Leaders at Perkins School for the Blind unveiled ambitious plans for the future on Thursday night. Addressing a crowd of nearly 500 at the 14th annual Possibilities Gala, they outlined a blueprint for addressing both the new leading cause of blindness among children and growing demand for services abroad.
Starting the night, Perkins President and CEO Dave Power explained how Cortical, or Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) – a disorder characterized not by ocular deterioration, but damage to visual pathways in the brain – has reached a crisis point. The disorder has exploded in prevalence, he continued, but the absence of diagnostic and educational tools has left affected families everywhere without a support system.
From a global perspective, Power went on to discuss India as home to a massive population of children with visual impairment and multiple disabilities, with many living in extreme poverty and isolation. He added the lack of available services and shortage of qualified educators has led to extreme demand for support.
Perkins, he said, is meeting both of these challenges head on.
“Perkins is stepping into a national role around CVI, leading the dialogue with educational leaders, partnering with medical leaders like Brigham and Women’s, Mass. General and Boston Children’s to define better diagnostics and partnering with UMass to improve training for special needs teachers,” said Power. “In India, our new initiative will focus on assessment and early intervention to ensure that more than 1 million children are identified, receive pre-school services and make it to school.”
The message resonated. Attendees gave more than $1 million in support of launching those new initiatives, as well as to back the organization’s preexisting educational, professional and transition programs, on campus, throughout New England and around the world. The ever-popular Technology Challenge raised more than $120,000 to equip more students with cutting edge technological tools to help them live independently.
During her opening remarks, Chair of the Board Corinne Basler expressed her gratitude that so many people, including those with no personal connection to blindness, have been touched by the school’s mission. She credited the connection to the school’s “true purpose” of “helping one another.”
“It’s inclusive, it’s unifying and it’s really beautiful,” she said. “I cannot overstate the value of our teachers and staff in promoting this culture of compassion.”
Other speakers, like Gala co-chairs Kevin Bright, a television producer, and Les Hiscoe, CEO of Shawmut Design and Construction, touched on the organization’s influence in the community. Students also performed lighthearted skits throughout the night while guests were further treated to bookending musical performances. One was a medley of ABBA tunes performed by the Perkins Chorus with backing from the Berklee College of Music Band. The other was a lively set by the Blind Boys of Alabama, a GRAMMY Award winning soul group.
In the end, though, the night was about coming together with key supporters to empower children with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities and in underserved communities.
“Our founders gave us a big mission,” said Power. “With your support, we’re going way beyond the Watertown campus to help children unlock their full potential.”