VISIONS Insights Newsletter
Summer 2020, Issue 14
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How VISIONS is Helping Participants Stay Social While Social Distancing
During New York City’s “Pause” order, VISIONS has been working hard to ease the feeling of social isolation among our staff and participants. From hosting programs and workshops by video conference and phone, to checking in with older participants to make sure they are safe, VISIONS staff have gone above and beyond to educate, connect with, and bring joy to our participants during these uncertain times.
Executive Director/CEO Nancy D. Miller
VISIONS is proud to share the creativity and resilience that our staff members, Board of Directors, funders, supporters and participants have demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic in this newsletter.
We are providing more than 50 virtual health and healthy living classes remotely, using phone and video conferencing, and have continued to provide significant levels of service in all program areas by transitioning to virtual service provision when possible.
We are honored to have received generous support from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the New York Community Trust COVID-19 relief fund to cover staff expense related to lost revenue. Thanks in large part to this additional support, we have not laid off or furloughed any VISIONS staff. We have also received grants for remote Workforce Training for New Jersey residents from the Kessler Foundation and from S&P Global Foundation for expenses related to COVID-19. Additionally, our Community Advisory Boards have put together uplifting virtual concerts and events that have helped to raise funds and awareness for VISIONS services.
VISIONS core values inform our work to confront all forms of discrimination and racism. The COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the Supreme Court decision affirming the rights of LGBTQ people, and the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, offer opportunities for action and hope for a better future.
VISIONS Welcomes Two New Board Members
Andrew S. Fisher, PhD
Andrew S. Fisher PhD, joined VISIONS/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired as a Director in March, following his retirement from the Lavelle Fund for the Blind on February 28, 2020, where he served as Executive Director for 20 years. Dr. Fisher will bring his extensive experience in supporting programs that promote the development of blind and visually impaired people of all ages, to VISIONS and provide guidance in helping to increase support and awareness for VISIONS Services.
Robert Heidenberg joined VISIONS/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired as a Director in May. Mr. Heidenberg is the founder and Managing Partner of Heidenberg Properties Group, and provides the strategic vision for the group’s development, redevelopment and acquisition initiatives. Mr. Heidenberg is an active and socially engaged member of his community, and presently serves on the board of directors for Foundation Fighting Blindness. He is First Vice-President of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, NJ.
President, Board of Directors
Past President, Board of Directors
Nancy T. Jones
Vice President, Board of Directors
Dr. Cynthia Stuen
Treasurer, Board of Directors
Burton M. Strauss, Jr.
Assistant Treasurer, Board of Directors
Kenneth J. Gralak
Secretary, Board of Directors
Jasmine M. Campirides
Nancy D. Miller
Nancy D. Miller
Editor, Chief Development Officer
Russell C. Martello
Newsletter Design & Layout
Celebrating 94 Years of Service
New VISIONS Staff and Advisory Board Members
Bessemer Venture Partners
Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital
Park Sterling Realty
Don Blauweiss Advertising & Design, Inc.
Dutchess BOCES, JJK Vision Consulting
Workforce Highlight (Pictured Above): Virtual Jobseeker Action Meeting via Zoom Guest speakers from Northwell Health, (Elizabeth Zgaljardic MSW, Program Manager, and Lesly St. Louis, Inclusion Specialist, discussed the general hiring process, provided tips for optimizing a resume, and gave insight on how to conduct successful video interviews.
Seeing What is Possible From Home
VISIONS Youth Services and VISIONS Rehabilitation Departments have teamed up to host virtual Pre-Vocational skills workshops. Participants learn important work-readiness and independent living skills, while receiving tips, tricks, and insights from VISIONS staff about how to prepare for their futures.
VISIONS Department of Workforce Development has begun holding weekly virtual Job Seeker Action Meetings, allowing participants to connect with companies actively looking to fill new positions, and learn about navigating the job market in this ever-changing climate. As a result of these workshops, some participants have began working remotely as contact tracers for the State of New York.
