Life can be hard sometimes…and for some, much harder than for others. Some things we can control, while some things we cannot. Imagine, then, being born with a severe visual impairment so that you could never see things unless they were extremely close to your eyes? Imagine your eyes always moving, but never seeing clearly. You use braille but can also read, as long as the print is extra large, bold and right in front of you. Or imagine that your partial blindness was “done to you” – as in shaken baby syndrome. You were eight months old when you were shaken so severely that you lost most of your vision. You can only read braille, and your balance is a constant issue. Two different people, both living with “visual impairments” through no fault of their own, and both people who have to, as they say, “problem solve” all the time just to navigate through their world.
Alexxis is 20; Riley is 19. Both young ladies are interns at Saint John’s Program for Real Change. They are working in the Childcare Center for the summer, courtesy of a partnership with Wayfinder Family Services, a program that helps transition young people with severe vision issues into independent life. Sounds like Saint John’s goal for the women we serve – transitioning into a positive future.
Alexxis is reserved with a shy smile; Riley is outgoing and seemingly confident. Both are now good friends who have plans soon to get their own apartment with friends and start their lives on their own. Working at Saint John’s Program for Real Change has given them an opportunity to help the littlest ones here each day.
Like Saint John’s, exploring career options is part of their program, and both are excited for the future. With the help of new technologies, they will continue their studies at junior college before advancing into career studies. Alexxis may continue working toward becoming an elementary school teacher but also seems to love the quiet of an office position with daily tasks to finish. She hopes to travel, though, and “see” the world. Riley will finish her education but has changed her mind a time or two about her career path. She especially enjoys bonding with the little ones at Saint John’s because she feels she knows how they feel, given that she was in and out of foster homes most of her life. Maybe working with kids or counseling is in her future.
Why write about these ladies when there are so many women here at Saint John’s who have stories to tell, who have daily battles to fight and hills to climb? Because we learn that everyone has a story, and in learning each other’s stories, we grow in knowledge and empathy. Our own worlds become bigger. And in helping one another, we help make our lives and communities more compassionate and understanding.
Like the women at Saint John’s, these young girls feel the optimism here, and they, too, are excited about their futures because someone took the time to know them personally, to give them hope, and to give them tools for the future. Riley and Alexxis say that programs like Wayfinder’s and Saint John’s Program for Real Change remind people that they can make it, that they are capable of great things, and that people can be good and kind. “Seeing” the good and the potential in every person is a message of hope and inspiration for us all.
By Ellen Gemma, Guest Blogger and Volunteer, Former Asst. Principal, Jesuit High School, Former Principal, St. John the Evangelist School