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2012 Top-Rated Nonprofit

Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Inc.

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Blind & Visually Impaired Centers, Disabilities, Human Services

Mission: To provide vision rehabilitation, eye health services and education that promote independence, to collaborate with and train professionals, and to conduct research in related fields.

Results: Of the approximately 8,000 charities evaluated each year by Charity Navigator, Miami Lighthouse is ranked among the top 2% in the nation and is the only nonprofit in Miami with nine consecutive 4-star ratings. Miami Lighthouse is Florida’s oldest and largest nonprofit vision rehabilitation organization, celebrating 85 years of service. Employing nationally recognized best practices and evidence-based curriculum, services for people throughout Miami-Dade County cover all ages ranging from early intervention for blind babies and Pre-Kindergarten for three- and four-year-old old children to low vision rehabilitation for seniors. Our subsidiary, Florida Heiken Children’s Vision Program, provides eye care to underserved children throughout Florida. The agency follows and has also spearheaded, nationally-recognized best practices in rehabilitation and other vision-related services. Miami Lighthouse has been continuously accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Blind and Low Vision Services since 1978. This accreditation demonstrates our agency’s leadership in the field of vision rehabilitation and dedication to improving the quality of life for people with vision loss.

Target demographics: Blind and visually impaired individuals from babies to seniors in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, Florida, and low-income children statewide who have failed state-mandated vision screenings but have no resources to pay for an eye exam and prescription glasses.

Direct beneficiaries per year: More than 15,000 blind and visually impaired children and adults with vision rehabilitation services and/or comprehensive eye examinations and glasses for schoolchildren at no cost to them, 30 times as many as in 2004.

Geographic areas served: Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, Florida and statewide

Programs: For blind and visually impaired individuals in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, Florida: for adults and young adults orientation and mobility, personal management and communications, computer, technology and employment training, adult basic education, GED preparation and English as a Second Language courses, Senior Group Health and Activities program; Better Chance Music Production Program™ enables teens and adults to learn music composition, performance, recording, sound engineering and business skills to prepare them for employment in the mainstream music industry; low vision services for seniors suffering from age-related vision loss including low vision functional assessments by an optometrist specializing in low vision and on-site and in-home services by a low vision occupational therapist; Vision Solutions Center offering assistive devices such as magnifiers and task lighting and guidance on how to use one’s vision to its fullest potential. Children’s services include early intervention/blind babies, birth to age 5, pre-kindergarten inclusion program for blind and visually impaired three- and four-year olds and their sighted peers; Summer Training and Recreation for ages 5-13, year-round Braille and technology literacy, transition program for ages 14-22 to prepare students for transition to adulthood and college or employment, family support and community outreach. Schoolchildren: Florida Heiken Children's Vision Program provides free comprehensive eye exams and glasses to low-income children statewide who have failed state-mandated vision screenings.

Community Stories

20 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

On behalf of the Division of Educational Opportunity and Access, I wanted to extend our appreciation for hosting the Creating Community Change: Youth Engagement Program professional development session last week.
From the minute we arrived, the hospitality extended by Douglas outside to the entire team once we entered was remarkable. Even with the construction and parking constraints, the participants raved about the facility and the work you are doing at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Thank you for taking time out of your EXTREMELY busy day to make our group a priority and provide us with such a comprehensive tour of the facility. The group literally could not stop taking about how amazed that they were with what they experienced. With the CCC:YEP initiative’s focus on Service Learning, the opportunity to engage in professional development at such an extraordinary venue was priceless.

Please share our gratitude to the entire staff. We thank you, applaud your work and look forward to our continued partnership.
Warm Regards,
Deborah A. Montilla
Executive Director
Miami-Dade County Public Schools

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I spent the morning observing Miami Lighthouse for the Blind's SGA program for seniors. It was amazing. The work they do, under the guidance of Program Coordinator Nelba Gonzalez, is truly "art,” in every sense of the word, with men and women creating beautiful ceramics, elegant weavings and professional quality paintings.

Nelba has taught them to use their minds, their memory, and their sense of touch, to create beauty. Most importantly, the sense of pride they take from the work they are doing goes a long way towards restoring self respect and independence despite their visual disabilities.