Unpaid Caregiver Support
VISIONS Unpaid Caregiver Support Program has begun offering workshops for caregivers of older adults (60+)with visual impairments or grandparents (55+) who are the primary caregivers to children with visual impairments. A chair yoga and meditation workshop led by Jenniera Senatus (Jenn), a certified yoga instructor from the NJ YMCA branch, introduced caregivers to centered breathing to induce a feeling of relaxation and calm, followed by a gentle yet effective strength and flexibility-based workout that included guided meditation to increase self-awareness. The program also offered a workshop titled, “Remember the Good,” led by Dawn Sanchez and Rachelle Fernandez, focusing on the different experiences of loss, grief and ways to address the accompanying feelings. The workshop helped caregivers recognize the difference between grief and depression, as well as strategies or ideas that could be applied to everyday life.
VISIONS Rehabilitation Services Department, has transitioned to offering its programs and services to participants remotely. Licensed social workers have been contacting participants via phone, FaceTime, or ZOOM to provide counseling and assistance with applying for benefits. Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapists (CVRT) and Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialists (COMS) have been working with participants on the following independent living skills: Braille, color identification of clothing, organization skills, smartphone instruction, financial management, keyboarding, and interpersonal skills. O&M staff have also provided instruction on travel applications and human guide instruction, while Occupational Therapists (OT) have offered “fall-prevention exercises.” All rehabilitation staff have been conducting wellness calls, ensuring that our participants have food, shelter, and social interaction.
VISIONS Center on Blindness
VISIONS Center on Aging has begun hosting remote activities over Google Hangouts and by phone, allowing participants with varying levels of technical skill to enjoy these activities. Staff are communicating with over 300 participants, performing safety checks and assisting with tasks including completing the census; locating pick up food sites; locating testing sites; and understanding economic impact payment information, medical services, and other benefits related to COVID-19.
“I have been taking Shannon’s fitness classes on and off for 15 years. She’s as good and fantastic as she was when I first started even in this new format over the phone. Its been a great way to keep myself busy and connect with others while we quarantine.” – Paula D.
“VISIONS has been great for me. I’m not sure what I would do without everyone. At a time like this we really need you guys.” – John D.
“I really appreciate all of the services. Everyone is so wonderful and everyone cares.” – Marion H
“These phone groups are wonderful. It gives us a way to keep in touch. There are classes that are so nice and a great way to end the day.” – Catherine B.
It was sometime in early March, I was hanging out with a few friends, when I received a news notification saying that New York State had declared a State of Emergency. I didn’t really know how to feel. It was kind of scary, but despite the rising number of confirmed cases, it still hadn’t reached the city, so while concerned, I didn’t really feel like I had something tangible to actively panic about.
It wasn’t until the first COVID-19 cases in Manhattan that things really started moving quickly for me: schools were moving online, CUNY students were taking to Twitter because, somehow, public schools were showing no signs of going online. And then CUNY did halt online classes, and suddenly it was real. My dorm suspended visitation, people were hoarding toilet paper, and my new word for the foreseeable future became “wild”. (As in “$800 for hand sanitizer? That’s wild!”)
Within a few days of being in the dorm, with half of the residence gone and the shriek of ambulances cutting through the night (not necessarily unusual since I lived around multiple hospitals, the eerie factor was nevertheless increased with a global pandemic happening), I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy this isolation thing. So I packed a few things and headed to the home of one of my closest friends.
I’d met Zulay when we were around ten or eleven at summer camp, but we lost contact before that summer ended. Randomly, I would hear her name, and remember bonding over shower caps and asthma while we waited to get into the pool. Then, three or so years later, we reconnected at VISIONS, both working at the Snack Bar. We continued working together: as office assistants or hanging out at Selis after our respective internships.
And when my dorm ultimately decided to close, it’s with Zulay I continued to stay—for her wifi mostly. But she benefits from my baking so, I think it’s a pretty symbiotic situation we’ve got going on.
