By Tia Lynn Ivey
Silverware clanked cautiously as diners carefully attempted to reunite their forks with the food on their plates. The usually easy task became far more difficult without the gift of sight. At the Fourth Annual Living Life Team Gala, the 135 attendees were given glasses to simulate blindness during the meal–an exercise meant to give people a mere taste of what a life of blindness entails. The Living Life Team is Madison’s first support group for the visually-impaired, helping the blind reclaim their lives. The gala, held at the First United Methodist Church of Madison last Saturday, raised money to fund the Living Life Team’s efforts to provide members with a variety of support services. The Living Life Team started four years ago with just six members, today there are 20 members.
Founder Rita Harris spoke at the gala, sharing her story of losing her vision and relearning how to live since.
“I was always an independent outgoing person,” said Harris to the crowd. “In fact, I always gave my parents the most trouble because of that. As an adult, I learned to channel it in a positive way. But then all of a sudden, I started experiencing vision loss in 2002.”
As Harris’ vision loss worsened, she fell into a state of denial and deep depression.
“I went from being independent to dependent,” said Harris. When Harris lost her vision, her entire world came to a screeching halt.
“I had to stop doing everything I loved,” said Harris.
Harris had to leave her position working as a teacher to special needs children. She had to stop driving. Suddenly, everyday simple tasks, like preparing food and getting dressed, felt impossible.
“I was in a dark place,” said Harris. “I was pretending to everyone on the outside that I was fine and everything was great, but on the inside I was crying and dying.”
But Harris refused to stay down. She decided to relearn how to live independently. She received mobility training and eventually agreed to live with a guide dog named Madden.
“When they first asked me if I wanted a guide dog, I said some choice words. I didn’t want a guide dog,” said Harris. “Now, Madden and me are like peanut butter and jelly.”
Once Harris mastered living independently again, she set her sights on helping others achieve the same feat by equipping visually-impairied individuals with available resources for mobility training, technology advancements, social outings and other support services to empower people to live the fullest life possible.
“We want people to reach for the stars and not let your disability handicap you,” said Harris.
During the gala, The Living Life Team distributed seven awards to community partners who have aided the efforts of the organization, including Vistas, The Madison Lions Club, The Carter Cromwell law firm, The Madison Lions Club, The Morgan County Library, The First United Methodist Church of Madison, and the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson ADA and Customer Experience Department.
The Living Life Team hopes to raise a total of $15,000 to fund the group’s mission of supporting the visually-impaired. The final numbers from the gala have not yet been announced, but the group intends to keep on until the goal is reached.
To find out more information about Living Life Team, you can visit the website at: www.livinglifeteam.net or email Rita Harris at: firstname.lastname@example.org.