Blind World Magazine

Will the Lighthouse be extinguished?

Palm Beach Post (Florida).
Tuesday, February 28, 2006.

Bill Thompson isn't too proud to beg. In fact, he's too proud of the organization he's led for 39 years not to beg. "I've got wild ideas," said the president and CEO of the cash-strapped Lighthouse for the Blind. "I looked up Jeff Gordon last night. He has a foundation and a home in Delray. If I can get to him..."

The Forbes-listed NASCAR star is one of hundreds who might hear from Mr. Thompson as he pleads for money to save the Lighthouse. The area can't afford to lose the 60-year-old center in West Palm Beach, the county's only private, not-for-profit educational and rehabilitation agency providing free services for the blind and visually impaired.

A decline in donations has worsened since the Sept. 11 attacks, the 2004 tsunami and the hurricanes that for the past two years diverted money from long-time charities. Lighthouse cut 10 positions and stopped homebound services in December. Services have been trimmed for residents of Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties. But the Lighthouse needs $133,000 a month to serve 8,700 clients.

The agency helps everyone from infants to seniors, and their family members and caregivers. The Lighthouse provides mobility training - teaching blind individuals how to use a cane, avoid or identify objects, and memorize travel routes - and adjustment training - cooking, sewing, communication, managing medications, grooming, handling finances and traveling for people 55 and older. The agency also educates businesses that employ people who are blind or visually impaired.

Praise is effusive from those who have used Lighthouse. R. David New of Delray Beach credits the organization for his independence: "I have received training in computers, orientation and mobility and basic living skills. I am now able to run my own business, maintain my own finances and feel confident as a strong blind person."

The Florida Division of Blind Services pays Lighthouse $363,000 a year. But Lighthouse has depended heavily on individual donors. A "totally unexpected and unexplained lapse" in large bequests from wills and trusts is forcing Mr. Thompson to appeal to the county, cities and foundations. "This is rescuing a needed agency that there is none like," Mr. Thompson said. "Blind people won't have a place to turn if we shut the doors."

Some willing donors with a few wild ideas of their own could make sure that Lighthouse stays open.

End of article.

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