The Mena Lioness Club hosted World Services for the Blind (WSB) CEO, Sharon Giovinazzo, who presented information on what WSB does and why. Giovinazzo is a success story herself. She is blind and heads up a corporation, sending emails, making Facebook posts, and helping others, as any ‘able bodied’ person could.
Giovinazzo lost her sight in 2001 due to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. She previously served as a medical specialist in the United States Army as well as Vice President of Programs and Services at Raleigh Lions Clinic for the Blind, Inc. in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Legislative Affairs Specialist for the National Industries for the Blind.
Giovinazzo received her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Human Services Management at SUNY Empire State College, as well as, her MBA and Master’s of Social Work, both of which she graduated Summa Cum Laude. She is a certified trainer for the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, as well as, an Assistive Technology Professional. Giovinazzo is the recipient of multiple awards, including the American Legion Award for Military Excellence, the American Legion Award for Academic Excellence, and the Marjorie Thorpe Award for Excellence in Research and Writing MVCC, 2004.
She told the audience how she first became acquainted with Lions Club International when she was a young girl. She needed glasses and the Lions assisted with the purchase. “I have had people like Lions that have helped me along the way.” Giovinazzo has never let her blindness stop her from taking the next step and lives life with the motto, “adapt, overcome, and drive on.” Now living in Little Rock, she walks four blocks to work each day at WSB headquarters with her service dog, Watson. She quoted Booker T. Washington as saying, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”
She spends her days helping others to “adapt, overcome, and drive on.” At World Services of the Blind, Giovinazzo and the staff help blind persons ages 14 and older learn life skills and career training. According to their website, “From working in IT and teaching assistive technology to managing an office or helping consumers with tax and credit issues, our career training programs utilize the latest technology to level the playing field for professionals who are blind or visually impaired.” They also help with community access, helping them find jobs after they have received training. “My first job as a blind person was stuffing 100 gloves into a box,” she laughed. But it gave her a job, with an income, and a sense of pride to be able to support herself.
The mission of WSB is to empower people who are blind or visually impaired to achieve sustainable independence. Members of the local community with blind family members were quite interested to hear of the services offered and are excited to see a future for their children through World Services of the Blind, knowing that there are jobs available to help them find independence as an adult.
Mika Harry, mother of Vivie Anne explained. “During the past fourteen and a half years since my daughter, Vivie Anne, was born I have attended many conferences seeking information on how to best advocate and support her. She is fully blind; however, just like any parent, my hope is for her to experience the world and its fullness, not just “listen” to it. Vivie is so very smart, and I believe in her. But what about her future? What happens when she is ready to leave home and go out on her own? Will she be safe? Will she get to live out her dreams? Will I have done enough? These scary questions are commonplace in my mind. Yet, last Thursday night…several of these questions were silenced.”
Harry’s impression of Giovinazzo only grew throughout the evening. “Meeting Sharon was an honor. The past fourteen years have trained me to spot blindness from a distance, and I honestly could not tell she could see nothing. Her manner was very confident and outgoing. This extremely intelligent woman told her story of becoming blind and of adjusting to her new life. Having an example of success and her “no holds back” attitude was inspiring. She does not allow herself to be limited. At one moment she even said “With all the tools I have, am I really even blind?” This statement shocked me at first. But as I pondered her boldness, I realized the hope she defined… and I want that same perspective for Vivie Anne.”
Harry also expressed her relief in knowing that Vivie has a bright future ahead with the assistance of WSB. “And at fourteen years of age, all these tools are available to my precious daughter through World Services for the Blind and Lions Clubs. Vivie will be able to be independent and successful because of resources and training that is provided. She will have access to training in life skills, career training, and ACT prep. Even better, she can engage with other students her age who are blind.”
She thanked the Lioness for their involvement with WSB. “I am so grateful to the Lioness Club for bringing Sharon Giovinazzo to our community. The tools I learned about will help me to provide Vivie with more accessibility to the world and open doors of opportunity for her. However, listening to Sharon as an example of accomplishment was the most beneficial of all. It was incredibly encouraging for my family. I believe with all my heart that some day Vivie will be that same encouragement for those around her… No, I believe she already is, but with these resources our community will soon see her doing so more efficiently and more independently.”
David Graff, Chairman of the WSB Foundation Board said, “People that seek World Services for the Blind services don’t live off of the government. They want to live for themselves.” Giovinazzo said, “People that seek our services come in blind. They leave with the vision of a brighter future.”
For more information on WSB, contact them at 501-664-7100 or 800-248-0734. You can also visit their website: http://www.wsblind.org/.