructed small electrical circuits, built simple machines, and tested flight paths for different aerodynamically shaped planes.
And at the end of the morning, each student had a chance to practice learning how to swing a golf club from one of the LPGA players. After a delicious lunch provide by IWIT, students came away excited and empowered. Thank you to all these organizations who gave so much to our students!
To be sure, we are fortunate to have Judy Reynolds as director of ISBVI's Student Training Employment Program (STEP). But the intensive 4-week summer program wouldn't happen without the additional support of the many businesses in our area who care deeply about helping to prepare our students with 21st century workplace skills. Everything from the local organizations who hire our students as interns, to the generous financial support from individuals and foundations to cover costs of support staff and transportation, to those who make additional valuable learning opportunities available to our students. This year's special additional opportunities included an incredible visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), where the generosity of IMS staff made vintage Indy cars available for our students to experience tactilely, as well as a private presentation by local Indy driver Ed Carpenter. And then in July, IBCF partnered with Regions to provide STEP students with a day of learning more on how to research, prepare for, and apply to jobs they are interested in, as well as participate in individual mock interviews with Regions staff.
Our warm thanks especially to Regions employees Kim Borges, Kathy Lovell, Schiela Pena and Steve Beres (also this year's Gala speaker) for coordinating this incredible day at the Regions downtown Indianapolis location. As Steve says so eloquently, "Just because you happen to be blind, don't let anyone make you think you should lower the bar for what you think you can do." Thank you, Regions, for helping to give our students these specific tools and the confidence to succeed! And thank you to ALL of the businesses who support our students in so many positive ways!
The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation has been awarded the ability to distribute $10,155 in tax credits to eligible Indiana resident taxpayers - which enables IBCF to earn $20,310 in contributions towards its mission and educational programming at ISBVI. Donors who purchase the available tax credits can then deduct these credits from their overall tax liability while supporting necessary educational programming for children with visual impairments. For example, if you donate $500 towards this program, $250 will come off your total 2018 tax liability if you donate before December 31, 2018. This year's NAP donations will support the 2019 Braille Challenge, a one day family event designed to reinforce the importance of Braille literacy for blind children.
Click here to learn more about this program and if you are eligible to purchase these tax credits!
As we head into the holiday season, what stands out is the extraordinary "village" that surrounds our students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) as well as supports the efforts of the IBCF on their behalf. Our recent Gala, which generated over $195,000, was certainly a result of the hard work and deep caring of many people - not least of which was our wonderful new relationship with the Women's Department Club of Indianapolis. Because of their generous match, our Fund-a-Need portion of the program generated an additional $25,000. But - at the same time - donors in the audience (many who were first-time donors to IBCF) pledged $43,000 in support. And thus, together, we raised a total of $68,000 to support next summer's Expand Your Horizons Summer camp for children who are blind or have low vision. A beautiful example of many people working together to make this world a better place - thank you!
Thank you to all of our guests, sponsors, speakers, volunteers, and supporters in the community who made this event such a success!
We rounded out the 2nd quarter of 2018 by supporting ISBVI's annual summer camp, Expanding Your Horizons (EYH). This unique camp is designed specifically for children who are blind or have low vision, EYH is a week-long overnight camp for students aged 10-15 to participate in a adventure camp that builds confidence and self-esteem through activities like horseback riding, sleeping in tents for a week, canoeing, archery, and zip-lining – just like their sighted peers do. Here is what some of the 30 campers served by this year’s camp had to say:
“People who are visually impaired … might not think they could do a rope course,but they can!”
“I don’t worry about being the only one with vision problems.”
“I can talk to other blind kids about things I can’t talk about with other kids.”
“It is meant for people like us!”
We are so grateful to this year’s EYH sponsors: Brave Heart Foundation, Indiana Design Center - LUXE Design Event, Delta Gamma Foundation, 12 Stars Media and Finish Line Youth Foundation – and to Genesys who provided additional adult volunteers. We are pleased to let you know that this year’s Gala Fund-a-Need will be EYH Camp 2019 – so join us this October 6th for a fun-filled evening with great food and the chance to support next summer’s EYH, as well as all the other ways the IBCF supports the students served by the ISBVI.
In May, IBCF was again invited to participate in the annual Genesys Volunteer Fair. As part of their mission, Genesys, a company specializing in call center platforms, tries to “build a better world by making a positive impact in the communities where Genesys employees live and work.” Their corporate social responsibility program, Make A Difference, was founded in 2007 and encourages employees to spend time outside of work volunteering for a worthy organization that can use their help. Many thanks to director, Lea Durbin, for organizing a great event and for all the Genesys staff who stopped by during their lunch hour. And an especially grateful thank you to those Genesys employees who have volunteered again this summer to help with ISBVI’s summer camp Expanding Your Horizons (EYH), a week-long overnight camp for children who are blind or have low vision that serves students from all across the state of Indiana.
