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Las Vegas nonprofit BlindConnect connects blind youth with area resources

When Lizzie Reyes starts her freshman year at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in the fall, she will boldly tell her professors about her visual impairment. But her confidence in asking for what she needs to learn hasn’t always been so fearless.

“I used to just try and play it off,” the 18-year-old said. “I could get away with it until it came to reading anything.”

That shy nature changed two years ago when Reyes took a 60-hour training course called Transition at BlindConnect, 6375 W. Charleston Blvd. She said the 10-day program helped her be more comfortable with her albinism, which makes her eyes sensitive to light and causes rapid eye movement , leaving her legally blind.

Reyes will participate again this year in what will be Transition’s third annual program, which starts today .

Cox Charities funds the program, making it free for the roughly 15 14- to 20-year-old participants, who will learn to cook, dress appropriately, use city buses and improve their social skills during the course.

Little tricks to get by in everyday living are especially helpful tips from the program, Reyes said, recalling how she learned to place her finger at the top of the glass when pouring a drink, so she can feel when it’s full.

“What we want to do is help these kids become independent,” said Jean Peyton, president of BlindConnect .

The teenagers and young adults in the blind community are capable of doing nearly everything others can but often aren’t taught certain skills from their protective parents or teachers, she said.

“In the case of children with a disability, not just blindness, Mom and Dad do everything for them,” Peyton said.

Transition works with parents to help them understand their child’s abilities, and the course strives to meet the parents’ and child’s goals during the 10-day training.

Goals can range from learning how to cook, how to iron or improving Braille skills.

Reyes said cooking is her favorite part of the training, naming cupcake cones, sweet and sour meatballs and enchiladas as a few of the standout recipes.

Jordan Abernathy, a 15-year-old who participated last year and plans to do so again, said he too liked the cooking portion. The Centennial High School student said he learned to use smell and touch to ensure that he is mixing in the correct ingredients.

Transition also helps its participants improve social skills, which can be lacking because they miss a lot of information visually, Peyton said.

“We want them to be comfortable being in the sighted community with people that may or may not understand their vision loss,” she said.

As it did with Reyes, the program allows the participants to adjust and make friends within the blind community, too.

Abernathy’s mom, Marcia, said her son initially didn’t want to participate, thinking it would be “awkward.”

“After the first day, he just connected,” she said of her son, who suffers from Stargardt, a degenerative eye disease. “He realized there are other people in the same situation as him, and they’re normal. Now he can’t wait to go.”

Contact Southwest and Spring Valley reporter Jessica Fryman at jfryman@viewnews.com or 380-4535.

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