Hakuna Matata

Theater in the park outing gives seniors a reason to cast their worries aside

In-person gatherings have been sorely missed by the clients of the Lion Center for the Visually Impaired (LCVI) in Pittsburg, California.

The center, which serves about 200 seniors a year who are blind or have low vision, shut down in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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A group of seniors from the Lions Center for the Visually Impaired in in Pittsburg, California, enjoy their first in-person outing since lockdown began in 2020.

“It was a blow,” says Richard Grange, marketing and activities coordinator. “People have always enjoyed getting together. It’s what they’ve done for years.”

So it was with great joy that about 22 clients, staff, and volunteers got together face-to-face for a lunch and performance of The Lion King Experience, presented by the Pittsburg Community Theater. While the center had been active in helping everyone stay connected virtually over the past year and a half, this was the first time they’d seen each other in person since a Valentine’s Day party in February of 2020.

The outing was a chance for attendees to reconnect and enjoy each other’s company ahead of the official reopening of the center on August 17.

“Just to be together as a group meant a lot,” says DeLois McBride, 76, who has glaucoma. “Blindness is such a devastating disability. There’s a lot of isolation.”

The center plans to resume in-person activities, training, and support group meetings.

McBride, who first got involved in the center 15 years ago when she needed a pair of eyeglasses, is eager to get back to some of the group activities she’s enjoyed over the years, including eating lunch, dancing, playing Scrabble and other games, movies, and field trips.

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Volunteers and clients at LCVI wait for the local community theater performance of the Lion King Experience to begin.

The center works to help preserve vision, foster independence, and enhance the quality of life for adults who are blind or at risk of vision loss. It serves as a source of information and expertise on blindness.

“We give older adults the tools and skills they need to maintain their health, independence, and quality of life despite vision loss,” Grange says.

Whether she has a question about transportation, eyeglasses, or any other issues that might arise, McBride says the center is where she turns for help.

“The center provides a structure and platform to ask questions and get good, relevant information that can be trusted,” she says.

The center provides free vision screenings to people 55 and older throughout its service area. In-home services are also available, including needs assessments, counseling, and training in daily living skills, help with adaptive aids, orientation and mobility.

While everyone is excited about being able to resume in-person activities, Grange notes that the center continued to serve clients remotely throughout the pandemic.

Starting a few weeks after the center closed, the support groups began meeting virtually and the center also continued to provide consultation services and other supportive services.

“There were many limitations on what could be accomplished over the phone versus an in-home visit, but we did as much as we could and mailed out dozens of assistive devices,” Grange says.

He says many clients are used to connecting by phone and adapted pretty easily to remote meetings.

“The phone is a lifeline for many of our clients,” he says. “We said, ‘If we could do meetings over the phone, it could work for most people.’”

While the phone was an important tool to connect during a public health crisis, McBride is happy to see in-person gatherings resume.

“You can’t beat the human interaction,” she says. “That’s especially important for the blind and visually impaired.”