Friday, May 1, 2009

Massachusetts 100-year-old blind center closing, called a social lifeline

From The Boston Globe. In the picture, Susan Coren (right) and Elizabeth Simmons are among many who have depended on the Greater Boston Guild for the Blind.

When Susan Coren began losing her vision six years ago, she said the thought of living in darkness left her feeling "so down."

She worried about how she would get around, what she could do for herself, and
whether she would be able to continue her way of life.

Then she discovered the Greater Boston Guild for the Blind in West Roxbury, the only adult day healthcare center in the area whose sole mission is to serve the blind and the visually impaired.

It was there that Coren, a 74-year-old mother of 10 from Dorchester, relearned how to cook, sew, even do the laundry - tasks she thought she would never again master.

Now Coren and others are grieving the demise of the center, a social lifeline for the blind for nearly a century.

"I've had some wonderful days at this place," Coren said of the West Roxbury center. "It helped to bring me out of my downness."

The center will officially close in June, but plans to stop seeing clients tomorrow. Its 15 staff members will be laid off, and the approximately 60 remaining clients are being referred to different adult day healthcare centers across the region, including some as far away as Wrentham and Lexington.

"Everybody in there is like family," said Lois Mullins, 63, of Roxbury, who has been going to the center for eight years. "Now they are just putting us out. We're going to be split up - going all over the place. That's the hurting part."

The Jewish Guild for the Blind of New York, which has run the center for the past five years, said it can no longer afford to keep the West Roxbury facility open.

Peter Williamson, the guild's director of public relations, points to rising costs and declining fund-raising as reasons for the closing.

The guild has five centers in New York, one in Palm Beach, Fla., and one in Boston, which is the only one being closed. The New York organization, which received significant financial support from donors in Palm Beach, made news earlier this year after charities and nonprofits there began canceling fund-raising events in the aftermath of the Bernard Madoff scandal. Rich donors at the Palm Beach Country Club who donated to the guild were hit hard by the scheme.

But Williamson said the closing of the Boston center "has nothing to do with Bernie Madoff."

"This has a lot to do with the declining economy," he said. "That's why we made the decision."

The guild officials said clients, some in groups, will be sent to eight to 10 places throughout the region. The guild said it is offering to train employees at the centers on how to work with the blind and visually impaired. The guild said it will also arrange for a range of services to continue for clients, including home care, meals on wheels, and vision services.

But staff, clients, and volunteers are taking the closing hard.

"I feel sad for the people there," said David Kingsbury, a volunteer there who is blind. "It's really their social lifeline."

Jessy Edouard, the center's director for the past six months, said clients and staff have grown really close over the years. The center, which works with people who were blind at birth to those who have lost their eyesight more recently, provides medical, vision, and rehabilitation services.

More than that, it's a second home for blind people throughout the area - one that can't be replicated, supporters say.

"We have one client who has been here for 50 years," Edouard said. "He's comfortable here. This is the only place that fits his needs as a blind person."

Outside the West Roxbury center this week, 86-year-old Dorus Hawkins said the center's closing is "one of the worst things that could ever happen to me."

It was there he learned to use a cane and function independently after he lost his vision many years ago. It's also where he met his lady friend.

"I hope she comes with me," he said, referring to their new placements.

Ruth Lewis, 59, of Dorchester used to take care of seniors before she began losing her vision four years ago. At the center, she found a home and discovered the other side of care.

"This is a place where people go to meet other people like them," she said. "This is like a second home. That is why it hurts."