Blind Beginnings is a non-profit organization that provides diverse programs, experiences and counselling to children and youth who are blind or partially sighted and their families. Recently we spoke with Shawn Marsolais, Founder and Director of Programs & Community Engagement, to learn more about their mission and ways to help.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.
Blind Beginnings is a registered charity whose mission is to inspire children and youth who are blind or partially sighted and their families by providing diverse programs, experiences, counselling and peer support, and opportunities for them to create fulfilling lives. We support all members of the family with workshops, support groups, family retreats, camps, hands-on experiential outings, and a youth leadership & pre-employment program. Blind Beginnings shifts perceptions of blindness by supporting the child/youth who is blind and their immediate family, as well as working to change society’s perceptions of blindness.
What problem does it aim to solve?
The problem is the negative perception of blindness that most of us have. We live in a society that values sight, so therefore if you have little to no sight you are seen to have a deficit. We see this when programs are not accessible to a child who is blind, or when print materials are not offered in alternate format, and it is clearly measurable in the 75% unemployment rate for individuals who are blind. When parents have these limiting beliefs about blindness they will unintentionally pass them on to the child and the cycle continues. Support for families around this is critical.
When did you start/join it?
I founded Blind Beginnings in 2008 after working in the blindness field for approximately 8 years. I grew up with a visual impairment at a time when there was little support for families raising blind children. I saw that there was still a need and began to work towards creating the support I wish my family and I had received.
What made you want to get involved?
I saw the potential in the blind children I was working with and I wanted to do whatever I could to ensure that they would see their worth and pursue their dreams.
What was the situation like when you started?
I learned very quickly that I didn’t know much about starting a charity, and that it was going to take more than passion to accomplish this goal. Thankfully I had the support of some families with blind children who helped me determine the purpose of the organization and provided support as I followed the steps to build the organization.
How has it changed since?
It has evolved from me working in my apartment by myself with no funding to a staff of 8 and a $500,000+ annual budget. We’ve gone from supporting less than 10 families in Metro Vancouver to supporting hundreds of families across British Columbia.
What more needs to be done?
We need a home for the organization. We’ve outgrown our current space and are looking for our forever home where we can create the necessary environment to teach independent living skills and help our youngest members reach their developmental milestones. We also continue to rely heavily on grants for funding which means never knowing if we will have the funds to do the important work we want to do.
How can our readers help?
Listen to and share our podcast “Limitless: The Blind Beginnings Podcast”, which can be found here (or anywhere you listen to podcasts). Each week we talk about blindness-related topics and talk to individuals who are blind about their interesting adventures and pursuits. This is a great way to gain a more accurate idea of what it means to be blind. Blind Beginnings is also available to offer Blindness 101 – a workshop that provides the basics of blindness to businesses, organizations, schools, and individuals who want to learn more. You can also help by signing up to be a volunteer or becoming a monthly donor. More details can be found on our website.
Do you have any events coming up?
Our annual gala will be taking place on Saturday, May 6, 2023, at the Wall Centre in Vancouver. This year’s Blind Beginnings Limitless Gala – “Off to the Races” will be an evening filled with interactive fundraising games, entertainment, inspirational speeches, awards, auction, a delicious dinner, dancing and more! This is our main fundraiser and funds raised at our Gala help fund all our programs throughout the year.
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
VocalEye – an organization that describes live theatre and other community events to make them accessible to patrons who are blind.