We recently spoke with Joan Kelley-Walker of The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Foundation to find out more about what they do in our communities. They also have their fundraising event, A Night at the Carnival, coming up on Thursday, March 26 at Wychwood Barns in Toronto. The event goes from 6 pm until 10 pm and will Support the CNIB GTA Community Hub and some of their amazing Children & Youth and Work programs.
Describe your charity/non-profit in a few sentences.
The CNIB Foundation is a non-profit organization driven to change what it is to be blind today. They deliver innovative programs and powerful advocacy that empower people impacted by blindness to live their dreams and tear down barriers to inclusion.
What problem does it aim to solve?
The unemployment rate for people with sight loss is double the national average. Think of how that statistic could be turned on its head through the work done by CNIB. From the moment children are old enough to dream what they’ll be when they grow up, through every stage of their education and careers, CNIB Foundation programs aim to fuel their ambition and champion their equal participation in the world of work.
CNIB’s Children & Youth programs foster knowledge, social skills, self-advocacy and independence among students who are blind or partially sighted. These programs empower children to thrive developmentally and academically at every stage. One of my favourite programs is their National SCORE program. It’s a summer experience that combines the joys of camp with activities geared to helping youth with sight loss learn and develop skills to pursue post-secondary education. Through this program, youth from across the country have an opportunity to spend two weeks together in Toronto and at CNIB Lake Joe participating in educational activities that help develop pre-employment, leadership, independence, and social skills.
CNIB’s Work programs provide community members with the skills and resources to attain their career ambitions and hone their abilities as an entrepreneur or mentor. The Come to Work program connects job seekers who are blind or partially sighted with employers who want to discover the full potential of Canada’s talent. It offers job-readiness workshops and technology training, innovative mentorships, and partnerships with employers to create full-time, part-time and contract work, and paid internships/returnships.
When did you start/join it?
I have been involved with CNIB for almost three years now.
What made you want to get involved?
In 2018, I was asked to be the Emcee for CNIB’s centennial celebration at their one-of-a-kind camp, CNIB Lake Joe. When I realized all the work that they do, it dawned on me that my mother could benefit from this Foundation. My mother started having symptoms and was diagnosed with MS in her 20s and several years later, she was deemed legally blind in one eye and since then has macular degeneration in the other. The CNIB Foundation has truly improved the quality of her life through their services.
What was the situation like when you started?
I didn’t know much about CNIB – I was drawn to the cause like so many others, because of a family connection to sight loss. And, I had no real awareness of the magnitude of support available to anyone impacted by blindness. When someone loses their sight, it affects not only themselves but their families, partners and friends as well. CNIB Foundation programs are available not only to every Canadian who has sight loss or blindness but their loved ones too.
How has it changed since?
The event at CNIB Lake Joe has doubled in both size and funds raised revenue, which has had a direct effect on the number of people living with sight loss being able to attend programs at CNIB Lake Joe. The first year 600 guests attended CNIB Lake Joe over eight weeks, while last summer, that number swelled to over 1,000 over ten weeks.
This is the third year for the CNIB GTA Gala event, with proceeds supporting the CNIB GTA Community Hub, a “heartbeat” in our community. Located at 1525 Yonge Street in Toronto, the CNIB GTA Hub encourages people to “drop-in” and reach out for help in a manner that they were never able to before. The Hub hosts an extensive menu of Foundation program offerings for people who are blind or partially sighted and their families. Programs include accessible technology training, sports and recreational groups, advocacy resources, child and youth programming, and peer support groups.
What more needs to be done?
Today, more than 500,000 people in Canada are blind or partially sighted. Factoring in their families, friends and caregivers, sight loss touches millions more. Blindness should never be a reason to settle for less. Everyone should have an equal chance to realize their dreams, whatever they may be.
The CNIB Foundation is continuing to drive change for Canadians living with sight loss by increasing access to employment, unleashing the power of technology, advocating for a more inclusive and accessible country while moving the bar on societal inequities and stigmas surrounding blindness. Their programs are funded by donor dollars and philanthropic support, and their impact is powered by the generosity of Canadians.
Do you have any events coming up?
Yes! A Night at the Carnival is on Thursday, March 26, at Wychwood Barns in Toronto from 6 pm till 10 pm. This gala affair will be a fun and interactive evening for everyone to enjoy! Proceeds will Support the CNIB GTA Community Hub and some of their amazing Children & Youth and Work programs.
How can our readers help?
You can buy your ticket to the gala and help support! Visit cnibnightatthecarnival.ca for tickets and find out more on the gala. To learn about the many ways you can support CNIB, visit cnib.ca/donate.
Where can we follow you?
You can follow me at @JoanKelleyWalkerOfficial across all social media platforms.
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
Neighbourhood Network which supports all the local charities. To find out more, visit www.neighbourhoodnetwork.org.