Mission Moment: Meet the Next Changemaker

Mission Moment: Meet the Next Changemaker

Do you pay attention to email signatures?

Even if you normally skim right past them or don’t even scroll that far, chances are good that you’d still remember the end of every email from Isaac McBurney.

While most people include their name, title and perhaps a favorite quote, McBurney’s emails always end with this brief, yet powerful statement: Isaac McBurney, 16-year-old legally blind changemaker.

Now, that’s a way to end an email.

Before he was creating empowering email signatures, McBurney was born 14 weeks early, weighed only 1 pound, 15 ounces and was diagnosed with Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). According to the National Eye Institute, ROP affects about 0.5% of children born in the United States every year (around 16,000). Of those children, only about 1,100-1,500 develop ROP that is significant enough to require medical attention. And, of those children, only about 400-600 each year become legally blind.

McBurney is one of those children. But, it’s not a big deal. In fact, it doesn’t even register with him.

“My vision hasn’t really affected me – I’ve been able to accomplish a lot of things,” McBurney said.

A sophomore at Lee’s Summit (Mo.) North High School, McBurney was recently voted by his peers to be part of the “Courtwarming” royalty, which is the winter equivalent of homecoming royalty. He’s been a Boy Scout since the age of six. He loves the theater and has appeared in several productions, including Schoolhouse Rock and Sister Act.

His ability to do the things he wants – and do them on his terms – started at an early age.

“He is an incredible advocate for himself and he just doesn’t let his vision get in the way,” said his mother, Kara McBurney. “I can remember when he was three years old, we took him to the library for a story time event. When he couldn’t see the book, he raised his hand and asked the librarian to come closer. That’s a good example of Isaac doing what he needed to do. And, he’s been doing things like that ever since.”

When he was 12-years old, McBurney decided to attend Alphapointe’s annual Adventure Camp on the recommendation of his orientation and mobility instructor. He wasn’t sure what to expect, but enjoyed himself to the point where he’s attended every camp since.

“It was really fun getting to meet a bunch of other blind kids and then getting to know them even better over the last few years,” McBurney said. “The family aspect of camp keeps me coming back. Everyone there is welcoming and great to be around. I hadn’t really experienced the idea of having another family. I had experienced it with Boy Scouts a bit, but through Alphapointe camps, I connected with people on a deeper level because we all have vision impairment.”

That first experience with Alphapointe led to others. Through the organization’s Expanding Youth Experiences (E.Y.E.) program, McBurney has enjoyed a tactile tour of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, gone tubing at the Snow Creek ski resort and enjoyed an incredible, on-the-field experience with the Kansas City Royals.

“I had been to Royals’ games before, but I had never been close enough to really see things like the players and their jerseys,” said McBurney, who’s vision acuity is 20/400, which allows him to see things up to about 5-feet. “When we went to a Royals game with Alphapointe, it was great because we got to see things up close. We got to hold Salvy Perez’s glove. We got to touch the World Series ring. We touched bats and helmets. We got to go on the field. It gave me a greater appreciation for the Royals. It was just a really cool experience.”

A strong believer in giving back, McBurney has volunteered on several occasions with community organizations, including Alphapointe. In 2019, he received the Erik Weihenmayer Trailblazer Award at Alphapointe’s Adventure Camp as the participant who most demonstrated exceptional leadership and a willingness to help others.

McBurney then contacted Erik Weihenmayer – the acclaimed mountaineer who became the first blind person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. Impressed with everything McBurney had accomplished, Weihenmayer invited McBurney to Colorado where they completed a 6.5 mile hike up a 12,500-foot mountain in Arapahoe Basin. McBurney leveraged the experience as a fundraising opportunity and generated more than $,4,000 in donations in just a month.

As he nears completion of high school, McBurney wants to pursue a college degree. Then, he wants to continue helping people.

“I want to go into public speaking and I want to be a motivational speaker,” McBurney said. “I want to share my message of empowerment to help other people. I want to share that message with both blind people and people who have sight because a lot of people think blind people can’t do things. I want people with sight to understand that blind people can do most of the things they can do.”

Quite the “changemaker,” indeed.