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We help blind and visually impaired individuals stay in their homes and out of institutions.

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Sierra Services for the Blind

Newsletter  October - December 2017

"If we open a quarrel between the past and present we have lost the future." ~Winston Churchill

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Funding Non-Profits

Sierra Services, unlike large national non-profit agencies, has a unique problem attracting funding.  Many non-profits are designed around issues our society and the government feel the nation must support.  The issue is national in scope and a number of grants are available for things like cancer, political, cultural issues that the public finds attractive and has a number of agencies and organization that provide grants.    Many of these issues like the loss of vision are national.  The client base is generally small other than in that specific community.  Those agencies are often too small for large grants, or like we are, have been around for a long time and have a working program they must simply maintain.  Most grants require a program be new.

Sierra Services has that problem.  We have been doing what we do for the blind and visually impaired for 36 years.  We have adjusted to the community as it changed, but the essence of the program is simple common sense and has proven itself.  We know what works for our clients just as a storefront business knows what the patron is likely to buy and that is the nature of the product you see on their shelves.  You won’t see fancy clothing in a hardware store.  But you will get what you need if you need a hammer.

That means we have a nitch market, the blind and visually impaired.  And we have a nitch in that market as well, most of our clients are elderly.  That makes us a smaller agency than many of the ones with national affiliations and recognition.  The reason is simple, Nevada County has the highest population of seniors over age 80 in the state, and one in three will be visually impaired at age 80.  Statistically, there are three to four thousand potential clients in our common community.  Over the last 36 years we have learned what they need, and how best to provide the transportation, education, emotional adjustment, and community access they need.  We are not new, just seasoned.  Who we serve the community dictates.

Unfortunately that denies us access to most grants, and a broad ranging access to fund raising and recognition.  As a result we are 100% self-supporting.  We must do our own fundraising, and we have several events each year to raise funds.  We are dependent on the public, but we don’t have the budget for major advertising campaigns.  Blindness is also the outside disability that even the American’s with Disabilities Act didn’t know what to do about.  It simply says “reasonable accommodation”.  No one wants to be blind, and in disability studies 90% of people say it is their number one fear.  So, they tend to turn it off.  At health fairs we are the least visited table.  They don’t what to talk about it.  We run the joke that we are the best kept secret it town, but the lack of acceptance for blindness in general is the greatest cause of that distinction.  Younger people simply believe it can’t happen to them.

Because of the low income nature of our clients, their inability to drive and have access to doctors and basic services, the adjustments they must make in their lives we do not charge for our services.  That is simply because most don’t have the money to pay.  Housing, food and medicine are more important when dollars are tight.

Historically, money trickles in and is heavily dictated by the economy and by the financial level of our clients who are mostly retired and considered lower income.  What has kept us alive has been those larger donations from someone’s estate.  Because we are smaller and not part of the national consciousness of the donor base we don’t get large additional checks at our fund raising events.  People only have so much to give, and with the fires and hurricanes we have had this year the donation pool is stretched to its limits.

We hope that we can see some response as the economy is now expanding.  Money is moving into our community as the population changes.  Certainly we have other more public problems like homelessness and the related food and shelter issues.  We must also maintain our cultural heritage.  However, a donation to Sierra Services does not go through another agency or organization which takes a percentage to get funding to us, 100% is used to allow the agency to do what we have been charged to do by the identified direct needs of the community.  It being local will circulate in the local economy six to seven times a year. 

As we enter both the holiday and tax season we hope you will remember us.  Those who have put us in their estate planning have been the difference for several years, those who give directly and monthly help keep local funds flowing.  Those who give when they can are the backbone of any agency like ours that is self-funded at the community level.  People who know our clients as their neighbors and relatives, and those who realize that if one in three are legally blind at age 80 they too will need our services in time can help insure we are there when they need us.  If everyone who receives this newsletter gave an average of $10 per month it would be 1/3 of our budget.  Or if half gave $20.

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Have you ever noticed that during most of the year the world celebrates and takes note of those organizations and well known individuals who have more than they need and with great aplomb use the opportunity to do great public deeds for others they deem less fortunate?

Only during the worst of times do they take note the individual who has little but gives a little more than they have, and does it in person.

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"Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns;

I am thankful that thorns have roses."

