ORLANDO, Fla. – Imagine having been born blind or waking up one day and realizing your vision is starting to fade.
That's the reality millions of people experience every day, bringing along a sense of uncertainty and the challenge of having to learn many life skills all over again.
One local organization is helping those who are visually impaired become independent again, giving them a chance to live their best lives.
Lighthouse Central Florida has been helping the blind and visually impaired for more than 40 years.
The organization's mission is living, learning and earning with vision loss -- not just surviving, but being able to thrive.
The nonprofit organization serves all ages with programs, tools, resources and training so they can lead easier and more independent lives.
"When my kids would go to school, I would lock myself in my room because I was scared ... because I couldn't see and that was new to me, being blind," Sophia Saintvil said.
Saintvil lost her vision three years ago and had no choice but to adapt to a new life.
"If it wasn't for coming here, taking the classes and regaining my confidence, I'm not sure if I would've had the same quality of life that I have now," Saintvil said.
With the help of Lighthouse Central Florida, thousands like Saintvil have gotten a sense of renewed hope and empowerment.
"We have over 50,000 in the tri-county area who are blind or visually impaired, many of whom you're not interacting with in the community. Why? Because if you've never been taught to cross Orange Avenue, now that you've lost your ability to see, you're probably not going to, and so folks become block-locked and the potential that they have for our community, our economy, for their families," Kyle Johnson, the president and CEO of Lighthouse Central Florida, said.
The organization is getting results for the blind and visually impaired through diverse programs for all ages.
"It's important for this community to know we're here for people with low vision to no vision. We're not just for people who are blind," Johnson said.
The Orlando location provides classes on how to use technology, work with sharp knives, manage medication and even how to know when a cup of water is almost full -- basic life skills most people use every day.
"They're just learning to manage their daily life with more confidence and independence," Judy Matthews, the adult services supervisor for Lighthouse Central Florida, said.
The company also provides a fully equipped kitchen.
"Students may be cooking in the oven or using the stove top or the microwave. It could be that students are learning to use a grid pattern so that they can cover the full area that they're trying to clean," Matthews said.
Beyond the classes, Lighthouse Central Florida also helps with employment opportunities.
"We build trusting relationships and then work (with) candidates who would qualify for those jobs, and then supply job coaching and help those folks break into the workforce," Johnson said.
The organization even employs some of the candidates itself. Some of the employees work with products you may know and use regularly.
"If you received Magic Bands in the mail from Walt Disney World, our blind workforce built those boxes," Johnson said.
Those little boxes represent a more fulfilling life to those Lighthouse Central Florida serves.
"Ever since I walked in here for the first time, I discovered a new world. It's been... I describe it in one word: terrific," Roberto Concepción said.
He's been with the adult program for six weeks.
"They teach you indirectly how to have confidence in yourself and not to feel sorry for yourself," Concepción said.
The nonprofit organization has a call center, Lighthouse Works, where 92 percent of employees are blind or have little vision.
The CEO said the goal is to double the number of employees from 600 to 1,200 by Sept. 30, 2023.
For more information or to make a donations, visit LighthouseWorks.org.