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VIP Center art classes give visually impaired creative outlet

By Staff | Jan 12, 2010

When members of the community with vision problems visit the Visually Impaired Persons of Southwest Florida Center, they often report on how beneficial programs are there.
Several extremely positive comments have come from those who attend the art program, specifically about the painting classes, and two special individuals there.
Board member and volunteer Freda VanPelt and Rehabilitation Supervisor Sue Wild have been particularly noted. VanPelt is the art coordinator and instructor and Wild is a staff member who oversees the program.
When you enter a main gathering area, there is a tropical mural created by children who take transitional classes there and artwork lines the halls. Then there is the art room itself, where painting classes take place several days a week.
Work is currently being prepared for several juried shows, including a painting by local resident Jean Kugleman that will be entered into a Princeton Art Festival, displayed by VanPelt.
“These exhibitions have people with disabilities, but we don’t say disabilities. We say abilities,” VanPelt continued.
Board member VanPelt is not only the art instructor, but a client at VIP as well, visually impaired. “The doctor told me I was blind in March of 2003. I didn’t know how to cope with it. I took all the classes here. I found the art class and fell in love. It was something I can accomplish.
“When clients come in and say they can’t do this, we give them a little paint, a sponge and they have a whole new world. My job is encouragement.”
Rehabilitation Supervisor Wild also oversees the art program. “There are varying levels of visually impairment, said Wild. “Many have partial or a portion of sight.”
She’s been a staff member there for years. “I’d been here a month before our first client walked in. That was 28 years on Sept. 15.”
The program uses orientation and mobility skills taught in other classes. “So in the art program, all the skills they’ve learned are used.”
There are several classes a week, with a sign-up that includes how clients are certified visually. It is only $5 per month for those who take the classes.
“Programs enhance what I do,” said Wild of her role for rehabilitation. “People are afraid of blindness and we give them hope. It’s a fun program, not school, it is a family and a team. That helps them deal with the challenges life has handed them.”
The Center serves many from Cape Coral as well as North Fort Myers for a variety of programs.
“We serve both Lee and Collier County, not with the art program but with our rehabilitation programs,” said Wild. “Here, it is art the center; it is individually in Collier.
“Something new is we’re now partnering with The Lighthouse in Collier County as well,” said VIP Executive Direc-tor Douglas Fowler. He also said the center partners with local communities such as Suncoast Estates and Palmona Park. “We’re also getting some interest from local churches.”
He said many clients, especially those from the Cape, have access to the center from several transportation modes. “The Cape clients come by way of United Way Services, like LeeTran’s Passport Service and Good Wheels of Lee County.”
There are many offerings at the center for the visually impaired. There’s the Activities of Daily Living Program, Orientation & Mobility Training, Braille Classes, and more, along with Social Services.
There’s also a new store with items that can enhance the lives of the visually impaired.
“These are things that enhance daily activities, that will help them live independently. It’s a place for people to actually experience items and tools.”
It has talking watches, a voice activated alarm clock and more.
VanPelt added that she wanted to thank two special volunteers, Lois Kilgore and Brian Christensen, and added that the program is always looking for donations, particularly frames.
“We thrive on donations,” added Fowler.
The center is located at 35 W Mariana Ave. in North Fort Myers. The phone number is 997-7797.