                                                          ~Alphonse Karr

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Cost of your health

There is a lot of talk, and opinion about the cost of health care.  Even how to do it is a political hot potato that sparks more talk, opinion, and occasionally discussion.  And there should be.

We also need to look at where it is going.  Medicine today was a pipe dream just a few years ago.  Cancer was a death sentence, so was a heart problem.  Polio, whooping cough, and everything from pneumonia to childbirth could be the end of you.  The average citizen died less than five years after retirement.  Even some heart surgery now only requires a one inch incision.  Diabetics are not losing feet and legs from the effects of insulin and prosthetics are amazing.  The human cost is a lot cheaper than it used to be.

What is more amazing is how close we are to so many other things, like the end of most blindness.  Stem Cell and other new things are happening, the only thing holding them back from general use is cost.  Like other things, cost will go down in time.  So will success rates.

So while we grumble about the cost of our health, remember the benefits medical science has brought to us.  When our nation was founded the average life span was just twenty six.  We didn’t even know about germs and such.  Pneumonia’s name was the ‘death rattle’ and barbers blead you to get the evil toxins out.  George Washington was blead so many times it contributed to his death.  Today some are looking at Star Trek doctors and saying, ‘We can do that’ like we did with their computers and cell phones.   Less than a decade ago the source of stem cells was a national issue, today they can use those already in your own body.

Be aware of the roses, a thorn now and then is worth the time it takes to hold on in your hand, breath in and say thank you to the thorn that protected it from harm until you found it.

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"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence."

~ Helen Keller

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Re-circulation of Blind Stuff Important

When our clients find a magnifier, large face clock, a CCTV, or any other aid they have purchased no longer works for them they often donate it back to us so we can make it available to other clients who have use of it.  That allows us to give them to those clients who could never afford a new one.  As a result, very little stays in the office for very long.  It also gives us items to demonstrate to new clients that we could have to purchase ourselves, and that saves us thousands of dollars each year.  The one thing we need are a few used TV’s to use as CCTV monitors.  It also allows us to continue to say there is a reason we can do so much for people and not charge for our services.  If we did we would lose most of them, and their loss would be far greater than ours.

If you have such things, please donate them to our clients.  We are just the conduit to get them into their hands.  It often means the difference in dependence which is the dread we all have, and the independence we need.  A simple magnifier, a clock they can read, a talking watch, or anything we can put in the hands of someone who is losing their vision is appreciated at a level most could only imagine.  Thank you always seems not enough.

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Client Holiday Meal Date Set

The Annual Client Holiday meal is set for December 14th this year.  For over 30 years we have provided a complete Holiday Dinner for the Clients of Sierra Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  It is a chance for us to say thank you for the gift we receive all year by knowing the clients and seeing their live enriched by the simplest of things we can do.  It is also a chance for the clients to meet each other in a larger gathering.  And, for us to thank the drivers who have served both the agency and the client all year.

There is no cost to this one.  It is on us.  Calls to the clients will begin just after Thanksgiving and the invitation is open to all of them.  We will be serving the complete Holiday meal at 12:00, so plan for it.

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Outreach Program Success

Sierra Services just completed an outreach program to the medical community.  Every eye doctor now has the latest information about our services, and how we can help them with their patients.

Your eye doctor is the one that had to tell you that you would lose your vision.  But they do not have the time other than consultation to work with you on what the next step is.  Now you have it, what do you do about it?  That is where we come in.  The person who has just learned they will lose their vision will go through the five stages similar to grieving when you lose someone close.  First is denial, this can’t be happening to me.  Second is anger, then what we call bargaining.  If I get active I can beat this thing.  When you learn it is progressive like macular degeneration you have a time of depression before you reach acceptance and can settle in to the fact and start to learn new ways of doing things.

It is these five stages the doctor’s office is not equipped to spend the time on.  They know of it, and know when to talk about it.  But especially during the time of depression they don’t have the time to spend working with you.  Their only technique is to get you to jump over them to acceptance.  But that leaves out the problems you are going to have.  The loss of a driver’s license and the need for transportation to get the help you need, and to get to that doctor appointment.

