When Rudy VanEmon was told he would need laser surgery after years of diabetes, he complied with his doctor's orders. During the surgery, however, things went terribly wrong when the sugar in his body began to attack his eyes. VanEmon was left with retinal detachment and diabetic retinopathy, both of which led to his diagnosis of being legally blind.
"I have no peripheral vision," he said. "It's like looking through a fog. You can't read without vision and there's no driving. They took my license away right away."
He was forced to give up his job at Grumman Olson, for which he painted parcel trucks. He also owned his own body shop for nine years, but without his vision, these jobs became impossible.
In 2005, VanEmon contacted Jamie Snyder, vice president of operations at North Central Sight Services Inc., 2121 Reach Road, who encouraged him to apply for social services at the agency. He began as a client that year, receiving support that is funded, in part, by Lycoming County United Way.
He received a closed-circuit television, a unit about the size of a microwave that allows those with low vision to read small text.
Staff at NCSS are assigned to help individuals such as VanEmon adjust to vision loss by helping go through mail, assist with correspondence and take care of bills.
"I was very depressed at the beginning," VanEmon said. "It is hard to have to rely on someone else."
As a number of individuals will attest, when one initially loses their vision, they may not only struggle with daily living tasks but those challenges can also cause many frustrations until they learn either on their own or with help to overcome those challenges and find a way to adapt, said Heather Engel, director of programs and services at North Central Sight Services Inc.
"Rudy has learned to overcome obstacles he faced due to his vision loss," Engel said. "Once Rudy learned various skills and techniques, as well as utilized low-vision products and services, he adapted to these new ways of doing things, which allowed him to regain independence and confidence."
VanEmon began employment at NCSS a few years ago working on the industry floor building flash drives and labels. Recently, however, he was promoted to production supervisor. His decision to work has positively affected his life, he said.
"It gives you a sense of worth," he said. "You feel like you're worth something. I can be more independent and I'm making a paycheck."
"Our agency offers employment to individuals with vision loss by assessing one's abilities while considering any challenges and matching them with the appropriate position," Engel said.
VanEmon, she added, is an important element to the North Central Sight Services team.
"He exemplifies a team leader," she said.
VanEmon has been fortunate to have family and friends who help get him where he needs to be. When no one is available, however, the transportation services at NCSS are helpful to him.
"Rudy is fortunate to have family and friends," Engel said. "But there are some people who don't have anybody. We are their family."
Through the social services provided by NCSS, he is able to get help with making doctor's appointments and important phone calls.
"The biggest thing for me when losing vision was not being able to see the time," VanEmon said. So he bought a watch that tells him the time as often as he needs. "When they (NCSS) first came to see me, I was using two magnifying glasses over each other to read things. These are the things I needed help with."
According to Engel, United Way dollars are used for social services, which are made up of support groups, support services such as reading mail, banking and going shopping; life skills; education; transportation; and escort services for essential errands. The Prevention of Blindness program, also supported by LCUW, is made up of blindness prevention and eye health education programs, as well as vision screenings.
"United Way funding is vital to our programs and services by allowing us to help individuals with vision loss to stay as independent as possible, as well as help to prevent possible vision problems in the community," Engel said. "We continue to receive funding cuts by federal and state programs. If funding sources continue to dwindle, we will be forced to reduce the services that we provide."
"At one time or another in our lives we have used or heard the expression about 'being kept in the dark.' Thankfully, for almost everyone, they don't have to experience the real life equivalent of same," said Scott N. Lowery, LCUW executive director. "For those with sight deprivation it is an everyday obstacle to their daily routine. The funding our United Way provides to North Central Sight Services provides the visually impaired with the tools necessary to remain as independent as possible, remain in their own homes and provides transportation, support groups and life skills. What we are able to provide is a small contribution that reaps huge dividends."
North Central Sight Services Inc. soon will open a low-vision store at its facility.
VanEmon has played an integral part in raising funds to support the project by using his love of playing pool to his advantage.
"I've always wanted to help. Even before my vision went I held tournaments each weekend," he said. "The tournaments over the past two months were to raise money for the store."
Contributions to Lycoming County United Way help support programs such as those offered by North Central Sight Services, as well as 42 other programs administered by local agencies.
To make a donation or for more information, visit lcuw.org or call 323-9448.