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Identity & Community

Blind and Vision Rehab Services Kicks Off Public Fundraising Campaign

Michael Lynch
90.5 WESA

When Diane Faust started losing her eyesight in 2008 as a result of optic nerve damage, she didn’t know where to turn, but she knew she had two options.

“I could hide in my house the rest of my life, ignore the outside world,” Faust said. “Or, I could try to gain as much of my independence back and get back to as much of a normal life as possible. Those folks have been so instrumental in helping me to do that.”

“Those folks” are Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh (BVRS), a private nonprofit that helps the visually impaired adjust to life without eyesight by offering blindness adjustment training where clients are taught how to cook, use a computer and even match their clothes without being able to see.

In October, the state committed $2.2 million in New Market Tax Credits to BVRS as it consolidates its Homestead and Strip District locations into one 5-story, 87,000-square-foot Uptown facility. An additional $6.5 million will come from loans and another $3 million from the agency’s operating budget.

So far, the nonprofit has raised $1.8 million of its $2.7 capital campaign goal to cover the $14.4 million project, which includes a rooftop garden and practice kitchen, and today, announced the start of its public financing campaign to raise the remaining $900,000.

“Anything that we can raise above and beyond that $2.7 million is what we want to do,” BVRS President Erika Arbogast said. “The sky’s the limit.”

Besides the space constraints of its current facilities, bus stop proximity was one of the biggest reasons for the move to 1816 Locust St. Arbogast said public transportation is hard to come by in Homestead and the Strip District, and many clients have to take several buses to reach the offices.

“People get it,” she said. “They absolutely understand that the people that we serve do not have the choice to drive. We have to be in an area where public transportation is good. And, they get it. So funding has come.”

Now, the closest bus stop will be just a block away.

Client Diane Faust said the Uptown headquarters could also lead to new learning and employment opportunities in Downtown and Oakland for the visually impaired.

“This organization will help to bring those people out, integrate them back into the workforce, the social environment and give them the satisfied feeling of making a contribution again,” Faust said.

Arbogast expects the fundraising to be complete by this fall and hopes the new facility will be up and running by Sept. 30.