Palm Beach Post (Florida).
Saturday, May 20, 2006.
Thirty-seven years ago, when she was just 14 years old, Carolyn Lapp was blinded in a car accident.
"I've had a lot of time to learn skills in those years," she said. Now, as a tireless advocate for the blind, she passes on what she's learned, working to get services and training for other blind people through the Florida Outreach Center for the Blind. She started the center in 2003.
"Being a community leader around blind people, I saw they weren't getting services," Lapp said. "The goal of the center is to train blind people in life skills and job skills. We try to teach them the skills they need to leave home, to become productive, to live on their own. The first thing we got going was support and independent living classes, like how to take care of personal and home needs, cook, clean, manage their finances, even iron."
Florida Outreach Center for the Blind also focuses on employment skills.
"We just finished a work seminar," Lapp said, "and we went over how to present yourself for an interview, how to make a good résumé, job seeking and job choice, to give them an edge in the job market. When a blind person walks in to an interview, they are already at a disadvantage. We have to do twice as much to look half as good."
Advocates for the blind say people with disabilities are often dismissed as incapable of accomplishing a task without being given the opportunity to display their skills. The unemployment rate for the nation's visually impaired hovers around 70 percent.
The Florida Outreach Center for the Blind served more than 100 clients last year "and we will double that this year," Lapp said. "We want to grow, absolutely."
To raise money, the Outreach Center holds dinners, hot dog sales, and raffles. But raising money is hard, even if you're used to challenges. In April, the Lighthouse for the Blind of the Palm Beaches, the county's oldest organization for services to the blind, closed its doors, succumbing to expanding expenses and dwindling donations.
"We're doing our best to keep our facility," Lapp said. "Our lease is up June 30 and it costs about $20,000 to rent the facility for the year. We could use some new computers and some of the new technology that's out, like the SARA reading machine. And for three years our instructors, all of whom are visually impaired, have been volunteers. I would like to give them a salary. They've given so much and they believed in the idea that we could make a difference."
With the closing of the Lighthouse Center for the Blind, Lapp sees her organization becoming more critical to the community.
"Those clients will be coming to our center, but I'm not worried about the demand," Lapp said. "People helped me and that is why I have the skills I have. And with the right skills we can do anything."
For more information, or to make a donation, call (561) 640-6029.
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