By CYNTHIA ROBERTSON | Uptown News
Contrary to negative stereotypes, vision-impaired people can have very full lives. They get out and about, sing and dance with friends, eat heartily and happily work or volunteer. The Blind Community Center (BCC) in the Balboa Park area is a place where many get started on a truly fulfilling life. This year, members of the BCC also won first-place prizes at the San Diego County Fair for their beaded creations.
The center, which is a nonprofit organization, is also the home of the Lions Optometric Vision Clinic, providing eye testing and glasses for those unable to pay.
On Saturday, July 20, about 75 people came to the center for a fundraiser. They enjoyed a home-cooked Mexican meal of beef or chicken chilaquiles with refried beans, rice, sour cream and lots of good salsa. Conversation flowed happily around the 10 tables while Shon Mackey, instructor of the Blind Rhythm class at the center, provided foot-tapping music.
Rick Hannum, a Lions Club member since 2009 and now a current board member, ate and chatted with David Shaw, also a Lions Club member.
“Just getting new glasses can be impossible for people,” said Shaw. “Even I could come in here and get fitted for new glasses with the glasses donated by other people.”
Hannum agreed. “This organization is one of the best to be involved in. That’s why I believe in it so much.”
After the hearty meal, Mackey acted as master of ceremonies, announcing the guests receiving prizes with their raffle tickets.
“This is a very generous gift,” said Meagan Conner of her gift basket of snacks. “My husband and sons will enjoy this very much.”
When Conner won yet another gift, a set of handsome gray hand towels in an attractive basket, she told Mac that she would pass it on to someone else who could use them.
“How very generous of Meagan,” Mackey said. “Who would like these?” Hannum stepped up to take them.
Then it was time for the music by San Diego Mariachi Band. The young men crooning and strumming the bass and guitar grabbed the hearts of many. People joined in the singing of Spanish, including “Besame Mucho.” Several couples got up and danced. The merrymaking lasted for nearly an hour, and then it was time for closing remarks by Joyce Porter, the fundraiser chairperson.
“I really appreciate your presence,” said Porter, thanking the BCC staff and volunteers.
“Miss Ethel, you sold tickets, too,” Porter addressed an elder vision-impaired lady, who smiled big and waved at everyone. Applause broke out around the room.
Another closing comment by Mac summed up the afternoon — and the purpose —of BCC. “We are more than just what you see,” he said.
Formerly the Blind Recreation Center, the Blind Community Center of San Diego was an idea of C. Anthony Moran in 1947 when he was chair of the Sight Conservation Committee. Dr. Moran had been legally blind for 10 years, after which his sight was miraculously restored. He was a former member of the Braille Club whose effort it was to save money for a building where the club could socialize. The Lions Sight Conservation Committee made the building of a recreation center for the blind their major goal.
A piece of property was located on the north side of Balboa Park through the help of several Lions Club members, and a lease was made with the city to use the land for the building. Club members decided that the center should be run by the blind community and to incorporate as the Blind Recreation Center.
The building was completed and dedicated Sunday, May 8, 1949. The original building contained a 200-seat auditorium, a hobby room, and a kitchen. By 1961, the community had outgrown the building, and an expansion was made. The auditorium size was doubled, and the kitchen, restrooms, and craft room were expanded. In that same year, the Optometric Association and the Lions Club formed the Lions Optometric Vision Clinic.
Membership to the Blind Community Center is open to all blind, legally blind or visually-impaired persons who are 18 years of age or older. Many programs and classes are made available to members, including the popular ceramics class.
For more information, go to bccsd.org.
— Cynthia Robertson is a local freelance writer.