Window of Opportunity to share his passion with others
Collin Watt came to the United States from Jamaica in 1984, at the age of 12. He suffered from headaches and was prescribed seizure medicine, but soon after starting to take it, he began to feel as though someone had thrown sand in his eyes, and the condition only became worse. After being in a coma for two months, he awoke, and began to lose his vision. He ultimately went completely blind. For the last 30 years he has seen shadows and the world as though looking through frosted glass.
In 2000, a friend introduced Collin to karate. He was reluctant, but he tried, and soon learned that he had a talent for it. Not only was it a great workout it was a disciplined way of life. Today, he is a fourth-degree black belt. He continues to hone his craft while teaching it to others who are blind and visually impaired. He says he likes that challenge, because there’s something new to learn in working with each student.
Collin heard about Alphapointe through a karate student. After looking into the agency, he was hired to work in our mop department. Collin loves the work, the opportunity to learn new skills and the chance to meet people from around New York who are visually impaired like him. His goals now are to excel at his job, pursue opportunities to advance his career, and perhaps bring the philosophies and joy of karate to his coworkers.
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Window of Opportunity to continue serving his country
A former U.S. Navy man for nearly eight years. After basic and advanced training, he was assigned to an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit. Wounded on a mission, he lost sight in one eye and was medically discharged in 1992. He then worked for the city of Kansas City, MO supervising a crew of 15 who maintained the City’s water system infrastructure for 10 years, but had to retire after losing his vision in his other eye to renal failure.
Knowing he was not ready to completely retire, he joined Alphapointe in 2016, as a machinist and a packer in our plastics department, which makes prescription bottles for the VA.
Antonio says, “This job gives me purpose and I love making a product that is used by veterans. I’m pretty sure I have made a lot of the bottles in my own medicine cabinet.”
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Window of Opportunity to serve others
Cornell has Nystagmus, due to Albinism, that causes reduced vision and depth perception which affects balance and coordination. But it hasn’t affected his drive to do all he can do to improve his life and the lives of those around him. He works continuously to acquire new skills and find new ways to apply them.
He trained at the Harlem School of Technology, attended the North Carolina School of Plumbing and studied building trades at Bronx Community College. He expects to secure his sprinkler safety and fireguard licenses by the end of this year. Cornell is the first call when any of our windows, lights, plumbing, electrical systems and more are on the blink. He spends his days keep things running throughout our Richmond Hill facility.
“I love working here,” he says. “I look forward to coming to work. This is my toy factory.”
Cornell started at Alphapointe in 2007 in the mailroom. In 2012, he was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed for six months and away from Alphapointe for nearly three years, returning in 2015.
“One thing that stood out when I came back was how cautious everyone was about what I could or couldn’t do. They helped me settle back in. They made me a porter. And as I showed them I was back on my feet and healthy, they started to let me do more. That meant a lot to me that they were so concerned.”
That concern for others is an attribute Cornell has truly taken to heart. At Alphapointe one of his many responsibilities is ensuring safe passage for his fellow employees arriving and departing from work. He is also a sign language interpreter for blind and visually impaired employees who are also deaf.
Several years ago, Cornell took his passion for helping others to a higher level, when he became an ordained chaplain.
“A friend of mine at church suggested I’d be great dealing with people with disabilities so I called up the New York State Chaplain Task Force, took a test and passed and then went through a year of training and field work before being designated as a chaplain to respond in cases of disaster. I ministered to people affected by the New York bombings. I also used to work on Riker’s Island with deaf and blind inmates, taught other inmates and gave them spiritual counsel, mentoring, emotional support and was involved in a ‘second chance’ program where we would get them clothes and help them prepare to return to society.”
Cornell finds his personality raises the spirits of those around him. “I’m happy go lucky,” he says. “People here are receptive to that. The more you have patience and understanding for everyone you work with, it stands out.”
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Window of Opportunity to utilize the latest technology
Tiffany has inflammation in her skull pressing on her optic nerve making her legally blind. She was able to increase her vision to 20/50 with the use of NuEyes smart glasses. She was also able to read 12 point font comfortably, use a calculator and read hand writing, all without eye strain; meaning she did not have to stop and let her eyes rest before continuing to work, increasing efficiency.
