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Community , Community Projects

Beyond the Mission Statement: Northeast Sight Services

In our effort to create Northeastern Pennsylvania’s most comprehensive nonprofit directory, we came across hundreds of amazing organizations. Naturally, we wanted to share their inspiring stories.

In this series, we aim to highlight the hard-working organizations, the good people, the selfless volunteers, the helpers, the healers, the listeners, the comforters and all the great work they do. We hope that, through these stories, you too will be inspired to lend your time, your hands and your hearts. Follow along as we take a look beyond the mission statement.

Over 100 Years of Service

Arline Phillips wasn’t going to let anything stand in her way of helping others. In 1918—before women even had the right to vote—she founded the Greater Wilkes-Barre Association for the Blind. She traveled from house to house, teaching blind and visually impaired people the skills they needed for everyday life, from learning to read Braille to finding employment. Arline understood what they were going through. After all, she was blind herself.

For a century, the Greater Wilkes-Barre Association for the Blind grew and thrived. But the name simply didn’t capture all that they had to offer. In 2018, they changed their name to Northeast Sight Services to better represent their coverage area (which spans Luzerne, Wyoming, Wayne and Pike counties), as well as the population they serve.

“We found a lot of misconceptions about the services that we provide,” said Sara Peperno, President/CEO of Northeast Sight Services. “It’s actually a very small percentage of people who are completely blind. Usually someone has some type of visual impairment that makes them eligible for our services. They would hear the term ‘blind,’ and it wouldn’t really associate to what they were going through.”

Despite the changes over the years, Arline’s original mission is still at the core. This nonprofit in Exeter continues to offer resources and services to help people with vision loss live independently.

Providing Tools & Technology

Northeast Sight Services built the new Vision Resource Center in 2018.

Kristen Boyle, a vision rehab therapist at Northeast Sight Services, picked up a little remote control and held over a navy-colored countertop. “That’s blue,” the device reported. It’s called a Colorino, and it’s just one of the gadgets you’ll find at the Vision Resource Center, the newest addition to Northeast Sight Services.

The center is filled with items that make life easier for people with vision loss—everything from high-powered reading glasses and magnifiers to talking clocks, large-print phones and adaptive kitchen tools. A lot of these items aren’t available at pharmacies or big-box stores, which makes the center such a valuable community resource. Clients and the public are welcome.

“Everybody’s vision is so different. They’ll see things online that, a lot of times, might not work the way it’s advertised. We just want to give them a space where they can try things out and see what works,” said Kristen.

A children’s section has shelves lined with toys, games and books. Kids with vision loss can come in and find storybooks in Braille, large-print flashcards and tactile versions of classic games like Connect Four and Boggle.

Northeast Sight Services also offers vision rehab therapy, which teaches people how to use adaptive equipment and navigate everyday tasks. They work directly with their clients, showing them things like how to cook or set up the accessibility features on a phone.

“You can do everything that you would have normally done, except drive a car. Everything else, you just have to learn a new way to do it. We can teach you how to do it and give you the tools,” said Amy Feldman, Director of Development.

Additionally, a doctor visits once a week to provide a low-vision clinic. The Gift of Sight Program helps provide low-cost prescription eyewear and affordable basic eye exams to those in need.

Supporting Children & Families

What started as a summer camp has grown into a full-fledged children’s program.

When we visited, Northeast Sight Services was buzzing with activity as they prepared for Camp Sight, an annual day camp for blind and visually impaired children. The days are packed with field trips and activities: horseback riding, kayaking, all the staples of a classic summer camp experience. After a year off due to the pandemic, the staff and campers are excited to get back together for 2021.

Vision loss is uncommon in kids. Many of the campers are the only ones in their schools with vision loss. Camp Sight gives them the chance to have fun and learn, surrounded by friends who are going through similar experiences.

Those bonds were so powerful, Northeast Sight Services decided to expand their children’s programs and create the InSight Kids Club of NEPA. They partner with other local agencies to accept kids from all over NEPA, not just within the borders of their service area. Currently, about 50-60 kids participate in fun, monthly activities like cooking classes, art classes, field trips and more. The club provides family support groups to help parents too.

Teens aren’t left out either. The Transition Assistance Program, which is geared toward high school students, prepares them for life after graduation, whether they’re going off to college or entering into the workforce.

Prevention & Education

Vision screenings and prevention programs benefit the entire community.

Northeast Sight Services not only assists people who are blind and visually impaired, but also works to prevent vision loss in the first place. The nonprofit provides vision screenings across the region.

Prevention is especially important for children, which is why Northeast Sight Services screens about 5,000 kids a year at kindergarten registrations, preschools and daycares. Parents might not think twice if their child is holding an iPad too close to their face, just figuring that “kids will be kids.” But the screenings can reveal if there’s actually a vision issue at play.

“Little kids don’t realize that that’s not how they’re supposed to be seeing. They just go about their day,” explained Amy.

At one screening, volunteers from Northeast Sight Services discovered that a child had no vision in one eye. His parents then took him to a specialist, who found that he had a tumor on his optic nerve. The tumor would have probably gone unnoticed until more serious symptoms arose.

“They were able to do all the things they needed to do to correct that. And they really credited the organization with early identification for that, because it’s not usually found early,” said Sara.

Get Involved

Reach out and see how you can play a role in a 100+ year legacy.

Ever since those early days, Northeast Sight Services has been grounded in the NEPA community. They’re about local people helping their neighbors and working hands-on to make sure everyone can achieve their best life.

You can support their mission and services by making a donation. Volunteer opportunities are also available. You can use your time and talents to help clients, assist at vision screenings, help with fundraisers and more.

And if you or a loved one is in need of assistance, call Northeast Sight Services at (570) 693-3555. Their staff can find out if you qualify and set up an initial evaluation.

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