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Sierra Services for the Blind Newsletter

November 2020

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"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched –

they must be felt with the heart."

~ Helen Keller

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Sierra Services reaches middle age

Sierra Services for the Blind will celebrate 40 years of service soon.  And, that means a time for reflection.  How have we changed, and were the changes consistent with changes in the community and with the treatment of blindness as a whole.

The answer is yes to both of them.  We began in Auburn with a younger clientele.  Most of the 35 clients were dog users, virtually all used a cane.  Auburn had been a satellite office of Society for the Blind in Sacramento.  The director of the Auburn office, Marilyn Beckwith took charge when they announced they were closing and the clients formed Sierra Services.  Three things changed.  One, it was hard to fund and maintain an organization with just 35 clients.  And new clients were hard to get around as Auburn is spread out and includes many small communities like Meadow Vista and Colfax.  Two, they found there were far more clients in Nevada County which was a closer community.  And third the way they were organized became cumbersome.  There was a membership, the cost was $10 a year.  There were also a second class of member, which cost $35 a year.  Those members were eligible to be members of the Board of Directors.  And a life membership at $100.  Each year there was a meeting of the membership where the board was elected.  This created two problems.  With only 35 members and a handful of donors the board had few candidates for the dozen positions, and it was easy for the board to split into factions.  This is a problem on all large boards, two groups with two ideas will begin to clash.

The first thing they did was find if they moved to Nevada County the agency could grow.  There was a need in a smaller area for better transportation.  And, the agency began to grow.  It grew in different directions however.  The Nevada County Schools were not properly training the blind students in the county.  Second was the number of elderly blind in the county.  One other change would prove more dramatic.  While Auburn was a Gold Rush town, it was also a town with a larger downtown and more regular streets with sidewalks and other amenities.  Nevada County was composed of two towns, both with a small downtown and streets that followed old wagon tracks and had no sidewalks.  This was hard to negotiate with a cane, or a dog as they are trained to street corners and we have few places where there are four corners.

It took several years, but the school situation was corrected.  By 1991 we were ten years old, and there were 32 blind children as clients, almost as many as the original client base.

At the same time the county changed.  We went from 16% to 32% senior in five years.  The first comprehensive study of senior blindness came out in 1988.  One in four are legally blind at age 80 from macular degeneration alone.  The solution at the time was simply to house them in facilities at great cost to the individual and the governments of communities with large senior populations.

We changed in two ways.  One was to eliminate the $35 membership.  We also changed to allow vacancies on the board to be filled by the board itself.  The board still serves at the pleasure of the membership, and we have the annual meeting where the membership can change the board membership if it feels the board is not doing what it is charged to do.  We have maintained the $10 annual membership.  Seniors are often on fixed incomes.  We want our members to be the voice of the agency.  We also have the $100 life membership.  And we have far more members of the community and businesses in our membership.  It is still our policy that we want the clients and the community to make sure we are doing what we say we will do, and the annual meeting is that opportunity.

Today we are serving an ever changing clientele of over 150 individuals, 87% are over the age of 69.  Some have been with us for over a decade.  We use Sacramento Society for the licenses training like the use of the cane or other intensive and costly programs.  We are using counseling to meet the problems of isolation, depression and the need to adjust a lifestyle when vision becomes debilitating.  We provide transportation to medical appointments as well as everything we do to accommodate the distances and lack of transportation in the community.

We are proud of the fact that we have the reputation as one agency that does what it says it will do for the client.  We provide the counseling, support services and transportation they need to remain independent in our common community.  We also maintain one other policy that goes back to your founding almost 40 years ago.  We do not charge our clients for any of our services.

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"The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have."

~Vince Lombardi

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Latest COVOD-19 changes

COVID-19 continues to cause us to cancel some of our most traditional events.  Not only did we have to cancel three fund raising events, and the Annual Meeting of the Membership, the distancing and other requirements has caused us to have to cancel another tradition of over 30 years.  The Annual Client Holiday Dinner that we have presented to the clients every holiday season.  If we found a venue that could hold our clients to distancing it would be a huge facility, and costly.  Keeping distance and wearing a mask at a dinner and the whole spirit of the holidays would be ruined in the process.  That is our challenge.  How to make the happiest time of the year one where we spend time together and remember the blessings we have been given during the last year.  One can be isolated even in a crowded room.