As soon as she received her glasses and completed a tutorial, she discovered ways to use her new smart glasses in the most effective way possible – for both home and work at Alphapointe. These glasses not only relieve the strain on her eyes and allow her to work more efficiently but they have a feature that will scan a document and transcribe to her if needed. On a personal level, she is excited to use these glasses at an unfamiliar restaurant and use them to order something new off the menu. Believe it or not, she is also excited to help around the house with dishes and cleaning the bathroom. With her vision loss it is hard for her to see the fine details and ensure everything is “spotless”.
She is so appreciative to use these glasses on a daily basis. “They have increased my independence, boosted my confidence and I am super excited to be able to use these every day! They have made such a difference in my life at work and at home. ”
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Window of Opportunity to be employed in a job he loves
Aaron – known as AJ here at Alphapointe – is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and fought in the Vietnam War. When AJ came home he worked construction until 1992. After failing an eye exam to get a chauffeur’s license he realized he was losing his vision. In 2015, AJ started in our Office Products Department.
“I love the work and I am so grateful for this opportunity to be here at Alphapointe,” says AJ.
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Window of Opportunity to help others like him
Guatemalan-born, Lizardo is legally blind. He lost his sight 27 years ago due to Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a genetic disorder of the eyes that causes loss of vision, especially trouble seeing at night and diminished peripheral vision. Two of his sisters back in Guatemala also suffer from the disease.
Lizardo came to the United States in 2016 to escape political strife and to access resources to help people with vision issues secure work. Even though he was visually impaired and spoke minimal English, he optimistically sought employment. One day he noticed a group of individuals with white canes and followed them…he came upon Alphapointe’s New York location.
Lizardo has been employed by Alphapointe for five months and currently works as a machine operator in the brushes and brooms department. After commuting two hours each way from a temporary residence in Elizabeth, New Jersey for work, he recently relocated to Rego Park in Queens, and says he looks forward to remaining at Alphapointe and advancing his career with greater skills and responsibility.
“This place offers opportunity,” he says. “Most likely anywhere else you wouldn’t get that.”
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Window of Opportunity to continue to learn
The first thing Mark wants you to know, is that he is a “blessed and fortunate man”. Mark was born prematurely and blind. He came from a family where he was expected to do as much as possible, just like his siblings. He was taught to stretch the envelope…always try to do it, until you know you can’t. Mark still lives his life this way. He was one of the first six kids, who were blind to be integrated into the Kansas Public Schools. He graduated from Kansas State with a Mass Communications-Broadcast Journalism degree. He moved to South Dakota where is he was the three-time international cross-country skiing champion at Ski-for-Light competitions. He and his wife moved back to KC in 1986.
The one thing Mark has not mastered is all the new technology available that allows him to go online and experience everything the world-wide-web has to offer. Mark is a student in our Adaptive Technology classes. He has bought his first computer and is now equipped with the screen reading technology for computer users whose vision loss prevents them from seeing screen content or navigating with a mouse. He has never owned a cell phone but will be getting an iPhone. With training from Alphapointe, Mark is excited to learn how to utilize it and all the benefits it has to offer. With the knowledge and resources Mark will gain from his time at Alphapointe, he wants to go back into the workforce.
When asked why Alphapointe was special, he stated, “Seeing people who have lost vision later in life receive the help they need to reshape and retool their lives in a positive fashion is awesome.” Alphapointe stresses, “that anyone can do so much more than the limitations that family and friends put on them”. His closing words of wisdom, “We are our own worst enemies in holding ourselves back, blind or not.”
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Window of Opportunity to regain independence and confidence
For 10 years, Opal Young worked passionately helping addicts see their way to better lives. Then, in late 2004, she learned that she had Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), and her vision of helping others began to fade. She continued working for nine years, but the job came to an end in 2013.
“When I lost my job, it was very traumatic for me,” she says. “With RP, your vision goes gradually, so I had continued to work after being diagnosed. Then one day I was terminated. I found myself out of work as someone who is blind. It was an adjustment. Society sees us as disabled, not capable of doing anything.” She remained unemployed until earlier this year, when she found Alphapointe one day on the Internet.
Now, Opal has been working as a machine handler in New York for six months. She says she loves working at Alphapointe because the environment is so reassuring and welcoming.
