30% of blind and visually impaired individuals in America live below the poverty line. That’s a sobering statistic, but nonprofits across the country are working hard within their communities to reverse this trend. One of these nonprofits is Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind.
A Fixture of the Community
Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind has been creating a context for possibilities in the Dallas area for 85 years. “Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind has been a fixture in our community for as long as I can remember.” says Elaina Tillinghast, seamstress at Dallas Lighthouse. Tillinghast has been working at DLB for the past 8 years.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, and Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind’s service area is no exception. They’re the largest employer of those who are blind in the area. Independence and quality of life are their primary goals.
“I’m on a mission to serve the blind and let them know that they can be triumphant and hopeful.” says Blake Lindsay, Communications Director for Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind. “This turned out to be a superb place that serves the blind community. Those who are blind want to work and trade talents. Dallas Lighthouse customizes their equipment so blind people can do things no one would think a blind person could do.”
Blake is a purpose-driven individual with a passion for living life to its fullest. He has made it his mission to inspire and motivate people to be brave and turn their challenges and struggles into purpose.
Born with a golden voice that commands attention naturally, Blake has enjoyed a successful career in radio broadcasting. He is also a published author and a motivational speaker.
Blake achieved all this without the benefit of vision, proving that success is attainable even in the presence of challenges some would say are insurmountable.
Blake’s connection with the Lighthouse started when he was booked for a speaking engagement. Pleased with the atmosphere at the Lighthouse and their dedication to serving the blind community, Blake joined their team as a Communications Director in 2009.
“The culture is amazing. We support each other. People who lose their sight later in life can come here and find a network of mentors who will help them face their challenge.”
Thinking Outside the Box
Instead of using machinery and automation to replace jobs, Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind uses these as tools to create jobs that otherwise wouldn’t exist for those with visual impairments. This innovative thinking has opened up a variety of employment opportunities for the blind and visually impaired.
Dallas Lighthouse’s manufacturing processes combine sophisticated machines with extremely well-trained employees. The result is high-quality manufacturing that’s ISO9001 Certified.
“Whenever my wife tells me that she has seen a SKILCRAFT® product, it makes me smile because I know who made it.” says Blake.
The Lighthouse focuses on keeping as much of the work in-house as possible. Their goal is to bring raw materials in and have blind individuals perform every step of the process possible as the material makes its way to becoming a finished product.
The Lighthouse also promotes from within, meaning there are many career paths at the organization itself. Jennifer Watts is a good example; she has worked at Dallas Lighthouse for the past 9 years. Jennifer started out on the floor, working in vinyl and later expanding her skillset to encompass anything and everything on the floor. From there, she transitioned to their customer service department.
“Here, the majority of us are blind, and that evens the playing field. You have to work to get your wit and ideas noticed. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot and I put my best foot forward here. I’ve brought ideas to the table, and I feel like I’ve assisted in making progress in the company.”
Today, Jennifer puts her experience and background in manufacturing to good use in her new position, bridging the gap between the behind-the-scenes world of customer service and the nuts-and-bolts of how things get done on the floor seamlessly for the benefit of all involved.
Capable Hands Craft Beauty by Touch
Tish Cox, a fashion designer based out of Dallas, Texas, decided to move production of her high-end blouses and gowns to Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind. What gave her the notion to do something so outside of the box? A perfectly sewn military belt manufactured by DLB sewers. When Tish Cox saw it, she knew the idea to have blind and visually impaired individuals craft her pieces had true potential, and the rest is history.
Elaina Tillinghast is one of the sewers responsible for making the high-end gowns and blouses a tangible reality. Elaina has been with Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind for the past eight years. She has worked a variety of positions during her time there, and one of the things she tried her hand at was textiles.
“There was refresher work and it all happened so fast!” Elaina says, recalling her rigorous textiles apprentice training.
The sewing skills Elaina’s mother had taught her during childhood came back in a big way during the program, and Elaina found a new outlet for her meticulous nature and careful craftsmanship.
Elaina crafts each Tish Cox piece with care and precision, her knowledge of the design born from touch and visualization of the pieces coming together to form the whole. The result is a hands-on, holistic understanding of the threads, fabric and stitching that all come together to form the piece in its entirety.
“A few days ago, I had a sudden epiphany that origami must have been created by a seamstress.” says Elaina.
Tish Cox has reaped the benefits of these sewers’ unique skillsets, including their favoring of french seams rather than run-of-the-mill open seams. Each of her fashionable pieces are handcrafted with exquisite craftsmanship, elaborate stitching and lots of heart.
Expert Training and Essential Support
Blake Lindsay estimates that individuals can continue to do about 80% of the things they did prior to losing their vision with the right education and training. The Lighthouse prides itself on providing this essential training.
“We have proven techniques that work.” says Blake. “We customize our methods to each individual and take the time to assess them on a personal level. There is some variation with this customization, but we’re never guessing. We have our techniques that are tested and proven.”
The Lighthouse has an Assistive Technology Lab where blind or visually impaired individuals can learn the essential skills needed to take full advantage of assistive technologies available. Their Technology Lab trainers are approved by the Texas State Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services Division for Blind Services. They also have highly trained specialists that are blind themselves. These individuals help navigate these assistive technologies better than any sighted person ever could.
“We have a lot of different people from different backgrounds.” says Jennifer. “We have locals, transplants from outside of Dallas and people from outside of the country. I’m originally from Colorado, myself. At Dallas Lighthouse, you can come here and talk about your condition freely. You can talk about your daily struggles and challenges, and everyone here will come together to come up with solutions.”
“I bring my kids to work with me in the mornings and have the babysitter come pick them up.” Jennifer says. “When I was pregnant and too sick to work, I had so much support. My coworkers called me to see how I was doing. They sent me gifts. We know each other’s families here.”
“People get here and they know it’s time to work.” says Blake. “They know they have a steady job and a steady schedule. They also know they have vacation time to look forward to. Everyone comes here with a good attitude. They’re on a mission to create whatever it is that they’re creating and support each other in the process. You know what our parents used to say- ‘Teamwork makes the dream work!’”
The Ripple Effect
Federal purchasers, when you purchase SKILCRAFT branded products created by the employees at Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind, you’re helping support their mission to empower those who are blind within North Texas. Every one of these purchases, large or small, makes a profound difference, both directly on the individual level and indirectly on the community level.
Shop the Following from Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind:
You can also donate directly via their Donation Page.