Like a light in the dark, Lackawanna Blind Association remained dedicated to its clients, even during a global pandemic.
Headquartered on Adams Avenue in downtown Scranton, LBA has provided support to visually impaired people since 1912, including client support and services, prevention, social activities, life enrichment and more. The nonprofit offers free services to clients, and so it relies heavily on donations for a large portion of its budget, according to Social Work Coordinator Mary Claire Boylan.
Like most of the world, Boylan said, LBA took a hard hit because of the coronavirus pandemic, as did organizations it receives funding from, including the United Way and the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind. To compound matters, LBA had to cancel each of its events last year thanks to COVID-19, including its major fundraisers, the William J. Jordan, M.D., Memorial Swing for Sight golf tournament; the Scranton Lions Club Dream Game; and the Helen Keller Day Fashion Show and Luncheon, hosted by Friends of the Blind.
The latter is “a beautiful affair,” Boylan said, and organizers, staff and clients alike were devastated to miss it.
“It’s always such a happy day where we get to reflect on what we’ve accomplished in the past year and honor our clients and volunteers and bring in the community,” Boylan said. “It’s a great meal, there’s great prizes, entertainment by DJ Edwin Velez. … It’s a really, really special day.”
This year, though, organizers sought a new way to hold the gathering.
“We thought, ‘How can we do something socially distanced and safe that was an ode to the fashion show?'” Boylan recalled. “We need something to keep that community aspect alive.”
Along with LBA staff and organizers, Friends of the Blind, which supports the agency and its mission, came up with a pandemic-friendly alternative to its biggest event.
This year, the Helen Keller Day Drive-Through Celebration takes place Sunday, April 11, from 1 to 4p.m. in the parking lot of Fiorelli Catering, 1501 Main St., Peckville. Tickets cost $20 and include a takeout dinner of pasta and meatballs, salad, rolls and butter. Guests also can enter to win a raffle and baskets and join in a wine pull. Guests can choose red or white wine and then will pull from an assorted selection of mystery bottles that range from affordable to more expensive vintages.
Reservations are required by Monday, April 5. For tickets, visit lackwannablind.org or the LBA’s Facebook page or call 570-342-7613.
“This is a very different kind of year, but we have such a dedicated group of organizers and volunteers that are putting so much hard work in to make this event fun and successful,” said
Mary Lou Wascavich, LBA executive director. “We have amazing community sponsors, too – Toyota of Scranton and Peoples Security Bank – (that) have made this event possible. … It’s nice to have that community support.”
Although last year’s fundraising events didn’t happen, the association’s services never lapsed. The LBA had to cease all in-person group activities in mid-March 2020 after a state mandate but adapted, providing essential services to clients via Zoom audio support groups or over the phone. It also imparted life skills education about the coronavirus along with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to keep clients updated on new information to stay safe and healthy.
“We couldn’t leave our clients without resources like that,” Wascavich said. “It’s a pandemic, but life goes on. People need groceries, they need to play their bills, they need to know what’s happening in the news and the latest updates, not to mention other services. It was so important we stayed connected with them during these difficult times.”
The Lackawanna Blind Radio Reading Service continued to broadcast throughout the pandemic with longtime Program Manager Paul Trama as well as volunteers reading the news to clients during the program, which airs Mondays through Fridays from 8 to 10 a.m. on 99.5 FM, WUSR.
And, thanks to a grant from the Schwartz-Mack Foundation, LBA presented radios to blind and visually impaired residents in nursing homes throughout Lackawanna County last year. This is a priceless service to be able to provide to so many residents, Wascavich said.
“We were so appreciative, and the (nursing homes) were so grateful to receive them,” she added. “We got great feedback on that.”
On July 1, Lackawanna County moved into the green phase of coronavirus-related restrictions, which allowed LBA to resume its group activities with social distancing guidelines from the CDC. When COVID-19 cases began to rise again in November, however, the organization had to close once again but resumed its remote services.
Finding new ways to continue these services during the pandemic not only kept clients connected with their typical programming but also helped reduce isolation, especially for clients living alone, Wascavich said. Some clients even noted that they leaned on LBA and its outreach even more after the pandemic hit.
“(They) said that LBA was a lifesaver,” Wascavich said. “We’re always committed to doing our best and doing everything we can to serve our clients and this community, but it shows how important these services are.”
Creating a community is another part of LBA’s mission. Turning the fashion show and luncheon into a drive-through event was so important to organizers because it provides a way for clients, volunteers and staff to see each other, Boylan said.
“Even though it’s not the same and we’ll be social distancing, it’s still going to be a fun event and something to look forward to,” she said. “I think that’s what so many of us enjoy about it. It brings everyone together.”
Right now, supporters are working hard to get the word out to attract a big audience to the event. They hope that by next year they can resume the fashion show, a beloved event that clients and volunteers alike benefit from in more ways than one.
“It’s all about the community aspect of it,” Wascavich said. “We didn’t want to have to cancel it again. We hope everyone will come out and support us and have a great time.”
If you go
What: Helen Keller Day drive-through event
When: Sunday, April 11, 1 to 4p.m.
Where: Fiorelli Catering parking lot, 1501 Main St., Peckville
Details: Tickets cost $20, and reservations are required by Monday, April 5. For tickets, visit lackwannablind.org or the LBA’s Facebook page or call 570-342-7613. Proceeds benefit Lackawanna Blind Association.
Contact the Lackawanna Blind Association, 228 Adams Ave., Scranton, at 570-342-7613, email@example.com or lackawannablind.org.
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT