History of Miami Lighthouse
Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired started in 1931 in a
900- square-foot bungalow on the corner of S.W. 6th Street and S.W. 8th
Avenue, now part of east Little Havana and still our location after all
these years. Today Miami Lighthouse has a state-of-the-art,
37,500-square-foot facility where people who are blind or visually
impaired receive vision rehabilitation, low vision services, Braille and
technology instruction and much more, depending on their needs.
Dolly Gamble, blind herself and supported in her efforts by blindness icon
Helen Keller, was the driving force behind the establishment of Miami
Lighthouse in 1931, then called the Florida Association of Workers for the
Blind, Inc. Through the 1940s, Miami Lighthouse served the blind community
of Miami as a sheltered workshop, the accepted rehabilitation practice in
that era, with chair caning, basketry and similar activities.
Later, Miami Lighthouse donated $500,000 as seed money for Bascom Palmer
Eye Institute, signing over land to the University of Miami School of
In the 1970s, Miami Lighthouse changed its model to vision rehabilitation
services that enable blind and visually impaired people to achieve
independence. In 1978, Miami Lighthouse received accreditation from the
organization created by Congress now known as the National Accreditation
Council for Blind and Low Vision Services (NAC), and since then has been
continuously accredited. This rigorous accreditation process by NAC
demonstrates that Miami Lighthouse meets the highest standards of service
for its clients.
A decade ago, a public capital campaign made a major expansion possible
with the addition of a second floor wing housing computer laboratories and
vocational training and a sensory and tactile garden area. The corporate
name was changed to Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired,
Inc. in 2003 to reflect services to individuals affected by uncorrectable
Virginia A. Jacko, BBA, MS, an experienced executive who was losing her
sight to retinitis pigmentosa, came to the Miami Lighthouse as a client.
Having completed her training and rehabilitation, and after serving on the
Board of Directors as Treasurer in 2004, she offered her services pro bono
for four months as President and CEO in 2005. Following a national search,
she was selected as President and CEO later that year.
In 2006, Miami Lighthouse started a ground-breaking music
production program, the first of its kind, to provide professional
training to blind and visually impaired young performers, composers and
In 2007, the new Gloria Martin third floor wing opened, housing the
Henry and Inez Stone Music and Sound Studio, the Austin and Marta Weeks
Little Lighthouse, the Rotary Club of Miami Centennial Project Center and
the Calvin and Flavia de Camp Oak Foundation Conference Room. This was
made possible by an incentive matching gift of more than $1 million by
philanthropist Gloria Martin.
Also in 2007 the Health Foundation of South Florida was the
catalyst behind a merger of the Dr. Bruce Heiken Memorial Fund,
established in 1992 by Miami-Dade Optometrists, and the Miami Lighthouse.
Now called the Florida Heiken Children's Vision Program, LLC, a division
of Miami Lighthouse, it provides free comprehensive eye examinations to
low-income school children who fail their state-mandated vision
screenings. Since the inception of the program over 20 years ago, more
than 85,000 financially disadvantaged children have received eye exams and
glasses when needed through the Heiken Program.
In 2008, the Board of Directors developed five initiatives as part
of a strategic plan for Miami Lighthouse to become a Center of Excellence
in Vision Rehabilitation. Miami Lighthouse also received its second
matching gift of $1.5 million dollars from a generous philanthropist.
Miami Lighthouse was one of 50 institutions in the United States to
receive the 2008 Healthy Vision Community Award from the National Eye
Institute (NEI) and won the award a second time in 2010.
In 2009, the Blind Babies program reached 100 participants, the
most in its history, and continues to grow. Our music program received a
prestigious Knight Foundation Arts Challenge. We began outreach to seniors
with low vision at assisted living facilities, expanded our internship
program for vision rehabilitation professionals, and launched an on-line
database management system for client recordkeeping and management
In 2010, the Low Vision Center and the Solutions Store were
relocated to the first floor to provide examinations by a consulting
optometrist and functional examinations and consultations with an
occupational therapist specializing in low vision. We also launched
in-home services that help seniors with uncorrectable vision loss maintain
their independence. The Spencer Educational Empowerment Challenge was
completed ahead of schedule and supports Braille literacy and scholarships
for clients and internships. The Florida Heiken Children’s Vision Program,
LLC, a division of Miami Lighthouse, was expanded to provide vision services
for schoolchildren statewide with funds from the Florida Department of
Health. Also in 2010, the Miami Lighthouse was recipient of the
Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce Diamond Award in the non-profit category.
Each year, the Diamond Awards recognize organizations that are Chamber
members for excellence and commitment to the community.
In 2011 Miami Lighthouse celebrated its Ruby Jubilee Anniversary—80
years of service to the blind and visually impaired—with a Jose Feliciano
Dinner Concert. The Spencer Educational Empowerment Center Challenge
to add a fourth floor was announced at our Ruby Jubilee celebration. The
new space will house the Marta Weeks Educational Empowerment Suite for job
training, written and oral communication skills including public speaking,
and math instruction, the Carmella Witte Technology Laboratory and the Dan
and Jan Lewis Braille Homeroom. We received our fifth consecutive 4-star rating, the
highest rating possible, from the national evaluator, Charity Navigator,
placing us among the top 4% of non-profits in the U.S. based upon our
efficient use of donor dollars and were honored by being named the
recipient of the prestigious South Florida Business Journal Excellence in
Health Care Award in the Community Outreach Category.
On January 18, 2012 Senate Resolution No. 890 was adopted by the
Florida State Senate recognizing the “outstanding achievements of the
Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired and its extraordinary
efforts on behalf of individuals and families whose lives are touched by
vision impairment.” In mid-2012 the campaign for the Sash A. Spencer
Educational Empowerment Center was completed with construction scheduled
to begin in early 2013. A 2012 market research survey funded by Health
Foundation of South Florida indicated that 74% of the parents whose child
had received prescription eyeglasses through our Florida Heiken Children's
Vision Program, LLC reported that their child was doing better in school
because of their glasses. Our Florida Heiken Children's Vision Program won
the bronze medal for its service to thousands of under-served children in
public schools at Miami Today Gold Medal Awards Ceremony and CEO Virginia
Jacko was a 2012 Florida Women of Achievement Honoree, received the Thelma
Gibson Community Service Award, the Purdue University College of Health
and Human Sciences 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award and was selected by
Miami Today in their 30th anniversary “Best of Miami” edition as one of
the best committed nonprofit leaders.
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