Pre-COVID Youth Services Highlights
In January, youth participants toured Google’s New York City headquarters, to learn about the ways Google makes its workplace accessible and fun. Participants also explored the many career opportunities available at Google.
Through a connection with New York Cares, Work Experience Training participants got to tour Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group’s New York office and participate in an activity where groups worked together to pitch a new product to VISIONS and Mitsubishi staff.
Pre-COVID VISIONS Center on Aging Highlights
A special thanks to the Korean Traditional Music Orchestra for the Blind for not only putting on a private show for our participants, but for also providing them complimentary tickets to your live performance at Carnegie Hall!
A new fitness program was introduced to encourage participants to exercise and take control of their fitness routines.
4th and 5th grade students from the Hannah Senesh Community Day School spent the day designing t-shirts and tote bags with participants.
VISIONS Center on Blindness (VCB) and Vocational Rehabilitation Center (VRC) Announcement
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, staff from VCB and VRC have been hard at work, adjusting their typical residential programs to better adapt to a “learn-at-home” environment, learning new remote conferencing platforms, and ensuring these programs continue to meet VISIONS and the New York State Commission for the Blind’s (NYSCB) high standards for vision rehabilitation programming
Daytime and evening virtual sessions will take place July 23rd and 24th, and July 30th and 31st from 1:30 – 8:00PM, with an hour long break at 5:00PM.
- Daytime sessions consist of four, 50 minute sessions with ten minute breaks in between, running at 2:00–5:50PM.
- Programs will include prominent guest speakers; assistive technology, VCB Living (“blind life hacks”), and other topics, including trivia games and mindfulness.
- Evening sessions will run from 6:00–8:00PM, and will include a spoken word poet, talent show, and cultural appreciation/international night, among other engaging and educational activities.
Assistive Technology Center
In partnership and with approval from the NYSCB, the Assistive Technology Center at VISIONS VRC has been working remotely with participants for Readiness evaluations, Technology Assessment and instruction using the Canvas Learning Management System.
VRC staff have been working hard with the NYSCB to develop a hybrid learning version of its 15-week Pre-ETS and Employment Readiness program. This program will launch virtually with seven participants on July 6th, with the hope that updated regulations will allow participants to return for in-person learning on August 3rd.
In addition to virtual programming, VISIONS has been working to develop social distancing guidelines, and ensure all of its facilities, including VCB and the VRC are prepared and cleaned prior to allowing participants to re-enter. Safety is VISIONS number one priority.
State of VISIONS Briefing at the Ford Foundation
(Left to Right): Dr. Andrew S. Fisher, Robert Schonbrunn (VISIONS), Anusha Sharma (White Ops), Nancy D. Miller (VISIONS), and Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez (DFTA).
On January 22nd, 2020, VISIONS held its first “State of VISIONS Briefing”, featuring uplifting stories from current and former participants, remarks from VISIONS CEO, Board of Directors, Community Advisory Boards, and Foundation and government funders. The event also featured interactive demonstrations by VISIONS certified rehabilitation staff, on adaptive living devices and assistive technology equipment used by participants to maintain their independence.
2020 Annual Appeal: Giuseppe's Story
Pictured: Westchester resident, and former Workforce participant turned VISIONS Job Developer, Giuseppe Esposito.
“My perspective is probably a unique one. From first receiving services as a participant with a visual impairment, to joining their team and getting a glimpse from behind the scenes of how these services are provided, I got to observe how VISIONS impacts peoples’ lives for the better.”
– Giuseppe, VISIONS Job Developer
Community Fundraising and Events
On November 14th, VISIONS Queens Advisory Board held its third annual Party with a Purpose at Douglaston Manor, complete with delicious food, door prizes, and opportunities to network. The event honored two Queens heroes, Jiliana Rivera, R.N. (St. Mary’s Hospital for Children) and Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi (Executive Director, India Home) for their outstanding contributions to the community. The event netted over $28,000 to support VISIONS free services in Queens.
