Dining In The Dark

MAYVILLE – It’s hard to understand the extent to which one takes eyesight for granted until the use of vision is removed.

At Chautauqua Suites in Mayville on Thursday night, the Chautauqua Blind Association once again hosted its Dining in the Dark event.

The event centers around attendees eating while blindfolded, to provide the unique experience of eating without being able to see – a daily task for individuals with vision impairment and blindness.

Roughly 155 area residents attended – an increase over last year’s 130 attendees.

According to Lisa Goodell, executive director of the Chautauqua Blind Association, the event is about education and awareness.

“This is the 93rd year the association has been providing services in the community,” Goodell said. “Hopefully, each guest will leave here with a little better understanding of what it is like to live with vision loss.”

According to Goodell, hundreds of individuals in Chautauqua County live everyday with vision loss.

“We enable people to cope with vision loss,” she said. “Vision rehabilitation can help you do anything and empower you to do what you want to do with your life.”

Before dinner was served, Goodell framed the lighthearted nature of the event.

“Feel free to come up with your own techniques to eat- no one’s watching,” she joked.

Two clients of the Chautauqua Blind Association, Louise Teft and Mike Herlong, were in attendance to share in the experience of the dinner, as well as to speak prior to dinner. Both Teft and Herlong shared their experience with loss of vision and how the Chautauqua Blind Association has helped them live life to the fullest.

Teft, who is 98, still lives on her own in an apartment. According to her, the association has been instrumental in her living independently.

Herlong said that although he was diagnosed with a retinal disease as a child, it was “a mountain peak in the distance.” He recently reached the base of the mountain when his vision began to deteriorate and found himself at a crossroad.

“Will I quit or climb the mountain? I’ve had my own sherpas at the Chautauqua Blind Association who have opened my eyes. I’m eternally grateful for all of their help,” he said.

With his typical quick wit, Herlong added that he is probably the only blind florist people will ever meet. He owns Fresh & Fancy Flowers in Fredonia.

The event was also a learning opportunity for occupational therapy students of Jamestown Community College and pre-health club students from SUNY Fredonia.

The dinner was catered by Chautauqua Suites’ in-house restaurant, Olive’s, and featured four entree choices: beef, chicken, salmon and vegetarian ravioli.

While dessert was served, the silent auction and basket drawing was held. Auctioned items included baskets from local businesses, signed photographs of athletes, a hockey stick from the Buffalo Sabres and various pieces of artwork. One piece of artwork was created by a blind local high school student and sold for $200.

The funds raised will help the Chautauqua Blind Association provide rehabilitation services to more than 800 community members and 1,900 children who receive vision screening exams. Last year, the event raised nearly $4,000 – nearly twice the amount raised in previous years.

“We give away our services to the legally blind for free, and the funds we raise stay here locally,” Goodell said. “That includes rehabilitation training, adaptive devices, orientation and mobility training such as those with white canes or guide sticks. We also work with the Department of Transportation to put in the crossing signals that beep, chirp and chime. We also have students of SUNY Fredonia who are legally blind that we help to learn the route from their dorm to the union building or classrooms.”

The Chautauqua Blind Association works with people with vision difficulties, the legally blind and the completely blind. Through visual screenings on children, the association hopes to cut down on future vision problems for area residents.

Chautauqua Suites is located at 215 W. Lake Road in Mayville.

For more information about the Chautauqua Blind Association, visit www.chautauquablind.org.