The smiles, the laughter and the feeling of friendship amongst the group as they worked made a deep impression on me. The classroom has seating for 50 at long tables, with 150 in the program. Although everyone I spoke to wanted to attend class more often, they are limited to two or three sessions a week because of the real need for additional funds to enlarge this very important program.



Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

The Miami Lighthouse for the Blind has received accreditation from the National Accreditation Council for Blind and Low Vision Services (NAC). NAC is the only accrediting body that solely focuses on standards and best practices for blind and low vision services with the consumer in mind. The Miami Lighthouse has demonstrated that it meets or exceeds the standards set by NAC for delivery of blind and low vision services. The determination for accreditation is a rigorous process that involves self-examination by the organization, an on-site peer review to verify processes and procedures by a team of professionals serving in the field and a review of the findings by the NAC Accreditation Committee. NAC congratulates The Miami Lighthouse on its accredited status.

Review from Guidestar

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

As a music educator for the past 30+ years, I have taught all types of students will a myriad of disabilities but I've never seen or been a part of an organization whose dedication is at the level of the Miami Lighthouse. Every person there is committed to their mission statement. They are friendly, hard working people whose sole purpose is to make the lives of the clients a little better each and every day.

The clients receive a snack in the morning and a free lunch, if they wish. They are treated with respect and dignity. Every staff member from executive officers down to maintenance and custodial workers alike all pitch in to ensure the staff is taken care of.

Virginia Jacko, CEO and President of the Miami Lighthouse sets the finest standard she wants her staff to emmulate. It is her standard that the staff strives to live up to. I have nothing but the finest regard for the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Previous Stories

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

As the Vocal Director for the Better Chance Music Production Program and one of the co-authors of the Music Braille on line course, I feel privileged to be a part of such a magnificent organization. The scope of services which the Lighthouse offers to the clients far exceeds its expectations because the staff takes the time to provide those special personal touches which mean so much to those we serve. The Better Chance Music Production Program offers young people the chance to express themselves through music, while receiving instruction from world-class musicians. They also have the opportunity to compose and record their own music right at the Lighthouse. The Music program is unique because it is an inclusion program which combines blind, visually impaired and sighted students in a musical setting where everyone is equal and everyone is valued for their talent and expertise. The Lighthouse is very excited about our new Music Braille course! With the assistance of the Carroll center, we are about to launch a ground- breaking project wherein blind and visually impaired students can learn Music Braille independently, via the computer. This type of instruction has never been attempted before and we believe we have the key to bringing the gift of music to blind and visually impaired people.

Client Served

Rating: 4

Submitted by Stephen Podley. The Miami Lighthouse is an outstanding resource for the Visual Challenged. Every type of training imaginable is available. They also have a store where I have purchased a number of items. Staff is very friendly. Their new receptionist, Angie, is welcoming and informative. John, the mobility instructor, is patient and attentive. Harold in the audio/music department is talented, informative and an excellent instructor. They have a great team, and I strongly recommend them.

Angelica G.

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

We Jimmy and Angelica Gomez are the parents of Melanie J. Gomez. Our daughter started at the Miami Lighthouse ever since she was a little baby, she is now 9 years old. My husband and I are very happy with our daughters progress. She is doing great and best of all she is happy. We want to thank you all at the Miami Lighthouse for the awsome job and all the great effort that you are giving Melanie. Not only we as parents of Melanie have noticed lots of changes in her but other people as well. Thank you once again.

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

In 2009, I first came to the Miami Lighthouse as an intern to work in their orientation and mobility department. The Lighthouse was very generous to provide myself and another intern housing as well as a stipend for the summer while we completed our internships. The Miami Lighthouse was a wonderful place to gain experience in my field and I had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of clients of all ages and backgrounds. After completing my internship, I returned as a full-time orientation and mobility specialist and I worked primarily with the adult rehabilitation program. I recently transitioned to working for Miami-Dade County Public schools and have witnessed first hand the positive impact that programs such as the Miami Lighthouse's Saturday program in Braille Literacy and Technology as well as the Transition program have on the lives of the children I work with.

jonhalinick

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

One of my biggest fears after losing my sight was the inability to provide for my family, and I questioned myself: What am I going to do with my life? What’s going to happen in a year or five years? How am I going to help raise my seven-year-old son? My prayers were answers by a phone call from one of the socials worker at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind. I was told not to fear, that with the proper training that they could offer I should be able to perform and carry on like any normal person. And I did. I completed the rehabilitation program and enrolled to become a Midi Music producer. Needless to say, Miami Lighthouse helped me accomplish this. Now, seven years later I’m working as the Director of the Midi Music Production program at Miami Lighthouse for the Blind helping others achieve their goals to become musicians, score writers, radio station audio engineers, pre- and post-sound producers, stage performers, studio sound recorder engineers or use their music production abilities for other sources that involve the use of access technology. All I can say is that my life is been placed back on track because of the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, and I consider it my second home.

