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$1 Donation Makes a Difference: DPH's Drive for Sight program aids visually impaired

January 6, 2014

Originally published May 28, 2013

McClain Hermes, 12, is too young to get a driver's license, but she appreciates the $1 donation from drivers renewing or applying for one.  

Those contributions go to the Georgia Department of Public Health's (DPH) Drive for Sight Program, which supports partners who provide low vision education, rehabilitation and treatment services for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Subie Green, president of The Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI), uses the funding for children's vision screenings, eye exams for adults in need, training for those who have lost vision and public education about eye donation.

"Drive for Sight makes it possible for many Georgians with vision loss to learn the skills they need to be successful at school and work, and to live in their own homes instead of care facilities," said Green. "I'm inspired by the commitment of our clients to become and remain independent, to stay involved and to be contributing members of our communities -- all because of the $1 donations from Georgia drivers renewing their driver's licenses."

McClain, a CVI client, began experiencing vision loss in October 2009 when she had her first retinal detachment. She has experienced two additional retinal detachments and progressive vision loss in her left eye. Her official diagnosis is still undetermined.

She has been involved with CVI's Social, Therapeutic, Academic and Recreational Services (STARS) since 2012, participating in summer camp, the after-school program and other activities. In the after-school program, she has received braille instruction and taken music and self-defense classes.

Through STARS, McClain met mentor Carrie Willoughby, who is legally blind and a 2000 Paralympian. Willoughby is helping McClain prepare mentally and emotionally to compete as a swimmer in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

McClain gets a lot of support through STARS, said her mother, Carmen Hermes.

"Until [my daughter] started coming to STARS, she never met other visually impaired kids and we were having a hard time with her being self-advocating," said Carmen. "The older kids in the STARS program have taught her how to be her own advocate, as well as use assistive technology such as the iPhone. It has empowered her to know that she is not the only one [visually impaired]. Being in STARS and having a mentor like Carrie Willoughby is helping her (and us) to know that in spite of her vision loss, McClain can reach her full potential."

Willoughby agreed that CVI programs help make life adjustments easier for McClain and others who are visually impaired.

"The first level that comes to mind is taking the intimidation factor away from someone who can't adjust because they will feel alone or that no one understands," said Willoughby. "The second is CVI's programs and networks provide awareness, resources and a strong support network to let the individual decide for themselves, but with strong encouragement to participate in sports, academics and become socially involved with others in the same situation."

For more information on DPH'S Drive for Sight Program, partners, or how to donate, visit  http://dph.georgia.gov/georgia-drive-sight-program

In partnership with Georgia Vision Collaborative, GDFS will co-host Focus on Eye Health: An Aging Eye Summit on June 26. To register, visit www.georgiavisioncollaborative.org  or call 404-266-2020.