NEW PORT RICHEY – Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind has been serving individuals throughout Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties for nearly four decades.
Late last month the nonprofit organization played the role of party host as it celebrated the grand opening of its new location in New Port Richey. More than 200 supporters showed up to check out the New Port Richey Lighthouse, meet with staff and take tours of the new building at 9130 Ridge Road, east of Little Road. Attendees included local politicians and business owners from Pasco County and beyond.
The new building’s size provides Lighthouse staff with more space to operate more programs, but it’s location will go a long way in better serving the visually impaired community, said CEO Jonathan Fister.
Fister was named Lighthouse CEO in January. He replaced Sylvia Stinson Perez, who resigned and is now at the National Research and Training Center on Blindness at Mississippi State University.
“The higher profile we have in the community now because of this location is extremely important,” Fister said in a phone interview. “We’ve always been kind of hidden and out-of-the-way. We’re on Ridge Road now and it’s easy to locate and easy to find. Being in view is really important to us because that’s how we get more people to know about our services.
“We’re better prepared to serve a larger segment of the population and to us that’s critical.”
The Oct. 24 grand opening wasn’t just a first look at the new facility. Staff provided tours and service demonstrations that included a walk down the babies, children and teens hallway, where the Children’s Mural is located. An underwater scene was designed by Daniel Daluz and a cityscape mural of the Tampa skyline was designed by Richard Hilton.
According to a Lighthouse press release, the murals are colorful, high-contrast and tactile so they can be appreciated by those who are visually impaired as well as those who are sighted.
Offering education opportunities to those not familiar with Lighthouse is important, Fister said, and missing out on the grand opening doesn’t mean individuals missed out on taking tours.
“If somebody’s curious about what we have to offer, all they have to do is come to the facility and somebody will take them on a tour,” Fister said, adding that calling in advance is appreciated, but not required.
Service demonstrations at the grand opening included the use of voice-to-text commands on a computer, slicing using the bridge technique and taking a walk with a human guide.
“Everything we do is designed to enable people to gain control of their own lives,” Fister said. “Vision loss tends to make us feel dependent on others. What we are able to do for people is to give them the skills they need so they can do for themselves what they currently ask somebody else to do for them.”