Client Served

Rating: 5

Diagnosed with wet macular degeneration, I originally came to Miami Lighthouse two years ago to the Low Vision Center, but my eyes were not bad enough for me to take any classes. I came back in June, had a low vision examination, a visit from the Florida Division of Blind Services at my home, was referred to Miami Lighthouse and was accept as a client. From that moment on my life has changed.

I was one of those people that used my eyes my entire life to make my living, which I couldn’t do any more. But the Miami Lighthouse has taught me, that there is nothing that I can’t do, that my cup is always half full, never half empty, and that I have to be thankful for what I have and I don’t have. I started in Independent Living and have just been approved to transfer to Vocational Rehabilitation with the goal of returning to work. I also received Orientation and Mobility training.

I cannot tell people how passionate I am about Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired and about everyone in this facility. Everyone is caring, knowledgeable, and knowing. I enjoyed to coming here on Tuesdays and Thursdays for my classes. It was a life-changing experience. At present I am a volunteer in the Independent Living Program, and I am looking forward to entering the Vocational Rehabilitation Program in the near future.

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

As the coordinator for the Transition Program at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, I am so grateful that the agency is deeply committed to educating and training professionals in the vision. With the full support of the Miami Lighthouse, I am enrolled The Florida State University Distance Education program and will receive a master's degree in Visual Disabilities and become a certified Teacher of the Visually Impaired Certification and Orientation & Mobility Specialist. The Miami Lighthouse are all too aware of the critical shortage of qualified, certified professionals in the field and by offer support, such as a flexible schedule and financial support, to employees that wish to further their knowledge of the field. Every child, regardless of disability, deserves the right to a quality and equitable education. I am so grateful that they have chosen to make an investment in my education and professional training and by doing so they have made an investment in the education in future generations of students with visual impairments. My education will open up endless possibilities not only for myself, but also for the students with visual impairments that I work with now and plan to work with in the future.

This semester I have taken courses in Introduction to Visual Impairments, Literary Braille, and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (which is especially helpful for teachers in the South Florida area). The teens in the Transition Program find great joy in quizzing me on my braille contractions and I am glad that I can serve not only as an instructor, but as a positive role model to these young adults. Through the master’s program at the Florida State University, I have been able to connect with other dedicated professionals in the field and integrate my newfound knowledge to help improve the quality of programming and services that the Transition Program has been able to offer its clients.

The Miami Lighthouse does so much for its clients by providing the training and confidence needed to be independent, but also for employees, like me, by providing life-changing experiences. I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to join the vision rehabilitation field and excited to embark on a life-long career helping to enrich the lives of others.

Board Member

Rating: 5

We first discoverd the Lighthouse through a personal quest to learn more about tools and programs availalbe for our visually impaired son. While the Lighthouse's local roots are 80 years deep, we never had occasion to learn about the important role this organization plays in our community. Upon our initial meetings with Carol Brady-Simmons and Isabel Chica, we quickly realized that we had "discovered" a wonderful nonprofit which executes its mission flawlessly through a gifted and kind staff. Carol and Isabel took an immediate personal interest in assisting us with navigating the options available to our young son. Our first encounters sparked an interest in discovering ways in which our family could be more connected and supportive of the Lighthouse. We were fortunate enough to be introduced to Virginia Jacko, the CEO of the Lighthouse, who provided a tour of the facility and educated me on the various programs and services the Lighthouse provides to all sectors of the visually impaired community. From that point, we were hooked! Mrs. Jacko is an inspirational leader, unparalleled advocate and thoughtful steward of this wonderful organization. The facility is top notch and always improving. From the youngest of clients (enrolled in the "Blind Babies Program"), to the adults learning job and life skills, and all the way to the senior citizens who are look forward to spending an enriching day at the Lighthouse, our community is benefitted each day from what happens at the Lighthouse. I have been fortunate to work with the Lighthouse on various projects and events, all of which ultimatelly lead to my recent appointment to the Board of Directors. I consider this appointment a true honor. If you are truly judged by the company you keep, my reputation has been enhanced by my association with the Lighthouse, Mrs. Jacko and the incredible employees and volunteers who work miracles each day at the Lighthouse.

