January/February Updates from the Sarasota Council of the Blind

By Karen Christie

Our first meeting for this year was held January 11, 2016 at Denny’s restaurant. As I sit writing this column, I am finding it hard to believe that another year has just begun. Unfortunately, though, this meeting began with President Rick Wilkinson relaying the news that the technology instructor at the Mana-Sota Lighthouse, Jimmy Jones, passed away unexpectedly on January 2. We learned that he had suffered a stroke shortly before Christmas, and it had seemed as though his condition was improving. Jimmy taught computer classes at the Lighthouse, and he was also in charge of the book club meetings held there as well. In fact, everyone who knew Jimmy really well could tell you what an avid reader he was. I had the pleasure of knowing Jimmy, and he was a kind man who also had a great sense of humor. His wife, Vickie, is the receptionist at the Lighthouse, and she has also been the singer of holiday favorites at several Christmas parties for our council. She always seems to have a positive outlook on life, and her bubbly personality can brighten anyone’s day. Our condolences go out to Vickie and the rest of her family, and we will always remember Jimmy’s determination to never let his visual impairment get the better of him. He was also a firm believer that everyone else he knew who had visual impairments could overcome their obstacles, never letting their vision boundaries prevent them from living their lives to the fullest.

Our speaker for January’s meeting was Jonathan Carter from the Sarasota Fire Department. He talked to our group about basic safety information, such as the importance of having a fire extinguisher and how it works. He emphasized how important it is to have working smoke detectors in the house. He also discussed such topics as how to prevent kitchen fires, as well as what you must do should a fire start at your house. The meeting was informative, and taught us a lot about fire safety and prevention.

Our meeting for February was held on Monday the 8th at Denny’s restaurant. Our speakers for this month were Susie Wilburn and Alison Aldridge from Southeastern Guide Dogs. Susie works in the admissions department, while Alison works in the graduates department, overseeing students and their guide dogs who have graduated from the class. Susie told our council how Carson, her guide dog, is her “freedom” and how he has changed her life. She informed us about everything ranging from the Juno walk (where instructors from the guide dog school come to the student’s house to walk around the neighborhood, and mimic the moves of a guide dog so they can see how slow or fast the person walks) to when the user has had their dog for so long and what to do once it’s time for the dog to retire. Susie admitted that having a guide dog is a big responsibility, but that Carson has truly changed her life, and he has given her the independence she never would have had otherwise.

After the speakers left, President Rick Wilkinson informed us that starting March 15, SCAT Plus, the Sarasota-based door-to-door transportation service used by most Council members, will no longer be in operation in its current form. We should have more information to follow about that this change after our March meeting.

At next month’s meeting, we will hear from speakers who will come and talk about roundabouts and other important traffic issues of special interest to the visually impaired. We look forward to hearing all they’ll have to discuss with our council.