IFB Solutions brings career growth and independence to individuals who are blind
Miracle Brown’s career trajectory mirrors that of many young adults. As a teen, she joined a work-study program that led to a full-time job after high school. Now 25, she works in the manufacturing industry. In her free time, she mentors young adults.
Here’s the thing: Miracle has been legally blind since birth. Her employer, the nonprofit IFB Solutions, has stood by Miracle since she was a child.
First an IFB Community Low Vision Center (CLVC) provided her with exams, products, and other services at little to no cost. At the center, she found out about a then-pilot program called Student Enrichment Experience (SEE), which provides children who are blind and visually impaired with peer support, independent living skills, and enrichment opportunities. At SEE, she learned about the work-study program that led to her first full-time job and a fulfilling career.
Miracle isn’t the only young person who found independence and work opportunity through IFB Solutions. The largest employer of individuals who are blind in the country, IFB Solutions has supported its employees in work and in life for more than 80 years. The IFB campus in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, includes a large-scale manufacturing facility, the company’s optical lab, the CLVC, and Tracy’s Little Red Schoolhouse (home of the SEE program).
IFB also has locations in Asheville, North Carolina, and Little Rock, Arkansas, and it operates office supply stores and optical centers across the country.
IFB’s COO leads through experience
Dan Kelly, IFB’s chief operating officer, understands the challenges IFB employees face. Dan lost his sight in childhood due to retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition that had been passed down in his family through three generations. Dan’s young son carries the disease into the fourth generation.
Dan never let his lack of sight deter him from pursuing his goals. He graduated from college, earned an MBA, and won 17 world Paralympic medals in swimming. He says individuals who are blind face a daunting 70 percent unemployment rate. He wants to change that. He advocates for employment opportunities through his work with National Industries for the Blind and IFB Solutions. “We have a fundamental belief in the capabilities of people who are blind,” he says.
Army vet gets career on track with IFB
After serving in the Army, Rick Gaefe spent more than a decade driving trucks and operating machinery. When he began losing his vision due to ischemic dystrophy, he could no longer perform those tasks. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, he filed for disability and lived with his father for 12 years.
Rick re-entered the working world in the 1990s, but he didn’t find a permanent job until 2005—when he began working at IFB.
Today, Rick still works in IFB’s optical lab as a technician, and he is part of an active community of veterans. He and his colleagues produce nearly 1,200 pairs of eyeglasses a day for veterans and their families thanks to IFB’s contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs. “At IFB, we are proud to be serving the most deserving,” he says. “We show our support in many ways, including wearing red every Friday so the troops know we’re thinking of them.”
Children who are blind find adventure through the IFB community
IFB’s SEE Program provides K–12 students who are blind with educational and recreational activities year-round. After-school programs and summer camps help the children develop their independent living skills, grow their confidence, and build their self-esteem. Kids especially look forward to Adventure Camp, held in the mountains of western North Carolina, and Camp H2O, held on Lake Norman near Charlotte.
“For decades, adults have plopped kids down in the wilderness,” says Jay Hardwig, program director for IFB’s SEE Program in Asheville. “We do it to build confidence, maybe stretch them a little bit. My dream is to have a residential camp where kids from around the nation can come and explore the mountains of North Carolina.”
IFB serves its communities
IFB’s Community Low Vision Centers provide resources to individuals with low vision in Winston-Salem, Asheville, and Durham, North Carolina, and in Little Rock, Arkansas. Senior adults can try out assistive devices that help them continue the hobbies they love, such as reading, cooking, sewing, and woodworking. The Winston-Salem location also includes an optical dispensary for people who need eyeglasses and contact lenses.
At the CLVCs, people with low vision also serve as employees. Each associate understands first-hand the experiences, frustrations, and challenges of living with low vision in a sighted world.
“Both adults and children can receive low vision assessments and then discuss with an associate how to make the most of their remaining vision with different assistive devices and tools,” says Stephanie Davis, a low vision associate in the Winston-Salem CLVC. “Vision loss may not be preventable, but it is not insurmountable.”
Miracle, Dan, Rick, and Stephanie are just a few examples of the extraordinary people who revived their careers and restored their confidence through IFB Solutions. They show just how well IFB succeeds in fulfilling its mission to help people who are blind and visually impaired “succeed in every area of life.”
If you or someone you know is blind or visually impaired, get in touch with IFB Solutions today. Call 1-800-242-7726 or visit ifbsolutions.org to learn more.