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Wilson Outreach Advocacy for the Blind used an outdoor fish dinner Wednesday to kick off a fundraising effort to purchase a vision screening machine for the early detection of eye problems in Wilson County elementary school children.
Gary Farmer, a member of the Wilson Luncheon Lions Club, and his wife Brenda, hosted the luncheon in their backyard.
The Bucky’s Swamp Cooking Team prepared the fried fish meal for the 19 advocacy group members and about 30 guests. Wilson Luncheon Lions Club members waited on the attendees.
“This is something we look forward to all year long,” Farmer said.
For the last 20 years, the Lions Club has been going to public, private and church schools to give vision screenings to third-graders.
“We used the old Snellen chart and then we tell them with the chart what kind of deficiency they have,” Farmer said. “We give that to the school nurses and then they follow that up. We find out every year that there are probably 30 or 40 kids who need glasses. We have done that every year.”
It takes five to 10 minutes to screen each child with the old method.
At a recent conference in Philadelphia, Farmer said he had the opportunity to see a Spot vision screener.
“It is laser-driven. It is about as big as a basketball. You look into it and it’s got little lights. The kids will love it,” Farmer said. “In 15 seconds it tells the power of both eyes down to exact numbers and then seven other problems that can be happening right now with the eyes.”
The units cost about $8,000. Farmer said Lions International will provide matching funds to buy the device.
“If we can raise $4,000 and the Lions match it with $4,000, we can have this machine, which is going to help Wilson County and all the children in Wilson County to a much greater degree than we have in the past,” Farmer said.
Farmer has volunteered to spearhead the effort.
“My Lions are behind it. They have given me 100% support. So today is the official start of us trying to raise this money,” Farmer said. “I just want to step up to the plate. Here’s how much I believe in it — me and my wife are going to donate $1,000. We are going to raise this money. We are going to have this machine for Wilson County.”
Janice Bunn, the group’s executive director, presented a check for $100 toward the purchase of the machine.
The nonprofit organization was formed in 2004 at Wilson Medical Center.
“We serve locally,” Bunn said. “There is another blind group here called NFB, National Federation for the Blind, and everything they do is state or national. Everything my group, Wilson Outreach Advocacy, does is for Wilson and people in Wilson and Wilson County.”
The group’s mission is “to serve all ages of the blind and visually impaired in the community by providing meetings, fun, fellowship and educational forums and by distributing pertinent information that will enhance the quality of life by encouraging independent living for the blind and visually impaired.”
Bunn founded the group with the help a group of six original members. The group has 19 members now.
Bunn, who lives in Wilson, is a native of Nash County where her family had a farm in the Stanhope community.
“I was struck by lightning when I was 15 years old and lost the vision in my right eye,” Bunn said. “We had cows and my parents had sent me to the packhouse to cut off the electric fence because it was coming up a storm. I was running across the yard. My right foot was on the ground and when the lightning came, it ran down my right foot. And I stayed unconscious for four days at Carolina General Hospital.”
As a result, Bunn had vision in one eye from the ninth grade on.
“But I never really realized being blind with the right eye because I had such good vision in my left eye,” Bunn said. “I had perfect vision.”
That all changed in 2004, when Bunn was diagnosed with the early stages of macular degeneration.
“I had five laser surgeries on my left eye and that built up scar tissue which took my central vision,” Bunn said. “Now I have no central vision and no peripheral. All I see of you is your outline. I don’t know if you are good looking, pretty or whatever.”
Bunn, a former editor of the Spring Hope Enterprise, said the group was blessed to have Cynthia Speight, executive director for the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind, at Wednesday’s event.
“She has been very supportive of my blind group,” Bunn said.
Speight said she is appreciative of the work Bunn and her group are doing.
“It aligns with our mission and our vision and you are just helping us help others,” Speight said. “It is my joy and my honor to be here.”
Speight said Bunn’s work helps validate what the division does and shows the importance of partnering with organizations to advocate for the blind and visually impaired.
“We try hard to live independently and that’s one of the things we stress,” Bunn said. “We try in our blind group. We meet once a month the second Tuesday.”
Bunn clips clothes and shoes together by color to help her be color-coordinated in her dress.
“You learn little ways of identification,” Bunn said. “That all comes naturally. That’s why I push independent living because it is through trial and error that we learn to do things on our own in order for us to live independently.”
Irwin M. Cook of Wilson lost his vision three or four years ago due to glaucoma.
“It all stemmed from diabetes.” Cook said. “I’ve got real low vision. I only see shadows.”
Cook said Wednesday’s luncheon was a blessing.
“This organization is a family. We treat each other like family,” Cook said. “We are always doing things. We check on each other, on birthdays, holidays, every other day, we check on each other to make sure we are safe and OK. We stick together. We are tight-knit.”
Howard Ruffin of Wilson lost his vision to retinitis.
“You know when you are blind, most of the time you are sitting at home in a room or in the house just going from room to room, so any opportunity we get to get out, we try to get out,” Ruffin said. “We organized a day for bowling and the bowling alley accommodated us with the bumpers and two lanes and we had a great time, which shows that even thought we are blind, we still can be normal, we still can do things. One guy, even though he can’t see at all, rolled a strike.”
Ruffin said the bowling trip made the members feel a sense of independence.
“For years we never had any activities like that, but now, we are even bowling and we are going bowling again,” Ruffin said. “We are going to do other activities also, so that we can be active in the community doing things that we would be doing in the community if we had sight and not even think about it. Just because they’re blind doesn’t mean that can’t do anything. The blind can dance. They can do anything, anything a person who is sighted can do.”
“Now, one thing we probably couldn’t do is putt-putt golf,” Ruffin said.
“We are still going to try it anyway,” Cook said. “We are gong to still try to golf.”
“With golf, everybody’s got to go to that first hole,” Ruffin said. “You are standing at that first hole and hour trying to put it in that ball in that little thing. It’s going to take us a while to find that hole.”
Cook was still optimistic.
“Nothing beats failure but a try,” Cook said.