By Karen Shih
Some take on the world’s oldest annual marathon. Some brave frosty winter nights to bring community members together during the holidays. Some open their homes to host intimate dinners and charm crowds during major campus fundraisers.
No matter how they give back, it’s clear the passionate parents at Perkins School for the Blind are dedicated to creating the best possible future for not only their children – but generations of students who are visually impaired.
“I want to be able to serve the school and community that has done so much for our family,” said Eric Ferreira, father of a Lower School student, also named Eric.
He and two other parents recently shared how they make a difference:
Perkins has been there for the Ferreira family since the younger Eric was just 3 months old. That’s why last year, Ferreira decided to tackle the Boston Marathon® as part of the Perkins Marathon Team. The police officer and member of the Marine Corps Reserve ran 26.2 hilly miles from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to Boston and raised more than $10,000.
“Eric receives the best possible education from the school and the staff,” Ferreira said. “I would like to do my part to say thank you.”
The Ferreira family’s first connection to Perkins came through a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), who visited Eric at their Methuen home regularly until he was 3 years old. Eric then transitioned to the Early Learning Center at Perkins’ Watertown campus, a specialized preschool program where he learned sign language as he lost his ability to communicate verbally. Today, he’s a rambunctious 11-year-old in the Lower School.
“His most cheerful and proudest moments are spent doing his happy dance and navigating his way through campus, sometimes backwards, with the use of his white cane,” said Ferreira.
Ferreira and his wife, Becky, also found a community at Perkins. They joined a Perkins-sponsored parent support group, where they could share the unique joys and challenges of raising children who are blind.
“We have watched many of their children grow and thrive through the past nine years and are grateful for lifelong friendships made,” Ferreira said.
Michelle and Chris Lin with baby Jackson. They hosted a fundraiser for the Deafblind Program at a friend's hair salon.
It was the coldest night of the year, with temperatures in the single digits and a brutal wind chill.
But the moment Chris and Michelle Lin stepped inside Salon Acote on Newbury Street in Boston and saw the enthusiastic crowd, their hearts warmed. A mix of friends from the deafblind and CHARGE syndrome communities, as well as Perkins teachers and staff, mingled with salon clients and other guests.
“It was thrilling to see so many people come out,” said Chris, who organized the fundraiser with his friend and salon owner Alex Safar. “It really got people in the spirit of doing something good for a great cause.”
The Lin family had welcomed baby Jackson into the world two years earlier. They quickly discovered he had CHARGE syndrome, a genetic disorder that often causes deafblindness. They turned to Perkins, which sent a TVI, and they also signed Jackson up for Perkins’ Infant-Toddler Program, so he could socialize with peers with visual impairments.
When Safar offered Chris the chance to choose a recipient for his yearly fundraiser, Chris picked Perkins.
“Perkins has been so welcoming to us,” he said. “I thought raising awareness and support for an institution that so profoundly helps with deafblindness would be the best cause.”
He worked with Deafblind Program Educational Director Martha Majors to come up with a list of items for attendees to sponsor, like an adaptive tricycle, hearing aids and replacement glasses.
The success of the event has inspired him to do more. “This was a stepping stone for us. Awareness is something that happens over time, so we want to keep going.”
Mona and A.J. Jomaa at the Perkins Possibilities Gala. She has served as a committee member for Perkins events for many years.
It's impossible to think of a Perkins event without Mona Jomaa. Since her son Omar enrolled at Perkins in 2000, she’s not only lent her time to the Perkins Possibilities Gala and the Taste of Perkins planning committees, but hosted many dinners and cocktail parties at her home that raise awareness and funds for Perkins.
“Opening my house to donors and parents alike is an opportunity to meet new people and to express my passion for Perkins,” said Jomaa. “I take the attitude of ‘Whatever it takes’ to increase awareness about our blind kids.”
She’s touched particularly by those who have donated without having a family connection to blindness. That’s why it’s important for students to mingle with guests during the events, she said. Omar, a talented musician, often dazzles supporters with his piano prowess.
“It’s important for donors to come to campus to see where their money is going: technology, job coaching, art, entertainment and education,” she said.
The path to Perkins wasn’t easy for the Jomaa family. Jomaa and her husband A.J. had originally settled in Houston, but when Omar was born, the local school district didn’t offer the services he needed. They made the difficult decision to have Mona move with Omar to Massachusetts, while A.J. stayed behind with his business and commuted to be with the family on weekends.
But it’s all been worth it, Jomaa said. “Perkins was such a blessing for Omar and us.”
Omar graduated from Perkins this spring, and will be attending Berkshire Hills Music Academy in January. But after 17 years of volunteering for Perkins – and encouraging other parents to do the same – Jomaa has no intention of diminishing her role.
“It was never about only Omar,” she said. “It’s about every blind kid that deserves a chance to succeed.”
You don’t have to be a parent to support Perkins. Visit Perkins.org/get-involved to learn how you can help.