Check out pictures of our EYH campers and Genesys volunteers zip lining!
Learn more about the Expanding Your Horizons summer camp!
“I wanna do something that matters … “
On May 25, the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) celebrated the graduation of 9 young people. Graduation is also a proud day for us at the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF), since supporting our students on their path towards independence and living their fullest potential is the reason we exist. This group of graduating seniors brought the number of graduates the IBCF has been privileged to serve since 1993 to a total of 323. Commencement speaker, Steve Beres- Service Members and Veterans Affairs Manager for Regions, who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces all over the Middle East until he lost his sight during combat in a traumatic accident.
Because this is IBCF’s 25th anniversary year, the ceremony seemed especially moving. As always, as the ISBVI band played “Pomp and Circumstance,” each student walked proudly – individually and alone – up the steps on the left and across the stage to receive their diploma, stopped to shake hands with members of the School leadership, and continued to the right side of the stage, down the steps, and back to their seats. Then the choir sang “I Was Here” by Lady Antebellum, the song chosen by this year’s seniors:
… You wait and see / Maybe I'll write like Twain wrote
Maybe I'll paint like Van Gough / Cure the common cold
I don't know but I'm ready to start 'cause I know in my heart
I wanna do something that matters …
I wanna do somethin' better, with the time I've been given
And I wanna try to touch a few hearts in this life
And leave nothin' less than something that says I was here …
When it came time for Steve Beres to speak, he, too, reiterated the theme of making something special of your life. “Don’t let anyone tell you no, or that you’re unable to do something,” he said. And to drive the point home he gave an unmarked envelope with a card in it to each graduate … except that one card said “winner.” That student, he explained, would have the opportunity to do a tandem sky dive alongside him – each of them accompanied on the jump by a professional parachutist. And the winner Christian – who (along with his mom, former Air Force) was thrilled! The jump is scheduled for July 12. Stay tuned! In the meantime, celebrate with us as each of these 9 new graduates strives to “do something that matters … with the time I’ve been given.”
Special thanks to Regions Bank - Commencement Speaker Sponsor
Written by Laura Alvarado, IBCF Executive Director
It is 2018! We are excited for what 2018 will bring and so very thankful for the increased community support that we experienced in 2017. As we look forward to this new year we thought we would highlight some of the movement and excitement of 2017.
IBCF, Regions Bank and nine13sports joined forces to bring the Kids Riding Bikes program to the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. This partnership brought in coaches from nine13sports, once a week for four weeks, and provided every student on campus the opportunity to be active using stationary bicycle simulators as a part of their physical education class. Being connected to a large screen monitor with software that not only tracks each student’s progress but motivates each student to go further made students feel like they were a part of a video game experience. This program couldn’t have taken place without the support and dedication of Regions Bank, also a new partner in 2017. The students and staff loved this program so much that it is now an annual partnership in January/February. Check out the news story on Fox 59 for more about this program and its impact!
IBCF partially supported the 2017 Braille Challenge with a grant from the Junior League of Indianapolis. The Indiana Regional Braille Challenge was hosted by the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired on Saturday, February 11, 2017 with 25 students in grades 1-12 who competed in this first stage of a two-staged national contest. Students received braille tests focused on reading, writing, spelling and comprehension throughout the morning, competing in his or her appropriate grade range. During the testing day, 125 family members of Challenge participants broke up into four separate groups that rotated between four workshops and sensitivity inspiring simulations that encouraged reflection on how they engage their family member who is blind in everyday activities. Check out the blog post from our very own ISBVI student who won the national contest!
The IBCF Board of Directors consists of fourteen highly dedicated community members who meet once a month to move our mission forward. In 2017 we added educational opportunities to our meetings to deepen our understanding and sensitivities towards those we serve. The Orientation and Mobility Specialists at ISBVI provided our Board Members with a better understanding of how to guide individuals who are blind by engaging us in a blind-folded simulation. Board Members were asked to wear a blind-fold and move throughout the school using a cane and/or being led by a guide.
The amazing team at Ossip Optometry and Ophthalmology surprised their 370 staff at the 2017 Ossip Expo with a beautiful performance from the ISBVI High School Choir. Following this performance, Dr. Scott Allison from Ossip surprised us with a check for $3500. This financial support didn’t end there as Dr. Allison challenged fellow Ossip staff to keep contributing throughout the day. Due to the financial support provided throughout the day, IBCF was able to assist ISBVI in purchasing numerous Bluetooth accessible laptops and MacBooks for the Assistive Technology Lab, making learning more accessible and efficient for students. Thank you to our friends at Ossip for making this support and awareness possible!
75 people joined together to walk in support of IBCF in the Walking for Dreams Event raising close to $5000 in support. Due to this support, we were able to bring in Playworks Indiana a few months later to engage 35 ISBVI staff in a Power of Play and Group Management training aimed at strengthening positive play activities that build social skills and inclusiveness during recess and free time.
June is both a happy and sad time around here at ISBVI. It is the start of the summer and the end of the school year. But for some, it is also the end of their time at ISBVI. While we are sad to see our seniors go each year, we know they are off to new horizons. In 2017, IBCF was happy to provide each of the twelve graduating seniors a small pocket scholarship.
The Expanding Your Horizons Summer Camp, the only week-long overnight summer camp for children with visual impairments in the state, engaged 23 children ages 10-15 throughout Indiana in experiences and activities tied to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) themed lesson plans and concepts. We are thankful for the financial and voluntary support from the Genesys Foundation, formerly the Interactive Intelligence Foundation, for making this camp such a success!
Dr. William Zeh participated in the Rainstorm Ride, a 660 mile bicycle ride in Southern Indiana, raising both financial support and awareness towards our mission. Dr. Zeh’s campaign, Roll for a Goal, brought in nearly $5000 in support from all over the country. We are thankful for individuals like Dr. Zeh who not only understand the importance of our mission but engage their network in learning about the work that we do.
The foundation received its first State of Indiana 2017 grant award from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) through the Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit Program (NAP)! IBCF was awarded the ability to provide $4128 in tax credits to eligible donors allowing IBCF to earn $8,256 in contributions towards its mission and educational programming at ISBVI.
The 2017 golf event had some ups and downs due to extreme weather that caused a move in the date of the event but that didn’t stop the 90 golfers who stuck with us and played to support our mission on the July rescheduled date generating over $17,000 in support.
Playworks Indiana provided a training to 35 staff at ISBVI on the Power of Play and Group Management Techniques. The workshop was led by Playworks Pro-Trainer, Neetu Agrawal, who inspired staff to learn or strengthen activities that assist ISBVI students in connecting with other children, feel a sense of belonging, and become more active on the playground.
The Kendra Scott store at Keystone at the Crossing invited the foundation and four ISBVI students to join them in the store for an afternoon of jewelry making. Each of the four students created a piece of jewelry to take with him or her as well as a piece that was donated for our 2017 Through the Looking Glass Gala. The students and staff had a wonderful time and hope to go back this spring for another session.
The 2017 Through the Looking Glass Gala generated a record-breaking $150,000 in support of the IBCF mission. Of this total, $41,275 was raised towards the arts and music programs at ISBVI during the Fund-A-Need moment. Our special guest, Jim Platzer, inspired our audience to discover his or her sense of purpose no matter where you are on your journey. Emcees, Laura Steele and Barry Lantz, as well as our auctioneer, Mark Bisch, kept the audience entertained and on their toes all evening. Thanks to the Sertoma Club of Broad Ripple, our guests were able to enjoy casino games ranging from roulette to blackjack. Big thanks to the 2017 Gala Committee and Chair, Lindsey Jordan, for their support and making the evening such a success! Check out the photos from the 2017 TTLG Gala here!
We were thrilled to receive a phone call from our friend and local artist, Barry Lantz, sharing that he was chosen to be the LUXE Design Showcase event keynote speaker. As the keynote speaker he chose IBCF to be the charity beneficiary for the 2018 event on Friday, February 9th. Click on the following link for more details about the upcoming LUXE event!
This year’s annual holiday tree sale and family event was one for the record books! It was a non-stop day at each event area on campus. The IBCF pancake breakfast fed over 150 attendees in just 3 hours. We are thankful to all those who came to support this event that kicks off the holiday season here at ISBVI!
Written by Maria Quinton, IBCF Communications Intern
A few days before school began at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Playworks Indiana traveled to ISBVI to train 35 staff members in the Power of Play. Playworks is a national non-profit that strives to improve the health and well-being of children by increasing opportunities for physical activity and safe, meaningful play. IBCF brought Playworks to ISBVI with the financial support raised at the 2017 Walk for Dreams Event back in May of 2017.
The techniques taught at the training helped ISBVI staff learn or strengthen activities that assist ISBVI students to connect with other children, feel a sense of belonging, and become more active on the playground. On how this training has impacted staff and students so far, ISBVI staff member, Paul Smith, stated, “It has helped us build self-esteem among students, think differently about staff and student engagement on and off the playground, and get students transitioned in a positive way.”
As the first school for the blind to participate in this training our Playworks trainer, Neetu Agrawal, made adaptations to certain games and techniques so that ISBVI staff could better apply them to our students. The popular playground game of ball tag known as the Fox and the Hound, was adapted by adding a bell to one of the balls used in the game, allowing staff and students to hear the ball coming towards him or her.
The training enlightened staff on just how powerful, safe and inclusive play can be for children. Many participants were surprised by how much they learned about the transformative impact of positive play. Many staff indicated that their favorite part of the training was the emphasis on positive affirmation and how far being positive can go. ISBVI Preschool Teacher, Tami Purkey, shared, “I really liked the positive reinforcement...making that conscious effort to continually be positive.”
We are very thankful for our partnership with Playworks, and we could not be happier with the outcome of the training session.
Written by Maria Quinton, IBCF Communications Intern
Barry Lantz is a nationally known interior designer who in 2010 began his professional career as an artist. He has a very accomplished background and is an exquisite and admired painter. After a tour of the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired with IBCF Executive Director, Barry was moved by his experience here at ISBVI and decided to make a difference in a number of ways.
Barry’s tour of the ISBVI campus inspired the creation of a 60”x60” acrylic painting, Through the Looking Glass, which Barry generously donated for silent auction at the Through the Looking Glass Gala.
After the completion of the painting, Barry decided he needed to do more, something that in addition to his painting would directly impact the students. In August, Barry came to ISBVI to teach a unique master painting class to ten middle and high school students. The students learned how to uniquely create landscape scenes using their favorite colors. The day was met with joy and gratitude, as Barry spent two hours with the students assisting them on their paintings. The students were grateful to learn under an accomplished artist for the day, and they all had a lot of fun getting to know Barry. Thank you Barry for such a wonderful partnership!
Written by Maria Quinton, IBCF Communications Intern
The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) is thrilled to have 20/20 Institute as the platinum sponsor of the 2017 Through the Looking Glass Gala. Dr. Diana Fisher, CEO of 20/20 Institute is an IBCF Board member with a deep connection to our mission. Dr. Fisher has an extensive career working with people with visual impairments. In fact, the desire to work in the field of optometry started for her as a little girl. She knew that she wanted to become an optometrist in order to positively impact the lives of those with low vision.
As the communications intern with the Foundation I had the opportunity to visit Dr. Fisher's office and speak with her about her involvement with IBCF. On becoming an optometrist she shared,
“I have had a lot of eye problems in my life, I started wearing glasses when I was just two years old because I had a lazy eye. My mom always instilled in me from the day I received my glasses how amazing it was that one day I could just see. She likes to tell this story how it was a fall day and the leaves had just started to fall from the trees. I said, 'Look mommy the leaves are falling,' and she thought, oh, my poor baby has never seen a leaf before, and would go on to exclaim, 'Oh! My baby can finally see!' This is why I decided to go to optometry school.”
From a young age, Dr. Fisher understood the impact the field of optometry has on people with vision challenges. She has dedicated her life to supporting people with visual impairments, and this is what attracted her to IBCF. Her involvement with the Indiana Blind Children's Foundation began with attending a Through the Looking Glass Gala. She attended the Gala and enjoyed her time so much she decided to join the gala committee. Shortly after that she joined the IBCF board of directors. She speaks of the Indiana Blind Children's Foundation highly, saying, "The thing I love most about this Foundation is that people are passionate, they are in it heart and soul, they get involved with the school, they get involved with the community. They really care about growing the Foundation and making sure the kids are taken care of, and they find out about their needs.”
Dr. Fisher takes any opportunity she can to engage with the students and parents of the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. She and her husband have attended the ISBVI registration day the past two years, and also attend the Holiday Plant and Tree Sale each year to get to know the students and parents impacted by the school better. She stated, "Meeting the parents and their children and getting to know them personally, as well as the families seeing us, helps bring us all together. I believe the parents and children understand that we are not just somebody who is out there telling people how or what to do. We are there, asking questions to learn how we can help."
IBCF is grateful to have such a supporter, board and gala committee member who is truly invested in getting to know those we support. This will be the fourth year the 20/20 Institute has supported the Through the Looking Glass Gala, and each year their support continues to grow. The 20/20 Institute is a one of kind organization that shows compassion for all those they serve. In addition to providing amazing services for those with vision challenges, they give back to their community.