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Nonprofit vision center fills service gap

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When officials cut the ribbon March 11 for the Beisner Vision Rehabilitation Center of the Ozarks, it was the celebration of decades of thoughtful planning.

In years’ past, a family from the Ozarks with an infant suffering from a vision deficiency would have to visit a specialist in Kansas City or St. Louis for care. Today, they only need to travel as far as Elfindale Street.

The Beisner Vision Rehabilitation Center of the Ozarks, 1661 W. Elfindale St., opened last month to serve “babies to baby boomers” suffering from vision loss, said Chris Craig, president-elect of the center’s board and director of Drury University’s School of Education and Child Development.

“Someone who has significantly reduced visual acuity is going to need help,” said Craig, who is blind. “They’re going to need someone to more closely assess what they’re calling low-vision evaluations, which is a different kind of assessment.”

Craig said center staff members assess a patient’s current life situations, knowing that medical treatment already has run its course, to determine proper training, technologies and support in order to provide the highest quality life possible. Services include providing patients with items such as magnifiers or re-introducing them to everyday activities such as cooking or reading.

The center has broad support from the community; its board consists of local optometrists, ophthalmologists, physicians, an occupational therapist and academics.

According to Judy Beisner, whose family donated the Elfindale site to the center, the center’s history dates back to the 1980s when a close family friend, Dr. Lew Neblett, was forced into early retirement due to macular degeneration and other vision problems.

“(Neblett) had the desire to spearhead a vision center in Springfield for those who couldn’t be helped by eyeglasses or surgery because he was in that particular situation,” she said.

Craig became involved with the center about four years ago when Neblett and two other doctors visited him at Missouri State University while he was working as an associate provost. At MSU, Craig administered the state program that prepares teachers to work with children and adults with visual impairments.

Months of planning followed, but Craig said their plans didn’t truly take off until Beisner and her late husband, Dr. Don Beisner, donated the building.

“What happened is just miraculous,” Craig said. “Really, it’s one of the best examples of human kindness in the community that occurred.”

Beisner, a retired ophthalmologist, located the building himself, and it was purchased for $368,000 in August shortly after his death in June, Judy Beisner said.

Operating with an estimated first-year budget of $700,000, the center relies on grants
and donations from the community. Services are provided on a sliding fee scale, based on household income and number of family members.

Dr. Thomas Essman, an ophthalmologist and president of the center’s board, said the center applied for 501(c)3 status in September 2010 and expects to hear back from the Internal Revenue Service this month.

Some of the money the center has received thus far includes $50,000 from St. John’s Force for Good, $20,000 from Mercy Caritas and $25,000 from Abilities First, said Ashley Perry, the center’s coordinator of early childhood services.

Abilities First, a member of the Missouri Association of County Developmental Disabilities Services, is funded by property taxes and supports organizations that directly address developmental disability needs. Executive Director Jan Jones said years ago the Abilities
First board funded the Visually Impaired Preschool, but after it went out of business, there has been a gap in the community for services for children with visual impairments.

“When we became aware of Dr. Craig’s efforts, we were very excited to know that maybe we could get that in place,” Jones said.

The center partners with both Drury and Missouri State universities, Craig said.

Essman hopes to create driver training and transportation programs that will allow patients to travel to and from the center without using taxis or public transportation.

“It all depends on funding,” he said.[[In-content Ad]]

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