For almost 21 years, the local “Visually Impaired Persons” (VIP) group has endeavored to create a supportive community for those with visual impairment. This includes getting bifocals to the legally blind.
Joan Stark founded the group in 2001 after a sharp decline in her vision. She went into the project with three goals: to inform and educate, create a social gathering place to share experiences, and offer emotional support.
“I think this group has continued on so successfully because of the very informal structure,” said Stark. Meetings are discussion-based so people can brainstorm solutions to challenges they are facing, such as applying toothpaste or losing their driver’s license. Every other meeting, VIP also tries to bring in speakers from organizations that offer resources to people with visual impairment.
Stark believes it's important for members to understand vision loss isn't an end to their way of life as there are many tools that can help them adapt. She recalled watching her father and aunt both go through vision loss and how differently they dealt with it. Stark’s father closed himself off in anger. Meanwhile, her aunt, who had a love of handcrafts, continued her hobbies with the help of magnification and special lighting.
“I was going to follow what my aunt did, which was to continue on because you can figure out how to do these things, even though it's more difficult,” Stark said.
She uses a CCTV, and takes advantage of National Book’s Talking Books service for people with disabilities, to continue her love of reading. “I am reading more than I ever had all my life,” she said.
VIP also offers its own reading service. The program, headed by Southport residents Mollie (who is legally blind) and Wells Moore, provides a recorded reading of the Boothbay Register each week. A group of volunteer readers is assigned one day per month to read and record the paper, so their neighbors with visual impairment can still get local news. “If you don't get the local newspaper, you lose what's happening in town,” said Stark.
Several members of the group echoed this sentiment and expressed their thankfulness for the service. Besides reading articles, readers will also describe the photography. Member Kitty Hartford explained, “Even though we can't see (the scenic beauty) as well anymore, we like to know it's still out there.”
Wells Moore then transfers the recordings to SD storage drives he mails to the 10-12 people in the program. Once they’re finished with the drives, they send the SD drive back and the process repeats. Postage is free since the materials are for those with visually impairment.
“We all have problems, we all have internal feelings, and the value of this group is that it helps us realize we’re not alone,” said Moore.
VIP meets, masked, at 1:15 p.m the first Tuesday of each month at the Community Center. For more information, contact Stark at 633-2498 or Mollie Moore at 633-3810.