A year after merging with the Center for the Visually Impaired, the Conklin Davis Center is working to improve services and programs for the blind community.
For the last year, the Conklin Center has been going through a metamorphosis.
Repairs. Renovations. New staff. More programs. A shared vision.
The Conklin Center closed in March 2020 after its contract termination with the Florida Division of Blind Services, reducing the nonprofit's funding by 60%. But board members couldn't let their clients — who, in addition to being visually impaired, have other disabilities — go without the ongoing support they were accustomed to that allowed them to live independent lives. So in their search for a solution, they looked to a merger with the Center for the Visually Impaired.
The merger was official as of Jan. 1, 2021, and the center reopened two months later as the Conklin Davis Center for the Visually Impaired, with President and CEO Ronee David at the helm of the organization. David was the director for CVI prior to the merger.
“When the [Conklin] center lost its contract, the Center for the Visually Impaired, we just stepped in and continued to provide the help for those people," David said.
The center relaunched its residential program in July 2021, and though initially there were some reservations because of the COVID-19 pandemic, David said the program has run smoothly. The center has 16 dormitories and three one-bedroom apartments, with nine students currently living on campus. As a result of the merger, the center now serves over 500 people a year in Volusia, Flagler, Putnam and Brevard counties through its various programs, such as its blind babies program, senior independent living program and vocational rehabilitation.
“There are not too many agencies that have this level of such comprehensive programs," David said.
Working behind the scenes
When it came to reopening the center to students, taking care of the property was a major undertaking.
“The grounds here are extensive," said Nancy Epps, secretary of the center's board. "They’re over seven acres, and we had volunteer work days. Several of our board members came and did a lot of the work.”
Board members took down trees, cleared the nature trail in the rear of the building, repaired a waterfall feature and cleaned out the pond. Inside, they painted walls, put down new carpet on the lobby, and are working to renovate the first of the three apartments for students. The board is also hoping to obtain a Community Development Block Grant from the county to purchase a new air conditioning system.
New staff members have been added in the last six months as well. Epps said several of the employees went through the center in the past, and being blind and with other disabilities, are able to connect with the students.
“We have a very high success rate for employment, which is unique in the handicap community at large," Epps said. "We have about an 85% historic rate, whereas the general handicap community is about 25-30%.”
Hopes for the new year
Looking forward to what 2022 will bring, the center aims to continue to offer programs and classes to prepare their students to enter the workforce. The center offers a workshop with Metra Electronics, a Holly Hill-based manufacturer, where students learn to assemble components. Eight are employed with the manufacturer.
The center also has plans to develop an art program for the blind, with the hopes of introducing art exhibits in the future. An art studio space was created in the building, and tactile art from local artists lines one its hallway. David said she would love to start programs for cycling, dance, and other creative outlets for students.
“We want them to have varied interests, just like sighted people do," David said. "Everybody has their own interests other than work, so we want to help cultivate that in the blind students, and some of them have not had those opportunities.”