“This opportunity is really helping me build my confidence,” she says. “Alphapointe gives people who are blind the opportunity to be independent. That’s what I really like. We’re not looked at as disabled; we’re capable and work just like everyone else.”
Since coming to Alphapointe, Opal has also realized that more than just helping herself, she can once again fulfill her need to help others. “I think I bring a different spirit and energy,” she says. “It’s so amazing to work with other people who are visually impaired”.
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Window of Opportunity to continue his dream
Nearly seven years ago, Michael’s life would never be the same. Michael woke up one morning and he couldn’t see. A specialist diagnosed him with Serpiginous Choroiditis, a rare inflammatory eye condition that typically develops between age 30 and 70 years. Affected individuals have lesions in the eye that last from weeks to months and involve scarring of the eye tissue.
Michael was a licensed RN. When he lost his sight, he had to give up one of the things he truly loved, nursing. He was so disappointed he wasn’t going to be able to do what he had worked so hard to become. For a year, Michael wandered around hopeless. Even though he was a nurse who assessed health problems and solutions for seniors with disabilities; he could not see himself as disabled, he was just blind.
A phone call from an old friend brought him back to the Kansas City area; where his new eye doctor mentioned that he may be able to receive help and training from Alphapointe. He was skeptical for a variety of reasons and didn’t think there was anything Alphapointe could offer him. One day during an Uber ride, the driver noticed that Michael was visually impaired and told him he should check out Alphapointe, “They can do a lot of things for you.” When Michael heard the Uber driver also recommend Alphapointe, he knew there must be something about this place.
Alphapointe gave Michael the boost he needed to accept his vision loss, learn the skills that would enhance his independence and get him back into the world of nursing. He knew there would be obstacles but he is determined to get back to the job he loves. Michael read a book during his time at Alphapointe that inspired him not only to learn as much as possible, but to learn the skills and technology that will allow him to get back into the healthcare field. “Computer training has been the most helpful…I gave up using the computer 6 years ago because it was useless to me after my vision was gone. Now I am all over the internet – I utilize it every day. JAWS & ZoomText has helped me navigate the internet and be able to use Microsoft Office programs.”
“In addition to the training, it is the people…the people, the people, the people,” states Michael, “my fellow classmates and the staff – when you hear or say ‘I can’t do that’, you hear, ‘yes you can!’”
“Being around individuals with different levels of knowledge and vision loss really is inspirational!”
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Window of Opportunity to get his life back
Maurice lost his vision in 2011. He describes that time in his life as very challenging, despite his faith and optimism. He had difficulty adjusting to this new life and states that when he first came to Alphapointe for rehabilitation services was when things began to come together. Maurice says, “The biggest key to my rehabilitation was that I needed to get my life back to as close as I could, before my vision loss. Working daily was the most important step in that process for me”. Maurice attributes his rehabilitation and employment at Alphapointe to giving him his life back and a bright future.
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Window of Opportunity to lead
At 14 Randy was diagnosed with keratoconus, a disease that causes the cornea to form improperly. He has limited vision, no sight in one eye and near-sightedness in the other, with difficulty seeing at night. But that hasn’t kept him from seeing his way to a fulfilled life.
Randy first joined Alphapointe in 2009, due to the project being completed he was furloughed and told we would call him back as soon as work was available. A month later a new position opened in the mop department. To ensure constant work, Alphapointe cross-trained Randy at a variety of jobs in various departments; giving him thorough knowledge in every aspect of our production operations. Since then, he participated as an Alphapointe-sponsored enrollee in the National Industries for the Blind’s “Effective Supervision” program in Virginia. After completion he returned and served as assistant supervisor. In 2017, he became a full-fledged supervisor in charge of plastics and assembly, overseeing the efforts of 20 to 25 Alphapointe employees. He encourages employees to excel at their jobs and gain access to more opportunities the way he has.
“When I came here at first,” he recalls, “I was 23 and had only had vision problems for nine years. I hadn’t accepted being visually impaired. Then I came to Alphapointe and worked beside people who were completely blind and I realized my vision problem didn’t have to limit what I could do. It made me happy to know that there was an agency like this where people who are visually impaired have a real chance to excel.”
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