71ºF

One-of-a-kind center is changing lives in Daytona Beach

The Conklin Center for the Blind teaches independent living

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The one-of-a-kind Conklin Center for the Blind has been changing lives for 40 years.

The center was founded in 1979 to help adults who are blind or have low vision with additional disabilities.

President and CEO Kelly Harris is this week's Getting Results Award winner. Harris said when the leadership position opened up a little over a year ago, she knew it was where she wanted to be.

"We are the only center in the country doing what we're doing and it's this gem right here in Daytona Beach," she said.

Students like 19-year-old Brianna Lawson live at the center full time while they learn vocational skills, along with any manner of domestic tasks to help them live independent lives.

"So far I've learned to do laundry independently and I've also learned the skills of cleaning and money management," she said.

Lawson, who has low vision, enjoys drawing and has dreams of becoming a fashion designer. "I started drawing when I was like 3 or 4," she said, leafing through her sketch book. "When a new idea comes I get my pen and I just jot it down. "

Lawson's sketch book is filled with drawings of dresses, shirts and shoes. Many of the examples show rhinestones as a way to express braille in her designs.

Lawson was looking forward to a job interview later that day at a department store. "I believe that anyone can be independent, it just takes a lot of hard work," she said.

The students' hard work and challenges resonate with Harris.

Harris was born with congenital glaucoma, which is the leading cause of blindness in children. She's had multiple surgeries and calls her condition controlled.

She said the experience led her to a career in health and public policy.

"I find my passion is in nonprofit work. That's where I really feel comfortable and this feels like home to me," Harris said.

The CEO said she's motivated to help those who were not as fortunate as herself.

"I never had to talk about my eye condition before. I never chose to," Harris said. " When I saw this job description I said, 'This looks like it's for me."

Brittany Locklear, 24, has been a resident at the center for four months. She says the one-of-a-kind training has opened up new possibilities.

"I totally belong here," she said. "Not only do they treat you like adults but they help you get jobs. They help you with money, they help you with finance. It's just incredible."

The center is organizing a fundraising gala for Nov. 1. The Shining the Light event is being held to raise money for operating costs and capital improvements.


About the Author: