Post by Brian Klotz, Marketing Coordinator for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) and Natick High School Class of ’05
Once a month, they meet at the Natick Senior Center, in an often filled-to-capacity room right next to the gift shop. They come to share stories. They come to learn about helpful tips and resources. They come to bond over their shared disability: vision loss.
On this day in late December, however, they have come for the turkey.
A catered spread of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and other seasonally-appropriate food items (Let’s not forget the pie!) sits on a long table against the window as the members of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s (MABVI) Low Vision Peer Support Group gather for a holiday feast.
The luncheon, a break in routine from the usual guest speakers and group discussion, has become an annual December tradition for the group.
“It’s fantastic,” says group member and co-coordinator Marge Burrows. “It gets better every year.”
Burrows was a crossing guard in North Natick for 37 years until her vision loss forced her to retire at the age of 82. She has been coming to the support group for about five years.
“There must be something worthwhile [in the group],” she says, “because people keep coming back!”
“They’re all very social,” adds fellow co-coordinator Laurice Dikmak.
This is a crucial aspect of what makes MABVI’s Low Vision Peer Support Groups so valuable to their blind and visually impaired members. Perhaps equally if not more importantly than the visits from experts in vision rehabilitation, the companionship offered by meeting with others who have the same issues is vital to those coping with this disability. Currently, MABVI operates 34 support groups statewide in partnership with the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, a State agency.
The impact of vision loss on functional ability and social activities puts individuals at a significant risk for depression, even more so than other common age-related disabilities. Studies show that approximately one-third of older adults who are visually impaired experience clinical depression – about twice as high as that of the general population of older adults.
Dikmak, who has both glaucoma and macular degeneration, knows all too well the significant impact vision loss can have on one’s life. Reality hit home for her one day behind the wheel.
“I was driving on Route 9, and I realized I couldn’t see,” she says. “I came home and told my husband to sell the car.” Having to rely on others for transportation is one of the factors that links vision loss to depression. “When you can’t drive, you feel isolated.”
The holidays are an especially difficult time for some, particularly older adults who may not have the support network they once did.
Group member Doris Porcella has been a Natick resident since 1958, and while her husband has passed, she notes that she is fortunate to have children and grandchildren who live nearby, but realizes others are not so lucky.
“Some people are very lonely during the holidays,” she says, but adds that having a regular social gathering like the Low Vision Peer Support Group helps. “If someone is living alone, it’s a very good way to see the same friends every month. It’s a nice thing to look forward to.”
Since MABVI is a non-profit, however, services like support groups, low vision centers, and in-home vision rehabilitation would not be possible without the support of funding partners such as Natick’s Cognex Corporation, which recently awarded MABVI with a $10,000 grant to continue their work in the area.
“This generous grant from Cognex is crucial to allowing us to continue to offer comprehensive vision rehabilitation services to individuals in the Natick area,” says Shaun Kinsella, Statewide Director for MABVI. “Cognex is a Natick institution, and it’s great to see how much they care about giving back to the community and ensuring that visually impaired residents remain healthy and engaged members of the community well into their golden years.”
For the Natick Low Vision Peer Support Group, the experience is priceless. And while the luncheon may be over, after a Winter weather hiatus the group will continue to meet regularly as a resource for visually impaired individuals, offering support and companionship alongside useful tips and information about vision loss.
And during the holidays, pie. Don’t forget the pie.