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Chicago Lighthouse North a beacon in the community

In 2012, Chicago Lighthouse North set up shop along the North Shore offering a number of services and programs for those who are blind or have visual impairments. The Glenview nonprofit serves the Chicago area as one of several sites providing care for a population whose needs aren’t always met.

Melissa Wittenburg, senior director at Chicago Lighthouse North, said the Glenview facility hopes to provide a source of relief in the community.

“We like to think of ourselves as a community of care,” she said. “Sure, we’re about vision and vision loss and how to help people, but we really try to treat mind, body, soul, more than just vision.”

Chicago Lighthouse North also provides several enrichment programs.

“We opened our doors because we knew there was more people who needed our help, who weren’t able to get to our city location,” Wittenburg said.

Wittenburg added that Chicago Lighthouse North strives to provide access to the necessary tools, whether it’s talking watches, handheld magnifiers or mobility canes.

Ben Benishay, of Chicago, is one of many clients making the most of the programs and services made available at Chicago Lighthouse North. According to Benishay, programming on-site creates valuable learning experiences.

“I think that it gives me a chance to listen to other people and other people’s problems,” he said. “My wife is with me, and we learn from other people.”

Benishay’s wife, Sarah, often acts as his caregiver. She said it’s important for her husband to be with people who understand the challenges he goes through.

“Somebody must’ve told us and then I called,” she said. “I was so grateful to have something here because there’s one downtown and I don’t think we would’ve ever gone downtown, but this is wonderful for us.”

Lois Leeb-Wittenburg, 75, of Niles, was a client at Lighthouse’s Chicago office for 25 years before switching to the facility in Glenview.

“I live in Niles,” she said. “I was always the first person picked up, the last person dropped off. The travel time would be about four hours to visit there, but here I’m like ten minutes away, and I use the paratransit.”

Leeb-Wittenburg said the sense of community created is one of the many benefits to seeking help at Chicago Lighthouse North.

“It can be a very lonely thing,” she said. “Many people have strokes or heartaches, but it’s very difficult for a very well sighted person to understand the world of a vision person of challenge. I started coming here and I’ve met friends, we get together, we talk you know between meetings, we socialize. But, I love it because we learn from each other.”

Leeb-Wittenberg noted how she enjoys her time spent at the office in Glenview, and she can often be found encouraging others to get more involved in programming.

“I’m kind of like a little ambassador for the lighthouse or something,” she added.

Rich Richmond, 86, of Wheeling, said he’s been pleased with the support provided at the office in Glenview.

In 1995, he was diagnosed with glaucoma and has since experienced wet and dry macular degeneration.

He said he has an issue where the blood isn’t circulating to the optic nerve the way it did when he was younger, so it’s being destroyed.

“Since the first of the year, I cannot make out faces,” he said. “My world keeps getting a little bit dimmer all the time. The macular may not destroy my vision totally but the destruction of the optic nerve will.

“Coming here and being able to relate with other people who can at least understand what you’re going through is a big help.”

After opening the office in Glenview four years ago, Wittenburg said the effort to make others aware of Chicago Lighthouse North remains an ongoing effort.

“We have people drive by that don’t notice us,” she said. “You know I think it’s like a lot of health organizations that you might not necessary know about them until you need to know about them and you do your research and you find that they exist. We’re working hard, very hard still, on getting the word out that Lighthouse North is here.”

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