On March 7th, before the COVID-19 lockdown, VISIONS Queens Advisory Board held its third annual Cocktails for a Cause event at Good Company Tavern. Special thanks to Stephanie Belanich for serving again as the event’s guest bartender, Joe De Piola for donating his musical talent, and Gus Kercuku, owner of Bocconcini Restaurant and Mike Sackos, Aegea West for donating delicious food. The event netted over $3,700 to support VISIONS free services in Queens.
On February 8th, VISIONS Brooklyn Advisory Board held its annual breakfast at Applebee’s Atlantic Terminal location. Approximately 75 guests attended, raising $1,800 to support VISIONS free services in Brooklyn. Many thanks to Kiwanis for underwriting the breakfast.
The VISIONS Manhattan Advisory Board held its second annual Viva VISIONS event on February 27th, at Tacombi Empire State Building. The event, featuring delicious food and networking raised $2,300 to support VISIONS free services in Manhattan.
To Provide Virtual Entertainment, While Increasing Awareness and Support for Our Services, VISIONS Began Hosting TGIF Concerts
These fun Friday night concerts bring local artists into the spotlight for a good cause. We appreciate these artists for lending us their amazing talent and personalities. Our last four concerts raised over $12,000 to support VISIONS free services.
To watch previous TGIF concerts on Facebook, click a performer’s name. You do not need to have an account to watch, but will need one to comment.
To kick off Mother’s Day Weekend, Staten Island Borough Coordinator Holly Bonner and her two adorable daughters held a virtual lemonade stand from inside their house.
The stand, complete with lemonade, cookies, smiles, and sunshine (despite the cloudy weather) raised over $1,900 to support VISIONS free services!
Seeing Participants Through A Pandemic
Hosted by CBS New York’s Lisa Rozner on May 28th via Zoom, this virtual event featured participants speaking about how VISIONS services have helped prepare them to navigate these difficult times, and how virtual services being offered currently, have helped them to move forward and acquire new skills.
Watch a replay of this event by visiting https://bit.ly/2YJvf6G
VISIONS In the News
Click on an article's title or image to read the full story
New York Times
By Frank Bruni
LoHud (USA Today)
By Robert Brum
Fox 5 New York
By Briella Tomassetti
VISIONS Would Like to Thank the Following Donors:
10/01/19 – 05/31/20
$10,000 or more:
Allene Reuss Memorial Trust
D. Euan Baird/Tocqueville Asset Management LP
Estate of Marilyn Hodes
Estate of Miriam S. Enders
Field Hall Foundation
Lucius L. Rhonda N. Fowler
Nancy T. Jones
JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A.
Lavelle Fund for the Blind, Inc.
Moses L. Parshelsky Fdn.
Norman & Bettina Roberts Foundation, Inc.
NYC Department of Transportation
S&P Global Ratings
Robert A. Schonbrunn
Harriette K. and Burton M. Strauss, Jr.
The David Kimmel Foundation
The Sweat, Dustin Blood Trust
$1,000 - $9,999:
Jennifer Allen/St. Mary Hospital for Children
American International Group
Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
John D. Belanich
Steven E. and Joy Blair-Bernstein
Douglas Andrew Borck
Francis J. Bravin
Mr. & Mrs. Robert A. Davis
Demarest Lloyd Jr. Foundation
Doolittle Family Foundation
Ed Lucas Foundation, Inc.
Christina H. Eisenbeis and Ralph Martin
Estate of Claire Wagner
Estate of Eli & Diane Rudolph
Estate of Mannie Corman
Dr. Andrew S. and Lois Fisher
Foreseeable Future Foundation
Judith Rock Goldman
Goldman Sachs Charitable/Jonathan H. Fine
Human Services Council of New York
Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi and Dr. Srinivas K. Rao
Deborah F. Knight
Anthony and Linda Lemma
Lilker Associates Consulting Engineers, PC
Little Neck Douglaston Lions Club, Inc.
