Most days at the Blind Center of Nevada, 1001 N. Bruce St., you can find people socializing, working on computers with special graphic-to-audio software, making art, learning life and job skills or even bowling. The center’s president, Cory Nelson, said the center couldn’t do it without volunteers.
“We’ve got a small but dedicated staff,” Nelson said. “A lot of what happens here is done by volunteers.”
The facility serves as a community center, a training center and an employment center. Much of its funding comes from its electronics recycling business, and many of the recycling operations employees are members of the center.
“One of the most important things we do here is find ways for blind people to have the opportunity to work and be self-sufficient,” Nelson said. “The vast majority of the blind in Nevada are unemployed.”
The center is always looking for volunteers, and a large or complex skill set is not required to lend a hand.
“We have a wide variety of ways you can volunteer,” said Veronica “Ronnie” Wilson, the center’s executive director. “We need people to help out with arts and crafts, act as guides on field trips, cook, clean or help our members go shopping. We can find a way for you to help.”
The center includes a music room, which doubles as an exercise room; two communal spaces for members to talk and socialize; meeting rooms; an arts and crafts room; and a ceramic arts room. It also provides meals to its members Monday through Thursday.
“For some of them, this is the only meal they’ll get all day,” Wilson said. “About 80 percent of our membership lives below the extreme poverty level. We have a lot of people living on $614 a month. I shouldn’t say living; that’s really just surviving.”
Nelson said many blind people find themselves isolated. The center is a place where they can socialize and get out of the house.
He has heard several stories of the newly blind who spent their days sitting alone for 12 hours and then sleeping for 12 hours before they find out about the center.
“We help them find a community and become more able to get out and do things,” Nelson said.
Wilson said independence is an important service provided by the Blind Center of Nevada and its volunteers.
“We take our members shopping twice a week,” she said. “Being able to go shopping without having to rely on friends or neighbors is a big thing for them and helps them feel independent.”
One of the ways volunteers can help is by going on field trips to local parks and other attractions.
Volunteers on field trips guide the members over unfamiliar terrain and help them take part in activities such as fishing, using park equipment and playing sports.
“We were amazed the first time we went out on a picnic and played kickball,” Wilson said. “For many of them, it was the first time they’d kicked a ball.”
Sandra Stafford volunteers at least once a week and started about three years ago when she retired.
“You have to give back a little,” Stafford said. “Also, you learn so much from them. They have such a great attitude.”
On a recent outing to Sunset Park, 2601 E. Sunset Road, Las Vegas High School students Reneta Lopez and Stacy Anguiano were volunteering with the Blind Center for the first time.
“I enjoy helping people who need the help,” Anguiano said. “It’s a great experience, and it’s adding to my awareness of my surroundings. I’m seeing things in a different way now.”
Samantha Steele is the center’s program manager and coordinates the outings and many of the events.
“It’s a privilege to work with with the members,” Steele said. “It’s always a joy to walk in and hear their laughter.”
One of the Blind Center of Nevada’s major annual fundraisers is selling holiday gift baskets. The center is set to start that process on the first weekend of November.
“This will be our 13th year of doing that,” Wilson said. “We make most of the items that go in the baskets, we make our own bows and we assemble them. It takes an army of volunteers to do that.”
Wilson said the goal is to create 1,500 baskets this year. Before the economic downturn, the center was making up to 2,500 baskets each holiday season.
“We’ll may have as many as 50 to 60 volunteers here at a time working on the baskets,” she said. “Volunteers just have to be willing to work. It can be as simple as bagging cookies. We even have kids who come in to help, groups of schoolchildren and Scout troops.”
Wilson said even an hour from volunteers is helpful, and she said that the feedback she gets is that the work is rewarding.
“People tell us they didn’t realize how good it would make them feel and say that they get much more out of it than they’re giving.” Wilson said. “I don’t know if that’s possible. We really appreciate what they do for us. The greatest gift anybody can give us is the gift of their time.”
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at email@example.com or 702-380-4532.