Client Served

Rating: 5

Our Kids of Miami-Dade/ Monroe is the lead Community-Based Care Agency for Miami-Dade & Monroe counties. We are dedicated to overseeing and leading a coordinated system of care delivering excellence to abused, abandoned and neglected children and their families. We have been working with the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and the South Florida Heiken Children's Vision Program for several years now and they have proven to be an absolutely invaluable resource to our clients. Thanks to their efforts, hundreds of at-risk youth in the Florida foster care system have received much needed vision services and eyeglasses.
The South Florida Heiken Children's Vision Program has also made a major contribution to our Independent Living Program which serves young adults who have aged out of foster care and are working to become self-sufficient. Many of these young adults do not qualify for Medicaid, making access to quality vision services very difficult. The South Florida Heiken Children's Vision Program and Miami Lighthouse for the Blind has served as the bridge to connect our young adults with much-needed vision care services, allowing them to be more successful both in school and at work. We are truly thankful for this wonderful resource which benefits the most vulnerable young people in our community.

Client Served

Rating: 5

From my first visit to my latest interaction with the Miami Lighthouse, I am constantly thankful that I was blessed to have an amazing, caring and professional organization such as the Miami Lighthouse helping me with my son. I first found out about the Miami Lighthouse when my son was diagnosed with ocular albinism at 3 months old in 2006, this condition leads to very poor vision at a time when most of a child's learning is done visually. I immediately researched what I had to do by consulting with doctors, hospitals and organizations in the Miami area and they all pointed me in one direction the Miami Lighthouse. The Miami Lighthouse became a one-stop-shop for vision therapy to prevent further vision loss, physical therapy such as gripping and coordination, speech therapy and information on next steps. Developmentally, he was falling behind his cousin who was a few weeks younger until he started therapy and quickly caught up. The Miami Lighthouse provided therapy at home and at the blind babies program for no charge. More importantly, it gave me the peace of mind that my son was in the best hands possible. As he was getting ready to enter school, the Miami Lighthouse helped me find a program for him and guided the school, teachers, staff and parents through the transition. I strongly believe that the Miami Lighthouse has helped him to become the confident and vibrant child he is today. Given their wide arrange of programs, from new born to the elderly, I can honestly say that I plan to be involved with the Miami Lighthouse for a long time.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

My 92 year old mother developed Age Related Macular Degeneration on both eyes about 10 years ago. As with so many diseases of the eye, unfortunately there is no cure. We went to the Miami Lighthouse to see their Low vision specialist, Rosemary Gonzalez. Rosemary was very sweet and patient and explained to us that the visual aids we already had were the best we could hope for at the time. She did not try to sell us anything more and the exam was completely free. She did refer us to Nelba Gonzalez who heads Social Group Activities. SGA is a free service that allows adults and elderly clients develop and/or reacquaint themselves with their artistic skills. Mom, who loved to paint and work on ceramics, was thrilled. I then became a volunteer and donor. I have partnered with coworkers to help stuff around 2000 audio newsletter that go out twice a year. I have also volunteered at fund raising events.
I have visited the facilities unannounced on multiple occasions and have always been impressed by the compassion shown to the clients, the orderliness and professionalism exhibited by the staff and have always felt my assistance appreciated and recognized. I love helping them and plan to continue to do so as long as I can.

