The Fort Worth nonprofit was founded during the Great Depression in 1935 by Willie Fay Lewis, who was sent to Fort Worth by the Texas Commission for the Blind. On the outside, the Lighthouse’s warehouse on 912 W. Broadway Ave. seems like any other office building in the area, but inside multilayered production, operations abound.
In 1973, Robert W. Mosteller was named president of the Lighthouse. Under his leadership, the Lighthouse’s operations transformed from manufacturing mops and brooms to manufacturing shipping containers and military products.
In 1952, the nonprofit moved from its original location at 1710 Washington St. to 912 W. Broadway Ave., where it has been for nearly 70 years. The nonprofit’s production needs grew and so did their need for workers, prompting the move.
In 2008, Platt L. Allen, III was named president of Lighthouse for the Blind of Fort Worth.
Fort Worth is painted in murals — more than 175, to be exact. Not one, though, is accessible for visually impaired residents.
The Lighthouse for the Blind of Fort Worth plans to change that. The nonprofit is commissioning a mural featuring tactile elements so blind residents can partake in this growing culture of art.
Fort Worth muralist Kristen Soble and the Lighthouse are partnering to bring the creation to life. The mural’s exact design and intention are still in the early planning stages, but Lisa Fellers, Lighthouse’s head of development, said it will implement “a little history, training, education, awareness and beautification of the area.”
“There is a lot we can do with it,” said Soble, a Weatherford native who was recently named Fort Worth Magazine’s Best Artist. “There’s this aspect of wanting this mural to teach the blind something. At Lighthouse for the Blind, they teach them how to navigate their world and how to work using their skills. So, part of this wall, we’ve discussed, will be part of their education process.”
Lighthouse’s mural is intended to be for both sighted viewers and visually impaired residents. Soble has reached out to contractors and sculptors. She wants viewers to “feel joy and passion and creativity.”
Work on the mural is set to begin Sept. 23, said Curtis Rhodes, the communications and content creator at the Lighthouse. Eventually, the organization will use the mural as a part of its orientation and mobility training for the blind.
A second, much smaller, mural will be painted on the front side of the Lighthouse’s building. The second mural will be funded by the North Texas Giving Day event, which focuses on providing funding for nonprofit organizations. The second mural will be geared toward the sighted public.
“This is Fort Worth’s best-hidden secret,” Lighthouse for the Blind of Fort Worth President Platt L. Allen, III said. “It is hard to get a community to care about an issue that only affects 2% of people.”
An estimated 702,500 Texans are blind, according to the National Federation of the Blind. The statutory definition of “legally blind” is that central visual acuity must be 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction or that the visual field must be twenty degrees or less,” according to the federation.
Tarrant’s largest employer of the blind
Lighthouse’s workforce is 51% blind or visually impaired, making it one of the largest employers of sight-impaired residents in Tarrant County. The nonprofit organization has 62 workers who work on 120 products.
The Lighthouse packages and ships paper products, adult diapers, cushioning cardboard used in military airdrops, foam pads used by the military, containers for the Mighty Max Cart, a multipurpose cart, target practice cardboard cutouts and eyeglasses in partnership with SwissFlex.
The nonprofit receives 500 contract requests a month but the Lighthouse only takes on about 10 contracts out of the bunch, Sean McNeill, the head of sales and business development, said.
“Sometimes the requests we receive don’t fit our workforce,” McNeill said. “We only accept products that we know we can produce.”
Future plans for the Lighthouse for the Blind include “Mission Optical,” an effort to provide discounted eye exams for students and provide free glasses made by the nonprofit organization. Lighthouse is partnering with Fort Worth ISD and local optometrists for the endeavour, which also will create eyeglass production jobs for the blind and visually impaired.
“There is such a need for affordable glasses,” Fellers said. “It (the need for glasses) affects their education and how they see the blackboard and literacy and on and on and on.”
Optometrists participating in the program agreed to provide $40 exams.
“The student and their family will only be paying for the exam and the rest is free and donated,” Fellers said.
An estimated 63,357 students in the U.S. are blind, according to the Nation Federation of the Blind’s study.
The eyeglass line has been operating at a low level because of the pandemic, but Rhodes hopes Mission Optical will ramp up its production as life starts to normalize.
Lighthouse hopes that Mission Optical and their mural for the blind appeal to the public and donors and shine a light on blind residents in the community. The Lighthouse will hold a focus group with Soble, some visually impaired workers and their board of directors where they will formulate ideas targeting their fundraising appeal.
“We’re adding that (the tactile component of the mural) on for our clients and as another attractive aspect for our donors,” Rhodes said. “Yes, they love the art, but we also want to take that (the mural’s purpose) further.”
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