Laurel Jean Presents...'

Laurel Jean Presents...'
Music with a Message and a Mission

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Highlights from my Life of Music and Ministry

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shining the Light of Christ



Taylor stands at the altar of Grace Church, where shoeboxes full of goodies have been collected and blessed for Operation Christmas Child.

Last July, youth attending my Camp Lakewood Vacation Bible School had the opportunity to earn money toward a Walmart shopping trip to purchase items for their very own shoebox contributions to Samaritan’s Purse. Saturday, November 14 marked a special Camp Lakewood reunion, held at Grace United Methodist Church. On this day, the Camp Lakewood Class of two youths was greeted by Miss Susan, another sighted angel volunteer, who led us in a time of sharing and fellowship as we decorated and stuffed a total of six shoeboxes!

On Sunday, November 22, Taylor represented Camp Lakewood at Grace UMC in the 11:00 AM service. During the Blessing of Shoeboxes, he was recognized and asked to come forward, placing one of his shoebox contributions on the altar with the others from Camp Lakewood and from the congregation (84 boxes in all).

Many thanks again, to Grace United Methodist Church, the Lakewood, IL United Methodist Church and Dixie Land Guide Dog Users, Inc., for joining with me to help make Camp Lakewood possible!

Sharing My Love For Reading.



Here I am, reading to students of Grace Weekday School, Charleston, SC.

On Monday, November 16, I joined a variety of volunteer readers on this Christian campus. Students ranging in age from two to five years rotated from room to room, eager to hear another story! I chose a “Dr. Seuss” (AKA Theo. LeSeig) book entitled “Maybe You Should Fly a Jet, Maybe You Should Be a Vet.” I have a full-vision version of this book, which means that it contains Braille along with the complete, illustrated publication. The kids enjoyed telling me about the silly pictures in the book and sharing what they would like to be when they grow up. My favorite comment came from a little three-year-old who proudly announced, “I want to be a TV! I really want to be a TV!”

“On the Road to Reading” is a school-wide program with a goal of every child having at least ten stories read to him/her by November 24, 2009. With the help of parents, grandparents, teachers and us volunteer readers, the students of Grace Weekday School have well-exceeded their goal of reading a total of 1000 books in celebration of National Children’s Literacy Month!

White Cane Day, 2009



Shelby, one of “my” kids, sings the theme from “The Sound Of Music” during this celebration of White Cane Safety Awareness Day, October 15, 2009. It was an honor to accompany her at the piano as I served as Master of Ceremonies for this celebration in Charleston, SC.

October 15th is recognized internationally as White Cane Safety Awareness Day. This day is set aside to recognize the white cane and to teach sighted people about the purpose and use of the white cane by the blind. During this special celebration, blind folks of all ages met at the Visitor’s Center on Meeting Street in Downtown Charleston. After a walk to Francis Marion Square, the program continued with a narrated presentation of The Colors. Elementary and secondary students were awarded for their participation in a story contest featuring the long, white cane. Then, God’s “outa sight” kids of all ages offered a variety of musical selections.



After the program, folks were treated to snacks and several different exhibits, including an authentic American Flag with raised stars and stripes, which could be touched!

This exhibit was inspired by Taylor, who took his first “hands-on” look at our country’s flag when my Camp Lakewood Vacation Bible School toured Grace United Methodist Church last July. As we watched Taylor “see” the flag for the first time in his fifteen years, my associates and I realized how important it was for others to have this opportunity. We asked that a hands-on flag be part of White Cane Day, and everyone agreed! When at the end of the day’s events the Color Guard presented me with this flag, I was literally speechless!

My thanks to Dixie Land Guide Dog Users, and the Charleston Chapter of the American Council of the Blind, for making “Music By Laurel Jean” part of this event. On this day, we celebrated God’s gifts: not only our independence as blind individuals, but also the freedom that we know as citizens of The United States of America.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Children's Chaplaincy Update



One of “my” kids, Taylor, and his great-grandpa, Jerry, try out the new tandem bicycle, recently donated to my Children’s Chaplaincy!

“A little more air in the tires” and “a slight adjustment to the back handlebars,” and this new “convertible” will be ready for our blind youth to cruise with their favorite sighted pilots!

Having been blessed by this generous donation in August, Music By Laurel Jean now has the opportunity to begin actively networking with the Charleston Fliers”. This group, still in its infancy, is made up of both blind and sighted cyclists who enjoy the unique athletic challenge of tandem biking!

School is well underway for kids everywhere, keeping us busy tutoring and checking in with parents, teachers and students. Meanwhile, Grace United Methodist Church, Charleston, SC, is helping us to “shed God’s Light on the subject”, partnering with us to provide Braille copies of The Upper Room daily devotional for God’s kids of all ages!

