Thursday, May 8, 2003

Clovernook marks 100th year of opportunities for the blind

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Thelma Felker, who has worked at the Clovernook Center for the Blind for 35 years, proofreads a Braille version of the latest issue of Boys Life magazine at the center in North College Hill Tuesday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
Blind since birth, Thelma Felker learned to do the mundane as well as the extraordinary - thanks to training facilities like Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Today, she joins hundreds on Clovernook's North College Hill campus to eat a little cake and ice cream and, with much gratefulness, recognize the venerable institution's 100th birthday.

Clovernook began as Ohio's first home for blind women and now helps more than 1,000 of Greater Cincinnati's visually impaired learn, work and live as independently as possible.

The multifaceted organization has sites in Dayton and Memphis, Tenn.

"It's great that Clovernook has been here for 100 years because that helped a whole lot of people. One hundred years ago, there wasn't a lot for blind people to do. Some of (us) didn't have homes," said Felker, 68, who proofreads some of the 40 million Braille pages that Clovernook manufactures per year.

Cary Cottage, where Clovernook's first residents lived, holds an honored spot on the Hamilton Avenue campus. The white brick home is where Florence Trader and her blind sister, Georgia, drew up the mission.

"This little home is but a beginning of what we hope some day may be a large industrial home where both blind men and women may be employed at every industry possible for them, in this way enabling them to support themselves, which is the only true way of making them happy," reads Clovernook's first annual report, which rests on an old wooden table in Cary Cottage.

"We help people to stay independent," said Janet Burns, Clovernook vice president of development and community relations. "We keep people out of nursing homes. We keep people out of institutions. We give them self-esteem. We give them employment. We make them feel as if they are contributing members of society."

Clovernook has evolved from its origins. No longer a residential facility, its 500-plus employees and volunteers are constantly helping the young and old cope in a world that virtually stops at the end of their fingertips.

At any given time, a visitor might catch Clovernook's instructors as they guide a child through Braille lessons, help create a colorful ceramic masterpiece, or familiarize the child with the controls on a clothes washer so they can pitch in with chores around the house.

Adults are more likely to be found in sessions geared to help them cope with public transportation, renting an apartment, or preparing for job interviews.

Clovernook employs about 130 visually impaired people. The facility has helped others acquire jobs at Fifth Third Bank, Cintas, Pizza Hut, Time Warner Communications and other businesses.

Doug Armstrong, who sits on Clovernook's board of trustees, has been on the receiving end of Clovernook's services.

Born blind, his entire existence went awry when he moved from Winston-Salem, N.C., five years ago.

The practicing attorney didn't know his way around the Hamilton County Courthouse. He didn't know the judges or local attorneys - let alone the city's transportation system. A graduate of Wake Forest University, he couldn't find a job.

The Clovernook staff helped him spruce up his resume and interviewing skills, and soon he found employment with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati.

"I know from personal experience how helpful (Clovernook) is, was, can be," said Armstrong, 37, of Mount Carmel, who is now practicing on his own, specializing in employment law.

That's why he wants to be at today's birthday celebration, which will include tours, a retrospective by several employees, and the dedication of a historical marker for Cary Cottage.

"We've got to tell the world just what a wonderful place Clovernook has been. We have such a rich history," Armstrong said.

Sue Chaffin of Anderson Township has seen her son Matt, 19, blossom because of Clovernook's tutelage. The Anderson High School student was born with an underdeveloped optic nerve and is legally blind.

After attending one of Clovernook's job-training programs, he is now looking forward to graduation, finding employment and living away from his parents.

"They've been a huge positive force in his life," Sue Chaffin said. "They think about what they can do to help this person live independently, which is probably what any person wants."


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