We were never closed.  We have had a chance to get to know many of our clients on a more personal basis.  And we know of no one who has been come down with the disease that has taken so many.  For that alone we can count our blessings.

But clients need to be assured that the rest of the program, transportation to doctors and other necessities, the food program we have with the Senior Center, and the individual counseling will continue.  Our volunteers are still taking those longer doctor trips to Sacramento and Roseville.

The other big change is related to the counseling aspect.  Isolation has always been an issue for seniors who live alone.  The victim of such isolation is a mental health issue that can only be resolved with contact among the clients that was provided by our peer counseling, and events such as the holiday dinner and the other larger group events.  The quarterly group that goes to a local restaurant has not been able to do so for nine months either.  That means more isolation.  The result of isolation can have dramatic health consequences.  If you do not keep your mind active cognitive issues can increase.  This is why we kept the talking book program alive when the state library shut down the program.  However, the physical changes caused by inactivity are also critical.  You have to keep moving even if it is walking from the kitchen to the bedroom and back a few times.  Or walking around the house or down the hall in a facility or apartment.  Around the block is even better.  The physical and mental work together.  A walk outside both stimulates the body, but the mind as well.  Especially in the fall when leaves are changing.  If walking is too difficult, even getting out of the house or apartment to sit outside provided fresh air and a view of nature to stimulate the mind.  Or, sit with your back to the morning sun and let the warmth tell you there is a new day to enjoy.

If you are having issues with depression and a sense that you need someone to talk to please do not hesitate to call us.  As the holidays are upon us, we know some will find them depressing and we will make every effort to help where we can.  If we had our way, restaurants, churches, and our ability to bring people together for the Holiday Dinner would be reopened.  The promise of an early vaccine is just over the horizon, and that gives us hope.  Perhaps a dinner in the spring.

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"How often we forget to appreciate what we have until something happens and we have lost it."

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Friends in need are friends indeed

Ben Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac said, “Friends in need are friends indeed”.  Several years ago a consultant told us that Fund Raising events are really Friend Raising events.  It is that aspect, the fact so many clients are safe that has sustained us during the COVID-19 crisis.

One of the events we had to cancel was the Golf Tournament, our largest event of the year.  Over the 16 years of the event we have had sponsors for the event who have either come to play and also donated at that time like B&C Home and Garden Center and Event Helper Insurance.  Some no longer come to play, but they still give like Telestream.  This year after we had to cancel the event they all made the donation despite the cancellation.  The same is true of Lions Clubs and a few who give through a foundation giving program.  Some foundation giving programs give each month, and a simple $100 becomes $1,200 over the year.  Others are a one-time donation ranging of $1,000, or occasionally more.  To a small organization like Sierra Services these donations carry more significance than they would to a million dollar organization.  Giving Tuesday is December 1st this year.  Our budget it just $149,350.  Rent, insurance and utilities are the cost of operation and keeping the door open.

The Lasagna and Mexican Dinner events are a rare opportunity for the community to mix with our clients where they can see and hear first-hand how the agency has assisted the blind and visually impaired.  They can see our little community within the community functioning.  The same is true if we take a group out to a restaurant.  We let our actions speak louder than our words.

And, of course those who have left us in their estates have made all the difference and insured our ability to continue service to our common community.  These large and small donations have allowed us to cover most of the fixed costs of facility and operations, which allows us to take the donations from those friends in need and use them to directly serve the client.  There are two times a year that most of the smaller individual donations come in.  One is during the holiday season, which is also the season when donations become important to tax deductions.  The other is the extended period of the Membership Drive which goes from February to April, which is also the time tax refunds show up.

Over the last months we have had those larger donations continue.  But more importantly we have had many people, both clients and others, tell us how pleased they are that we stayed open and were able to continue services to our clients when others were closed.  It is nice to know we are noticed by the friends we have made over the years.

The point is, we are blessed and most appreciative of our Friends in Need, and look forward to the day when we can use fund raising events to both make new friends, and with a dinner or a chance to play golf have a chance to say thank you.  That is why, like the $10 cost of membership, we keep the price of the dinners and golf lower than other organizations.  It is why the same people keep coming back each year.  Like Friends in Need, they are Friends Indeed.

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"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."

~ Aesop

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Stem Cells and the future

We have followed the use of stem cells in the treatment of eye diseases, and the future is as bright as the wonder of what they are finding possible at the stem cell level of our human anatomy.  If you seek miracles you need to go no further than space and biology.  As we have said, the eye has had a particular leap forward is it reacts more quickly than other organs in our body.

Now with COVID-19 that technology, and the uses they have found for cancer are making a vaccine more accessible.  Vaccines now attack a virus directly by using the resources our body already has to create its own immunities.  That means less chance of rejection.  This too is a result of stem cell research and how the eye regenerates itself.  At the same time studies like the AREDS and AREDS 2 are finding the nutritional aspects of eye health.  We have said before, we hope it is science curing blindness that puts us out of business.

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A gentle reminder to clients

Over time we tend to forget the little things.  Transportation is one of our busiest programs.  We provide it without cost to the client either with our van and driver, or with a list of volunteers that are some of the finest people in town.  They are giving of their time and the wear on their vehicle and never complain.

But the program also requires a little accommodation on the part of the client that is using the system.  Volunteer drivers are not counselors, make the ride a pleasant one between friends.

There is one thing that is most important.  If you are making an appointment with a doctor it is difficult and we usually take the time they give us.  Most give you options however, either an 8:00 or a 10:30.  We have to remind our clients now and then that office hours are 9:00 to 5:00.  The trip to a doctor appointment at 8:00 is almost impossible to fill with volunteers.  This is especially true for out of town appointments.  An 8:00 A.M. appointment in Sacramento or Carmichael means a volunteer has to get up very early to pick you up at 6:00 in time to beat morning traffic to that appointment.  A recent 7:30 appointment in the valley was very hard to fill.  Also, don’t expect a side trip for another reason.

Unfortunately this is becoming all too common.  And, the same is true of that 4:30 appointment on the other end of the day.  Even in town, it means the employee is working late as the appointment at 4:30 means that if on time it is not over until 5:00 and the trip home is after hours.  Again, especially that appointment in Sacramento where you get the afternoon home traffic to deal with.

We ask our clients to please make your appointments after 10:00 and before 3:30 if at all possible.  Obviously that is not always possible, especially with specialists who have short office hours and hospital obligations.  It is extremely rare that we have to say no.  But it happens and it is the early and late appointment that means the difference.  We ask a lot of our volunteer drivers.  They also rarely say no.  We just need to remember that common courtesy is also contagious.

We are looking for volunteer drivers! Interested? Please talk with Niki

(530) 265-2121

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New From BARD

Cotton's War

DBC13565

By Phil Dunlap. Reading time: 7 hours, 54 minutes.
Read by Nelson Goud. A production of Indiana State Library, Indiana Talking Book and Braille Library.

Western Stories

When Virgil Cruz and his gang kidnap the woman he loves and threaten to kill her if he interferes with their plans, Sheriff Cotton Burke turns to Memphis Jack Stump, the only man he trusts to infiltrate Cruz's gang, for help. Some descriptions of sex, strong language, violence.

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Smithsonian Magazine,

July 2018

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The loss of the S.S. Titanic: its story and its lessons DB 91999

By Lawrence Beesley. Reading time 4 hours, 40 minutes.
Read by Steven Carpenter. A production of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress.

Subjects: Travel

Description: The personal record of one of the 705 survivors of the Titanic disaster in 1912. His eyewitness account is augmented by those of other passengers who were spared, contributing to a general report of events and behavior the night the ship sank within three hours of colliding with an iceberg. 1912.

BARD is a National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress.

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