We discussed these issues with the doctors and their support staff in all of the local offices and the response has been very positive.  Offices that have been here for a long time knew of us, and had in some cases just become so busy we had fallen to the back of their minds.  Staff changes often meant those who knew us were replace by new residents that didn’t.  The response has been very strong.  We are now getting more referrals than we had been, and those referrals are coming in with some information on us.  Pamphlets about the agency, and about the program are in all of the offices now, and placed where they can find them and not forget in the business of a medical office.

You can help.  If you are at an eye doctor and you are a client tell them you are acquainted with us.  If you are not ask if they know us and remind them.  Like all things reinforcement of the idea makes it stick.  There is no sense knowing something if you don’t use it.  In the medical community we are no longer a secret, and the sense of relief we felt in the office staff that there is something they can do to help their patient was universal.  Like all of us, they just need a reminder now and then.  Who better than our clients and those who know of us.

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"What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?"

~ George Eliot

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Needs of those around you

We are an agency that works with people who have lost vision.  It is our job to give you the knowledge you need to keep going with vision loss.  But we are also aware that those closer to you are affected as well.  They are known as the care givers.  A wife or husband, a child that is now helping you with your everyday affairs like paying bills or making sure you have enough to eat.  There is the neighbor that takes you to the store now and then, or picks things up for you.  We are aware that their life has changed as well.  This is true not only in the loss of vision, it is true of all disabilities including those that are simply related to age.

It is also part of our function to work with them.  How can they best help the client?  How can they deal with the weight of the increased responsibility and the close relationship that has them seeing what you are going through knowing there is nothing they can do to make it go away?  It is not uncommon, especially with new clients, that while they are in a support group the family member is in the office talking to the staff.  They need the outlet as well.  Some use the time the client is in the office for things they need to get done for themselves, others just need someone to talk to who understands they need a mental break now and then too.

They also need to understand what the client will face.  It is important that they know about phantom vision so when it happens they don’t think you are losing your mind any more than you do.  They must understand your frustration, as you must understand theirs.  Together you are the solution, you are not alone on an emotional island.  Talk about it.  Don’t add to the problem, and remember once in a while to say thank you for being there during the down times as well as the ones we can learn to laugh about.

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"The bond that links you to family is not just one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life."

~ Richard Bach

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We Accept Being A Little Old Fashioned

One of the things we talk about now and then, and the most common question we get is how we differ from so many other organizations.  The answer is usually how we are serving a unique community of blind in a rural area.  We talk about how one in three seniors will be legally blind at age 80, and the high percentage of seniors found in community we live in.  We talk about their relative income level, how that is the reason we don’t charge for our services.  And we say things like how if we have 175 active clients we have 175 programs.

That statement, meaning each client is a program onto themselves is the key.  It is the window to what we are about, and how we go about what we do.  It is not for us to tell people how to live their lives.  It is for us to give example, and to present options they can use to remain an independent member of our community.

The support groups work that way.  Members of the group are an extremely diverse gathering of individuals.  Our original group had the owner of one of the largest businesses in town, an opera singer from San Francisco, a woman with three doctoral degrees, a farmer’s wife with nine kids, and a woman who ran the high school cafeteria for 44 years.  They never would have met each other in the course of their lives, but once together with the loss of vision they became the best of friends who were fascinated by each other.  They enhanced each other’s lives with the experiences they brought to the table.  The breadth of experience they had together put any problem in perspective and found a solution unique to the individual.

The idea is that this agency should not dictate how you must behave with the loss of vision.  We provide the opportunity and information, examples and physical aids to make your adjustment.  That is somewhat old fashioned.  The strength of the organization is not found in a book on the subject, or in strict traditional rules set by committee from some university.  It is found in the life experience of not only the client, but in the staff as well.  We can only offer advice derived from our lives as example.  As a result we learn as much as they do.

When clients say nice things about what we have done for them we often don’t know how to react.  We are the ones that have gained by knowing them.  The agency is not about us, it is about how we can give back what we have learned from the client in a manner that helps those that are new to us.  It is for us not to tell them how to live, but as individuals and as an agency to set the tone that leads by example.

I guess that is why we don’t charge for our services.  How do you put a price on the old fashioned way you enhance the lives of someone simply by the example you set.  Perhaps that is why new clients often say how comfortable they were when they first came in.  We offer our services, we don’t impose them.