Client Served

Rating: 5

My name is Paula St. Myer; I am the mother of Juan Paniagua "JP"......he is 13 years old and blind since he was 3; when we were in the hospital someone told us about the Miami Lighthouse and to be honest I was a little bit hesitant to go there, however we went and once we got there it was like seeing light after a lot of darkness.....my son was still a baby and we didn't really know what was going on, it is very scary, specially for you as a parent not knowing what to tell your kid or how to react to some questions like "why I can't see?" "Am I different?" and things like that. The first thing we learned was that he is not different form any other person, that being blind is not an illness and that we had to accept it and learn to live with it....they taught him how to diferentiate textures and he got his first braille words. Everybody at the Lighthouse was super nice, professional and eager to help us. It is a great team, a wonderful group of people doing an excepcional job with babies, kids, teens and adults; they treat all of us with respect and love, it is a biggggggg family!! I only have wonderful memories for me and speacilly for my son at the Lighthouse throughtout these years, can't be grateful enough for all they've done for us. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Board Member

Rating: 5

I came to Miami Lighthouse through my role as a optometrist and a founding member of the Heiken Childrens Vision Fund. The Miami Dade Optometric Association established this fund in 1992 to provide free eye exams and necessary eyeglasses to financially disadvantaged children attending Miami Dade Public Schools who failed their state-mandated vision screenings and had no way to receive eye care. In 2007, we merged with Miami Lighthouse to insure our program would continue to serve needy children in Greater Miami. This successful merger has allowed the program to now serve over 40 counties throughout Florida. Over 100,000 children have received free eye care as a result of this marvelous merger that improves individual school performance, learning, and self-esteem. I am very proud of the entire team at Miami Lighthouse and proud to be a member of the Board of Directors for the last 5 years. This is a very efficient nationally recognized charity that deserves strong support. Alan Levitt,OD

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

My Name is Luz Marina Rosenfeld, I lost my vision about 19 months ago. I felt my life ended, when I went there, I meet Virginia Jacko, she is my mentor, she put me in the right road to be a profesional. I went back to College, graduate and License, now I do Events that raise money for the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually impaired. They show me my life can change without vision, in the begining it was hard but YOU go there and they teach you, and the Technology is out of this world. The Teachers are so compacionated and exemplary that you feel yes, you can see without vision, it sounds strange but I see now more than before. Cannot find the words to say THANKS FOR GIVING ME MY LIFE BACK, I GAIN MY INDEPENDENCE, AND LOVING LIFE MORE THAN BEFORE. The Miami Lighthoue is the perfect place when you loose your vision, they are prepare to give you skill, tools and all the help that you need to be incharge of your life again, going out again with my guide dog, she is my car and the freedom that a human being need after such a Catastrofic experience. I could sit here and right all day how much they did for me and they continue changing lifes, they change mine and I love them for the rest of my life. Love you Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually impaired. As I go with my life you start saying how do I do all this things without vision, like cooking, baking, taking care of my family, going to school and keeping up with getting good grades and being the best you can be. They taugh me a great lesson, you can do what ever you can do with your life, and have change my life around, has change my City adding Talking Lights, explain, they talk and aware you when to cross the street, and we can cross how they taugh us, going by the flow of the cars. is so wonderful that I will never stop talking about, My City Doral has installed 8 in my City of Doral, with the help of Virginia Jacko the CEO, and Mobility Instructor Manager Mr, John Platt. They came and listen to me and help to make a presentation to the Mayor of the City Of Doral, and now I represent The Blind and Visually impaired in the City of Doral, have change myself so many lifes and still changing peoples life, they dont only teach about blindness, they recover your soul. Thanks for giving me this such a great positive attitude for life.

9

Client Served

Rating: 5

My Miami Lighthouse experience was enlightening and fulfilling every day. I entered the Lighthouse totally blind with no skills to allow me a normal existence. Within three months I was an expert at walking with a white cane, handling daily living skills and computer skills using JAWS. After four months by the time I graduated, I also learned to read and write contracted Braille. The staff was always helpful and courteous and challenged me to improve every day. I cannot say enough good things about the Miami Lighthouse. I only wish there were more places like it so more people could get the help they need. I have been blind now for two and a half years, yet I live a very normal, healthy and productive life. I have a wonderful guide dog that helps me travel quickly and efficiently anywhere I want to go. I take public transportation including busses, trains and airplanes and travel to cities that I don’t even know. With the skills that are taught at the Miami Lighthouse a blind person like me can learn more than to survive, they can have a life that thrives.

1

General Member of the Public

Rating: 1

Don't believe what their money grubbing promotions say. They help "millions" No they don't. I called the MD office to see about free or low cost help with my inability to see in the dark anymore and they wanted to charge me $360! They gave me no help except to call the social security office and get medicare!