-By Andy Shultz
Empowerment and confidence are only two of many words that describe the mission of the Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired (SAAVI).
Founded over 50 years ago in Tucson, SAAVI currently serves more than 2,000 blind and visually impaired individuals throughout Arizona with campuses are in Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma.
“We are trying to help the blind community and blind individuals reach their potential,” said Ashleigh Moon, Phoenix Youth Services Coordinator. “Through our training programs, we hope our clients gain confidence to achieve their goals in life regardless of their vision.”
Since clients vary in age and are introduced to the organization during different phases of their life, SAAVI developed specialized programs for youth, adults and seniors.
The Phoenix Youth Program, which started two years ago, offers programs to help students build confidence and the skills needed to be successful both in and out of the classroom.
Through its REAL (Reaching Empowerment through Achievement & Learning) Program, school age clients (grades K-12) can participate in a wide array of activities which include: Saturday programs such as cooking classes, home visits that assist with life skills, academics and tutoring.
A recent Fiesta Bowl Charities grant will allow SAAVI to transform a vacant office space into a state-of-the-art multi-purpose community room that will be equipped with technology, supplies and furnishings to improve functionality and accessibility for its clients.
“The Fiesta Bowl does a great deal for the community,” said Shannon Mandadi, Phoenix Services Manager. “We appreciate the fact they are willing to look at what we do and believe it is important. Their support of our new community room will allow us to expand our youth programs.”
When a client reaches high school, they are eligible to participate in its Ready Set Go Summer Camp where campers learn important skills about living independently, budgeting, orientation and mobility. Adaptive sports opportunities such as Goal Ball and Beep Baseball are also available.
After graduation, clients can participate in the Stepping Out Program, a transition program for students entering college or joining the workforce. Comprehensive classes include technology training, budgeting, support groups, orientation and mobility and life skills such as laundry and cooking.
The key to success for any program is a partnership between the organization, client and their family.
“I was speaking with a mother whose daughter has been a client since we started our youth program,” said Moon. “I was telling her about some of our new services and how we can continue to help her daughter in school.
“She said she was glad she found us (SAAVI). Now when her daughter is struggling with something at home and can’t figure out how to do it, her response is how would you do this at SAAVI? That was so great to hear. It means our message is getting across to the kids and parents.”
For the past two years, the SAAVI Phoenix Campus has been able to host the National Federation of the Blind BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy & Learning) Academy. The academy is also offered in Tucson and cities throughout the country.
The two-week event prepares blind and visually impaired children to grow into confident and independent people who can live the life they want. The program provides Braille and non-visual training through hands-on learning.
“Our youth staff does a beautiful job hosting the event,” said Mandadi. “It is a focus on Braille but also mobility. You will learn how to use your cane and be comfortable with all your non-visuals.
“They have a toddler program which is very cool. I have a three-and-half year old son (Ethan) who is not blind but I am. He joined the program. I wanted him to understand Braille. That it was more than fun dots in a book.
“He loved the program so much. The goal is about inclusion. Any child could learn about non-visual cues and Braille.
“My moment was when we were walking out with him and another little boy who was blind. They were both using their canes since my son also wanted to learn. He and the other little boy were educating me how to use my cane. It was sweet.”
Adults and Senior Services focus more on home management with activities for daily living. In addition, programs are available to help with vocational and technology skills.
In January of 2017, the American Foundation for the Blind reported that more than 160,000 people in Arizona were blind and visually impaired. More than 13,000 individuals were under the age of 18.
Supporting organizations like SAAVI with your time, talent or resources allows them the opportunity to continue developing programs that will assist the blind or visually impaired achieve their dreams and goals in life. For more information, you can visit their website: www.saavi.us.