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ABVI Celebrates 100 Years of Service

Jun 22, 2011

This year–2011–is a milestone in the lives of thousands of people who are blind or visually impaired and their families throughout the Greater Rochester community as the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ABVI) celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Coming together for a common cause
One hundred years ago, in 1911, four individuals came together in support of a common cause–to empower adults who are blind.

The collective vision and passion of these four men–Jacob Frank, Jess Southworth, James Cowley and Harry Dudley–provided the spark for what is today, 100 years later, a $32 million social enterprise recognized nationally for its world class vision rehabilitation and employment programs.

ABVI has grown from four volunteers and one paid employee into a socially entrepreneurial organization that serves more than 4,000 people annually and employs over 500 people, one-quarter of whom are blind or visually impaired.

A vision towards empowerment
“The insights that we’ve gained throughout our century-long journey of providing vital services to our community has provided a clear vision for the future,” says Gidget Hopf, ABVI’s president and CEO.

According to Hopf, this vision is born out of the organization’s core belief that the sky truly is the limit for what people who are blind or visually impaired can accomplish.

“It is a vision that is strong and will position us as leaders in the vision rehabilitation field. It is a vision that is inclusive and will allow all of us–those we serve and their families, our generous donors and our outstanding employees–to see great things,” says Hopf.

Person-centered & service-oriented
ABVI’s focus today, just as it has been over the last 100 years, is on providing services that are person-centered. The organization utilizes an approach that allows individuals seeking services to express their hopes, desires, and dreams while drawing upon their own strengths and abilities to reach their goals.

The services ABVI’s Vision Rehabilitation Department provides include Low Vision evaluations, social work services, children’s services, vision rehabilitation therapy, orientation and mobility training, career services and technology training, along with social and educational events.

ABVI’s Vision Rehabilitation Department also provides access to routine eye care in the community by offering vision wellness and preventive services including: early vision screenings; a program called Vision Care for Kids, which provides free comprehensive eye exams and eyeglasses: and a program called Project Eye Care, which provides individuals who do not obtain recommended routine eye exams due to a variety of socioeconomic barriers comprehensive eye exams that assist in detecting glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and other potentially blinding eye diseases. All of these services are made possible by generous contributions of volunteer eye doctors, donating optical centers, and individual donors and foundations.

In addition to providing all of these vital services, ABVI, an ISO 9001:2008 Certified organization, offers employment opportunities for people with vision loss, helping to combat the almost 70 percent unemployment rate for this segment of the population.

Carrying on a tradition
ABVI, with its main facility on South Clinton Avenue in downtown Rochester, carries on a long tradition of producing high-quality textiles in its skilled sewing department.

The building, which once housed Max Lowenthal & Sons, Inc., a company that manufactured knitted products, today manufactures items for men and women serving in the United States Air Force and the United States Coast Guard.

Working in an inclusive setting, many of ABVI’s employees who are visually feel that by producing military apparel, they are supporting the honorable service and sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform, and contributing to their success.

A note on manufacturing success
ABVI also offers employment in manufacturing and fulfillment.

With approximately 80 individuals who are blind or visually impaired working in this department, the organization, in partnership with companies like 3M and Ecolab, has built a successful business model around converting, assembling, packaging, and distributing a wide range of high-quality products for federal and state government use.

In fact, over the last two decades, ABVI has produced 148 million SKILCRAFT® self-stick notepads for the federal government using quality 3M materials.

One call to a more self-sufficient life
Additionally, ABVI offers employment in its state-of-the-art Contact Center, housed in a newly renovated and LEED Gold Certified building.

The first program of its kind to be honored as a National Industries for the Blind Center of Excellence, ABVI’s Contact Center has consistently demonstrated overall and ongoing excellence in customer service, operations, technology, training, contract procurement, corporate and community partnerships and, most importantly, in offering challenging and rewarding career opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Employees in ABVI’s Contact Center are trained on how to provide top-flight customer service to people seeking information about a myriad of topics, including calls from across the United States, Canada and Mexico. In addition, the Contact Center serves as the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead hotline.

Good will come from this
In the early 1990s, ABVI affiliated with Goodwill Industries International as a way to expand the organization’s mission and increase opportunities to provide meaningful employment to people with vision loss and others in the community facing barriers to independence.

Today, the organization operates nine retail stores, a boutique, and donation centers throughout Monroe, Ontario, Wayne and Livingston counties. These operations provide training and support for individuals who are blind or visually impaired or who have other barriers to independence.

Funding derived from the sale of items in the Goodwill stores are utilized by ABVI to provide a full array of social, rehabilitative, employment, training and housing services to people of all ages with vision loss that prevents them from obtaining independence, gainful employment and self sufficiency for themselves and their families.

A future in sight
As a socially-entrepreneurial non-profit–meaning that the business units operated by the organization exist to forward and fund its mission–ABVI has seen a century of growth that has been highlighted by empowering thousands of individuals to discover the happiness that exists after a diagnosis of significant visual impairment or blindness.

“We are excited about what the future holds for us. More importantly, we are extremely grateful for the support of everyone in the community throughout the years. And, we look forward to sharing the next chapter of our story with them,” says Hopf.

For the latest news about ABVI, please visit Like ABVI on Facebook: Follow ABVI on Twitter @ABVI1911.