Natalie Schneider grew up assisting her great-grandmother who was blind, and now the 16-year-old is helping others in the community who are blind or vision-impaired.
Last week, during the Wise Owls support group for the blind, the teenager donated custom support canes to four members who didn’t have a cane or needed a new one. The donation came as the first opportunity for Schneider to give back after she started a nonprofit, Pennies for the Blind, two years ago.
Schneider hopes the canes can help make the recipients’ lives a little easier.
“I hope it determines them to keep working and doing more with their lives, and hopefully we’ll find more people we can give canes or other items to, too,” she said.
The purpose of the nonprofit, she said, was to raise awareness to the cost of assistance tools for the blind and vision-impaired and to help purchase such items for those in need. After helping her great-grandmother, who had been legally blind since age 30, Schneider said she came to realize how big of a difference certain tools can make for someone without sight.
Debbie Bronson, who founded Wise Owls and has been living with gradual vision loss for 23 years, said support canes are vital for the blind.
“Those things are important because those are our eyes. They’re feelers, and they save lives. They make our lives a little easier, and they’re vital, vital to identify who we are to sighted people,” Bronson said. “There’s just an automatic understanding when a sighted person sees someone with a cane what the problem is, so they’re more apt to have understanding and offer assistance if we need it.”
Bronson has been using a support cane for years and offered advice to those new to them. She encouraged them to practice with the canes as much as possible.
“It’s an extension of your hand,” she told the group. “And your whole hand becomes sensitive to every little bump and every little bounce and every little thing the tip of it touches. Your brain has to connect all that, and the only way it can is if you use it and practice with it. Otherwise it’s going to be something foreign to you.”
Mike Geiselman was one of the four members who received a support cane. While Geiselman had been using one for the past year, it was about six inches too short. The canes Schneider gave away had been customized to the user based on their height.
Geiselman said the longer cane will make a big difference and thanked the teenager for caring.
“I appreciate it. It says a lot of character on your part for somebody that young to be doing something like this,” he said.
Schneider’s mother, Ashley, said she was proud of her daughter and her caring spirit.
“She grew up watching granny lose that little bit of vision that she had, so she learned what she needed,” Ashley said. “She would be with me to take care of her, and she just picked up all of it and started helping. She picked it up since she was old enough to pay attention.”
Bronson said Schneider’s interest in helping members of Wise Owls was “remarkable.”
“I just think it’s remarkable that somebody that young would take an interest in something that’s unrecognizable by most of the general public, that she would take an interest in a group of people that normally struggles for assistance,” Bronson said. “ … So for a young, sighted girl to devote her spare time to helping us, I just have no words. ‘Thank you’ is not enough.”
For more information on Pennies for the Blind or to donate, visit www.penniesfortheblind.org.