Clara F. Londoner
Martha W Straus-Harry H Straus Fdn.
Dr. James and Jane C. McGroarty
Nancy D. and Gerald Miller
Nathan and Augusta Simpson Foundation
New York Hunts Point Lions Club
Olmsted Center for Sight
Denise G. and Jonathan D. Rabinowitz
PDG Jagadish B. Rao
Richmond County Savings Fdn.
Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Fdn., Inc.
Peter A. Roffman
Rochelle & David A. Hirsch Foundation, Inc.
Rye City Lions Club
The Baumann Family Foundation
The Lois & Richard Nicotra Foundation
The Taft Foundation
Michael A. and Jean M. Weisburger
Special Thanks To:
NYC Department for the Aging
NYS Commission for the Blind
Small Business Administration
We Also Want to Thank the Following for Their Donation of Goods and Services:
Acquista Trattoria/Fabio Acquista
Aegea West of Douglaston
Amphibious Zoo Music
Ben’s Deli of Bayside
Nuala and Aoife Bonner
Bourbon Street/Lara Fois
Brooklyn Nets/Joe Grande
Melissa Brown and David Siegel
CBS News / Lisa Rozner
Regina Cohen, LCSW
Christie & Company Salon & Spa/Lois Christie
Joe De Piola
Designs by Clara Stokolosa/Clara Stokolosa
Donovan’s Grill and Tavern/Martin Picone
Donovan’s of Bayside
Estate of Beverly Wettenstein
Exit 32 Hair Design
Glenmar Studios/Alison Spalter
Good Company Tavern
JP Morgan Chase/Alex J. Bahary
Ian Audio/Visual/Ash Krikorian
Iavarone Brothers Café
Il Bacco Restaurant Italiano
Joann Winkhart Cave
K. Pacho Restaurant/Joann Winkheart-Cave
Kristin Rose Kelleher
Keller Williams Greater Nassau/Stephanie Belanich and Maxine Conlin
La Grotta di Marcello
Lake Success Wines and Spirits
Louie’s Grille and Liquors/Martin Picone
Nancy D. & Gerald Miller
MTM Retail Group, LLC/Matt Goldfarb
Piccola Venezia Ristorante/Roberto Vlacich
Pinpoint Computer Services/Steve Levy
Public Health Solutions/Joseph A. Tubiolo Jr.
Push Fitness Club/Marisol Laboy
R.P. Romanelli/Anne Schmitz
Ronique Hair Salon
Roslyn Salt Cave/Wendy Shulman
Kevin and Jen Samuelson
Steve Olken Digital Design/ Steve Olken
The Ben’s Foundation/Rachel Stone
TLC Entertainment Studies/Adrian Zerla
Trader Joe’s Company/Ryan Luci
Vision Music and Entertainment
Yaffa Salon & Spa
Lions In-Kind Donations
PDG Maybelle Twohie/Ramapo Lions Club
Lions In-Kind Donations
PDG Maybelle Twohie/Ramapo Lions Club
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How You Can Support VISIONS
The best way you can support VISIONS: Make a Donation!
Whether it is making an individual donation, or giving us a lead for a Foundation Grant, or Corporate Sponsor that is aligned with our mission, every bit helps!
Other Ways to Support VISIONS
Join a Borough Advisory Board
Grouped by borough, members of VISIONS Advisory Boards help promote the issues important to the agency, represent VISIONS at community events, assist in raising funds to support the amazing work we do, and help solicit new contributors for our annual fundraising events.
Volunteer At Our Senior Center
VISIONS Center on Aging located in Manhattan is always looking for volunteers. Volunteers may assist participants with reading mail, and other types of written materials, escorting them in the community for shopping and appointments, and helping in a variety of programs (i.e. quilting, arts & crafts, knitting, photography, ceramics, and technology training).