Lighthouse For The Blind proves to be a beacon for the visually impaired

Enduring Tampa nonprofit readies community for National White Cane Day on Oct. 15
Published October 10

TAMPA — Pay attention!

Those folks you see walking down the street with white canes have the right of way.

The law, in fact, states that “every vehicle” must come to a “full stop” when approaching “an intersection or place” where someone is walking with a white cane.

Those folks walking with a white cane cannot see.

If you are driving Friday (Oct. 12) around 12:30 p.m. near Platt Street and Willow Avenue please be extra careful — and hopefully considerate and reflective — because that’s when more than 100 folks with complete or severe vision loss will walk en masse with their white canes.

It’s a preemptive effort to help recognize Monday’s National White Cane Day and, for that matter, the good work of one of the area’s most enduring and special institutions — The Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind, which turned 78 this year.

“I am so, so thankful,” said 33-year-old Marangely Candelario, who came to Lighthouse in 2009 before surgery restored partial vision only to suffer a recent relapse, forcing her to return for more training, including walking with the white cane. “The people here welcomed me right back into their family. They lifted my spirits and made me believe that I can still fulfill my hopes and dreams. I love this place.”

Candelario spoke while sitting in the Lighthouse training kitchen for a class next to Maria Sanchez, 31, and Jose Mantilla, 40, who also struggled with recent downturns in their vision.

The three clients had similar tales: Sanchez moving from Guatemala and Candelario and Mantilla from Puerto Rico, feeling a bit lost before gaining confidence and skills through the Lighthouse 10-week training program.

During the training on Tuesday — which involved a white-cane walking lesson with Lighthouse mobility instructor Elizabeth Wade — Sanchez, Candelario and Mantilla spoke of their reignited possibilities of working in a library, teaching, working with their hands or on computers — all legitimate possibilities that weren’t always in their minds.

Tampa Lighthouse executive director Sheryl Brown, who has worked in one capacity or another with Lighthouse for 33 years, talked about how the place has evolved: from an on-sight employer of the blind, who made everything from mops and chairs, to a place that prepares the visually-impaired to walk into the world and become productive members of our society.

Success happens more often than you think.

The owner of the Brunchery Restaurant in South Tampa, Greg Eliot, has wonderful Lighthouse stories to tell. Since 2003, Eliot has welcomed about 15 visually-impaired folks from Lighthouse (one or so a year) to work alongside his employees.

It’s sort of like an un-paid internship that helps the resume when they look for more work. Both sides at the Brunchery have learned a lot.

“The people from Lighthouse have been so motivated to do well,” Eliot said. “They show up on time. They do everything they are asked to do. They work hard.

“For our crew at the restaurant it has also been great because they have gotten to experience what it’s like to work with someone with a disability. You see that it’s like a lot of things in life from the aspect that you think someone can’t do something, but the truth is they can.”

Brown, who will host the fourth annual “Dining in the Dark” Lighthouse fundraiser next week, says that’s what it’s about: “Awareness on both sides.”

On National White Cane Day and every day.

Contact Scott Purks at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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