This weekend, an event is coming to a computer near you that simultaneously benefits a nonprofit organization improving the lives of the visually impaired.

Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind will once again host its sixth annual Dining in the Dark, coinciding with National White Cane Awareness Day on Friday, Oct. 15. This free event is scheduled to take place via Zoom and Facebook from 6 to 7 p.m. with activities, prize drawings, client testimonials, White Cane demonstrations, donor recognition, and ways to dine in the dark.

Participants can text “Dark” to 41444, call 727-815-0303 or visit www.lvib.org to purchase chances to win a prize.

“Lighthouse never charges clients or their families for services, no matter how long they are in our programs, or how many services we provide them,” said LVIB Chief Executive Stefanie Pontlitz. “We get limited funding from the state, but it is not nearly enough to cover the cost of providing services to our clients.”

White Cane Awareness Day was adopted by United States Congress in 1964 after urging from the National Federation of the Blind. The president of the U.S. annually recognizes White Cane Day to acknowledge the abilities of people who are blind to promote equal opportunities. The NFB states on its website that as the white cane is easily recognizable to drivers and other pedestrians, therefore keeping its user safe, the white cane enables blind people to explore and navigate our environment.

The event will offer videos that instruct how to dine if you have vision loss, and also encourages all viewers to try eating a meal while blindfolded with friends and family to experience what it’s like to a client. Prize drawings feature golf packages, restaurant gift certificates, portrait sessions, jewelry, and fun experiences like Kennedy Space Center passes, sunset cruises, escape rooms, and more.

Dining in the Dark is the organization’s most important fundraiser, as funds raised allows LVIB to ensure that every client from birth through their 100s with visual impairment or blindness gets the skills they need to be independent, thriving members of our community. Whether born this way or perhaps losing sight due to aging or illness, the nonprofit provides a critical service.

Pontlitz said many first-time clients, especially older ones, often arrive depressed, anxious and angry. Staff is comprised mostly of previous clients who have the experience and knowledge that it gets better, and can provide hope to new arrivals. Lighthouse provides services to clients in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.

“Imagine if you started to lose your vision tomorrow, how that would change your life,” Pontlitz said. “If someone said you could no longer drive a car, or you couldn’t get your work done the way you had before. It’s emotional. After a few sessions with our amazing staff, these clients realize that life is not over with vision loss. They may never drive again, but that doesn’t mean they are home bound forever. They can still do all the things they enjoyed in life just with a few tips and tricks on how to do everything safely.”

Lighthouse has since resumed its in-person services since May, which has been a relief for clients, according to Pontlitz. New clients seeking help during the pandemic can feel especially isolating. To combat this, LVIB has been adding more services for clients struggling with mental health, in addition to checking in on them to ensure they’re doing well, following up to offer news on services, and increasing support groups. New partnerships have ensured the priority of mental health is not missed.

Reserve funds, grant money and additional resources have allowed the nonprofit to increase its services, but fundraisers such as Dining in the Dark are critical as classes offered are small and intensive. With a small staff to provide personal, one-on-one services, there are some programs still on the waiting list.

“Our goals are to expand the mental health program, especially around our seniors and older blind,” Pontlitz said. “We’re also focused on growing our Touched By A Feeling business, a custom greeting card and home goods company designed, created and managed by two of our clients.”

The nonprofit aims to assist more clients with gaining employment, and by working with employers so they can see how great having these clients as employees can be.

Lighthouse continues to serve clients with hope and has been doing so for the past 40 years. To learn more about its programs and services, visit www.lvib.org.