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Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point celebrates 50 years

Donna Stone, a former student and current intern

Donna Stone, a former student and current intern at the Helen Keller National Center for the deaf-blind in Sands Point, attends the center's 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

With a look back but firmly focused on the future, the Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point on Saturday celebrated its 50th anniversary with a program and the unveiling of a “Wall of Fame” featuring those who have championed the cause of the deaf and blind.

“It’s been five decades since the Helen Keller National Center has been established and what a difference 50 years makes,” executive director Susan Ruzenski said. “Now we look to the future and where we are going to take the organization for the next 50 years.”

The center’s goal is to ensure that deaf and blind people receive the training they need to live, work and thrive, Ruzenski said. The center maintains a national registry of individuals who are deaf-blind and partners with other agencies across the country to build its capacity to work with such people.

Saturday’s brunch event was filled with joy, hope and laughter as speeches — inspirational and at times emotional — were delivered by those instrumental in building the center’s foundation and moving its mission forward. The celebration also served as a reunion for current students, alumni and former staffers.

Donna Stone, who was a student at the center in 2010, now serves as an intern there to give back to the community.

“My experience here was to learn more about myself,” said Stone, who hails from Salem, Oregon, but is staying at the center while she completes her internship.

“When I first came I didn’t know my identity, who I am, how to cope with my vision loss. I went through a transition and learned a different way of communication,” Stone added.

The event was capped with the unveiling of the center’s Wall of Fame, a permanent installation that pays tribute to five “extraordinary” individuals dating to 1880 whose life work directly benefited the deaf-blind community: Helen Keller, Louis Bettica, Peter Salmon, Robert J. Smithdas and Mary E. Switzer. The wall will be updated every year, Ruzenski said.

The deaf-blind community is and should be proud of the “amazing” strides made over the years, especially as more leaders emerge from the community, said Christopher Woodfill, who is the center’s associate executive director.

“We now need to move past and build more to continue our journey forward,” Woodfill said. “Our forebears have given us the opportunity to take those roles and positions for ourselves as deaf-blind people in the community, so it’s important to honor their past because without them we wouldn’t have our present or future.”

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