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Lighthouse for the Blind has new director

The new director of Lighthouse for the Blind-Rehabilitation Services is wasting no time in making big changes at the agency. Scott Welles became the new executive director earlier this month, and already sledge hammers and jack hammers are tearin...

The new director of Lighthouse for the Blind-Rehabilitation Services is wasting no time in making big changes at the agency. Scott Welles became the new executive director earlier this month, and already sledge hammers and jack hammers are tearing down walls. Before too long, carpenters will be erecting new ones. It's all part of a major restructuring following the discontinuation of the industry side of the Lighthouse.
In the former factory, rolls of paper were converted into toilet paper, tissues and napkins. But the focus now is on rehabilitation services, providing employment services so that the visually impaired, blind and deafblind can be integrated into the commercial work place. Several changes are in the works to complete that transformation and to make it into a financially viable operation.
A $360,000 capital campaign is underway to pay for a major remodeling of the Lighthouse. The ground floor will become Lighthouse for the Blind-Rehabilitation Services, and the second floor will be leased to St. Mary's/Duluth Clinic (SMDC) for office space and possibly a print shop. SMDC has signed a seven-year lease for 46,000 square feet at the Lighthouse. Meanwhile, all services provided at the Lighthouse for the Blind will be moved to a portion of the ground floor -- 7,400 square feet. "What we are doing is consolidating, getting it all into one neat package," Welles said.
The agreement will help the Lighthouse financially now that it has lost a third of its funding with the shutdown of the factory. "This leasing arrangement is something this agency has needed for a long time," Welles said. "It's a big plus for St. Mary's. It's a big plus for us. It's a big plus in the sense that our students will have a nice, new high tech area to come to for training. And it allows us the freedom to go into the future."
Welles expects the transformation to be complete by May. Separate entrances will keep the two uses at the building completely independent of one another.
With a new streamlined operation, Welles and Georgia Guite, director of rehabilitation services at the Lighthouse, hope to move ahead with plans to increase services for their clients. With sufficient funding Guite is looking forward to expanding services, increasing the number of support groups available and establishing a scholarship program so that people who live outside the area who wouldn't qualify for other financial support could still come to the Lighthouse.
"We are continuing to seek funding so that we have a strong base," Guite said. "We have a lot of dreams. We'd like to be able to provide scholarships for people outside the area."
As the new executive director, Welles says it will be his job to find funding to pay the dreams of his staff. "The staff doesn't come to me with problems," he said. "They come to me with challenges and with some ideas of how we can get to where we want to be. And it's my job to get the money there -- which I love doing."
The Lighthouse employs 12 people and is assisted by about 80 volunteers. They serve between 230 and 250 clients every year, teaching them to adapt to developing blindness or teaching them new skills to help them have normal lives in the community. The average age of clients used to be around 60. Now it's down to about 40. "It's dropping," Guite said. "We're seeing a lot of younger people who are coming in for employment services training and technology training. We have a state of the art technology lab. I think that's what's pulled people into the agency."

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