At age 101, Duluth’s Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss has gotten bigger — not in size, but in mission.
While continuing to offer services for the blind and visually impaired, Lighthouse Center now is available to people with other disabilities also.
“We felt it just made sense,” said Mary Junnila, the nonprofit’s executive director. “And we hope that it also makes sense for our organization financially.”
Lighthouse Center started developing the broader mission in 2018, she said, but it was only three months ago that its board officially approved the all-disabilities focus.
That roughly coincides with the hiring of Sheri Cooke to direct what the center calls its “Technology and Me” program.
Cooke is among fewer than a dozen professionals in northern Minnesota certified as assistive technology professionals, Junnila said.
Cooke helps people find and learn the technology that can help them.
“I can go into someone’s home and do a room-by-room assessment,” Cooke said. “More than likely there’s probably an adaptation or a device that a lot of people don’t even know about.”
In addition to Cooke’s ability to help people with all sorts of disabilities, Lighthouse Center also has occupational therapists whose skills are broader than only assisting people with vision loss, Junnila said.
Lighthouse Center covers all of northern Minnesota, she said. It doesn’t make sense to send therapists long distances to only focus on low vision when they could be helping with other needs as well.
The center doesn’t see itself competing with other nonprofits serving the disabled, said Betsy Mistek, its associate director. Instead, it can connect people to the various services that are available.
“It’s a lot of collaboration with all of these other agencies and resources,” she said. “I feel like we can be the heart of that and help guide people on this journey.”
Outside of Cooke, the agency isn’t expanding its staff, Junnila said. The 14 staff members served more than 2,000 people last year.
In spite of the expanded mission, it’s still the Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss, at least for now.
“Eventually, there might be a name change,” Junnila said. “But we’ll wait on that.”
To learn more
The Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss is located at 4505 W. Superior St. Call 218-624-4828 or visit lcfvl.org.