What do you get when you combine 10 years and hundreds of blindfolds? More than $800,000 raised to support children and young adults who are blind.
Thursday night, Perkins School for the Blind celebrated a decade of Taste of Perkins, a unique, multi-sensory evening of food and fun. Young professionals, Perkins parents and friends and Boston-area philanthropists mingled in the historic Howe Building on the warm fall evening while enjoying the musical stylings of Perkins students.
“It’s a blast,” said Olgo Russo, a Taste of Perkins committee member since its inception. “It brings together a really different group of people. With the blindfold tasting, the challenge is there, and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve been doing it for 10 years, and I think I’ve identified one item.”
The highlight of the evening is always the tasting room. Guests put on blindfolds before they enter Dwight Hall, then are led into the room by a sighted guide. They have a choice of beer or wine tastings, as well as some savory and sweet bites. As they try each item, they rely on their senses of touch, smell and taste to identify what they’re eating and drinking.
“It’s very disconcerting at first, but it’s a really cool sensory experience when you’re deprived of your sight,” said Nicole Heisler, a friend of Perkins parent and Taste of Perkins committee member Cara Coller. “You get to step into someone else’s shoes.”
Heisler came to the Taste of Perkins to support students like Coller’s daughter, Izzy, a student in the Lower School. “It’s mind-blowing, seeing Izzy grow over the last three years,” said Heisler, who marveled at her socialization skills and ability to navigate with a white cane.
Throughout the evening, guests bid on a variety of items at the silent auction. There was something for everyone, from tickets to a Patriots game to Perkins student artwork, a whale watch out of Boston Harbor to a weekend at a cottage in Maine.
They also learned more about the many services Perkins offers. Perkins Library staffers demonstrated the new Orbit Reader, a low-cost refreshable braille display, as well as Microsoft’s Seeing AI app, which they used to scan barcodes on various items and take pictures of guests’ faces to identify key characteristics. It was an unexpected hit, said Perkins Library Director Kim Charlson, as people kept sending their friends over to see if the app could guess their age.
Perkins International’s Educational Leadership Program participants, from countries like Egypt, Bangladesh and Poland, shared stories of how they teach students with visual impairment and multiple disabilities. The Assistive Device Center brought examples of its custom cardboard creations for Perkins students, while Perkins Research Librarian Jennifer Arnott and Archivist Jen Hale explained the history of Perkins as well as the development and significance of braille.
No matter what part of the evening guests enjoyed most, they all emphasized their belief in Perkins’ mission to educate children and young adults who are blind.
“It’s an inspiring organization,” said Russo, whose childhood best friend was a Perkins student, and whose family’s grocery business has supported the school for a century. “Perkins does remarkable work here and abroad. Everybody has to have a chance to succeed.”