Rebecca Coakley was shepherding a group of blind and visually impaired students into a restaurant on the last night of a trip to Louisville, Kentucky, where they were training in GPS mobility. As the children tapped their canes past other restaurant patrons, keeping a steady flow of chatter, Coakley, the director of the Children’s Vision Rehabilitation Program, noticed a man speaking to some of the staff. She’d long feared this scenario.
“I’ve never gotten any complaints, but we get a lot of weird stares,” Coakley said. She was ready for some criticism about the noise and the numbers, and she tried to make a preemptive apology, but Coakley could not have been more wrong. The man, John Snowberger, wanted to learn more about the group, and Coakley was eager to share.
“I felt like I was talking to angels,” Snowberger said. “These kids just looked so happy.” As he finished his meal, he felt compelled to show his appreciation of the children’s cheerful demeanor and the staff’s expertise in their work. As he paid for his own party’s meal, he decided to include a large portion of the CVRP groups’ bill with his own.
“I just felt happiness. I felt honored, honestly, to do something,” Snowberger, who is from New Mexico, said.
As Coakley went to pay for the group, she was surprised to find what Snowberger had done. Each child had a budgeted amount to spend for the night and with the cost of their meals reduced, Coakley told them they could end the evening with dessert. Tears and cheers filled the restaurant, as the act of generosity warmed their hearts and slices of pie and cake filled their bellies.
Cole Sweeney, a member of CVRP for the past several years, was a part of this trip.
“Even when I sit here and just reflect about it, it just gets me emotional, because he said some very kind words about our group in the restaurant, and that he felt called to bless us,” Sweeney said. “I feel like that is also a testament to our group.”
The Children’s Vision Rehabilitation Program, an outreach effort of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences (part of the WVU School of Medicine) helps provide necessary resources to blind and visually impaired children in West Virginia. Children learn skills and participate in activities that may not be provided in traditional programs.
Coakley also created a summer adventure camp where children can go whitewater rafting, zip lining and hiking, and the kids learn basic skills, such as balancing a checkbook, handling money and cooking.
“These institutes are set up, because academically, we were supporting the school districts and these kids were graduating high school, going to college, and as a first-year, they would drop out because they didn't have any independent living skills, social skills, [know] how to deal with money, how to deal with a checkbook, how to deal with online stuff. They didn't even know how to make a sandwich,” Coakley said.
The needs-based program was established in 1996 and has gone national and international for those who are blind and visually impaired. The program plans to travel to St. Lucia later this year and Nigeria in the near future.
Visit WVU Eye Institute to contribute to its programs.