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Lighthouse light dimmed but not extinguished

The light never went out. It flickered and suffered, but it's back on," said Scott Welles, new executive director at the Lighthouse for the Blind. Welles had just received word that a $5,000 grant had been awarded from the G. Kendall Smith Fund a...

The light never went out. It flickered and suffered, but it's back on," said Scott Welles, new executive director at the Lighthouse for the Blind.
Welles had just received word that a $5,000 grant had been awarded from the G. Kendall Smith Fund at the Duluth/Superior Area Community Foundation. This funding will help the Lighthouse continue its work with the community of blind and disabled that it serves.
The grant was made possible from funding provided by G. Kendall Smith, a man who was legally blind in his senior years and who had a son who was physically disabled, said Holly Sampson, president of the community foundation.
"Mr. Smith felt so strongly about helping people with disabilities integrate into the community. This grant to the Lighthouse is something he would have loved to see. It is absolutely consistent with his values," Sampson said.
More than $400,000 was invested this past spring in construction improvements to the facilities for the Lighthouse, as it moved to smaller headquarters inside the building it owns at 4505 W. Superior St., a building originally designed for the manufacturer of Bombardier snowmobiles.
Some 48,000 square feet of space at the site were leased to SMDC, which has moved its Nurses Online and telephone scheduling operations to the facility. There are plans to move other departments there, too, such as the print shop, said Harvey Anderson of SMDC.
The Lighthouse leased part of its building following financial woes that resulted in the nonprofit closing its tissue manufacturing operations. That closure had come on the heels of the organization litigating against the federal government.
"We just want people to know we're still here and serving the blind community," said Georgia Guite, director of rehabilitation services for the Lighthouse.
The $400,000 investment in renovation resulted in an attractive reception area, conference rooms, offices, training and work rooms and space for volunteers to gather. All room signs will be in braille, a feature not required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but a feature the Lighthouse staff considered important.
The employee count is about one fourth of its former level. Of the 15 employees, eight are blind, including two receptionists who are completely without sight. A new deaf/blind specialist is starting to work at the Lighthouse. "It took a year to find a person to fill this position," Guite said.
The Lighthouse's rehabilitation will be complete when a new entrance, handicapped-accessible, is finished. Funding of about $65,000 must first be secured for the one-story vestibule that is located on the north side of the building in what was previously the garage entrance. The former Lighthouse entrance on the west side of the building is used by SMDC and will be renovated to eliminate the Lighthouse signage.
Renaissance is a word that is becoming familiar in the West Duluth/Spirit Valley neighborhood. With new businesses locating to the area and some long-standing businesses making improvements, the area is experiencing new energy. A volunteer appreciation party was recently staged as a thank you for the countless hours some 70 people contribute to the Lighthouse's services. Catered by Grandma's restaurant, soon to be located in the Denfeld Center, the party acknowledged the efforts of volunteers who save the Lighthouse about $35,000 annually. Volunteers read on the radio of the air for the blind, drive clients to and from appointments and assist with other activities at the organization.
"We'd like to show the building to the community and have the opportunity to tell about our services," Guite said.
"People are welcome to call for appointments and for group tours," Guite said.

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