Earlier this month, we received another shipment of books from the Assemblies of God National Center for the Blind. Kids throughout the “Lowcountry” area are already enjoying their very own Braille copies of “A Horse and His Boy”, Book 3 in the “Chronicles of Narnia” Series (complete with hands-on illustrations)!

I thank God every day for these wonderful opportunities, to celebrate the two things that I most cherish in life: my Christian Faith, and my independence (both personal and professional). What better way to celebrate than to witness!

Many thanks, also, for your ongoing prayers and support!

God bless you, and keep His Song in your heart!

Laurel Jean

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Introducing Camp Lakewood VBS for Blind Youth!



July 27 thru 31, 2009, Music By Laurel Jean, in partnership with Lakewood United Methodist Church, Lakewood, IL, Grace United Methodist Church, Charleston, SC and South Carolina’s Dixie Land Guide Dog Users, Inc. hosted a day-camp-style Vacation Bible School as part of my Children's Chaplaincy for blind youth. We have named this event "Camp Lakewood", in honor of the Lakewood, IL UMC that presented me with my first Braille Bible when I was a child, and continues to sponsor my Children's Chaplaincy.

This VBS was designed especially for blind kids, who seldom have an opportunity to fully participate in church. Our theme was "Seeing and Being God's Light". Day-campers shared music (with brailed lyrics), enjoyed devotions (in Braille and audio formats), acted out interactive Bible stories, went on a couple of outings (including a trip to Grace Church) and did other activities, all designed especially for them.

While the kids learned about God and brushed up on their independent living skills, they also were boosting their self-esteems and having lots of fun! Scroll to the next six posts to learn more, and to see pictures taken during this event!

Thank you for your ongoing prayers and support. God bless you, and keep His Song in your heart!

Laurel Jean

Camp Lakewood's Meet-And-Greet Monday!



Here I am with day-campers during our first day of Camp Lakewood worship.

Our first day of Camp Lakewood was truly a blessing. We had two kids, T and S, ages fifteen and thirteen. T's great-grandpa, Jerry, came with T. He was a tremendous help...and I think he had as much fun as the kids!

The theme was "Seeing and Being God's Light". We talked about how God's Light is love, and we talked about prayer. We had a worship time with prayer and music (including brailed lyrics). Miss Marti came to help out with her gift of telling interactive Bible stories. We did a fast-forward thru the Old Testament up to Joshua. We talked about Rahab and how she helped God's spies, the Israelites. The kids got to be the spies and hide while Rahab chased away the soldiers who were searching for them. We went for a walk around the neighborhood, allowing the kids to work on their cane skills, then we had lunch. Miss Audrey grilled hotdogs for us. The day-campers helped me fix the rest of the food while I taught them our table prayer, which we sang.

After lunch, we made "Romans 8:28 ice cream in a bag", to illustrate God making "all things work together for Good". We played a game of Uno, then we closed in prayer.

Camp Lakewood Spends Another Day in the Old Testament.



Here is Miss Marti, a Camp Lakewood "sighted angel" volunteer, preparing our interactive Jordan River dramatization in my driveway.

Our second day of Camp Lakewood flew by. Another camper, sixteen-year-old B, joined us. We began again with Worship music and prayer, this time actually taking praises and prayer requests from the kids. We talked about how God always answers prayer, sometimes with "yes", sometimes with "no" and sometimes with "wait".

Miss Marti came again today to tell us about how God's power broke thru some really strong barriers, the Jordan River and the Wall of Jericho. We reenacted both of these Bible stories in my driveway.

Marti created a riverbed out of plastic bags, towels, shells and some smooth stones with crosses carved in them, soaking it all down with water. Then, when the children first tried to cross, they felt the mist of the garden hose. When God’s Word was lifted up, the water subsided and they were able to cross. Everyone took turns picking up smooth stones until we had twelve, to build the monument on the other side of the river representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Afterward, each child got to take one of the cross-engraved stones home.

The Wall of Jericho was constructed out of shoeboxes. The kids found the base of the wall with their canes, then walked around it six times and blew imaginary trumpets and the wall tumbled down around
them.

After that, T’s great-grandfather, Jerry, had a surprise for the campers. He had brought T on his motorcycle, and two of the day-campers got their first motorcycle ride!

We prepared lunch, talking about how the events we had studied apply to our lives today.

Our lunch was accompanied by edible mini-walls, which we constructed out of peanut butter and crackers. This helped some of the kids work on their technique for spreading peanut butter. They had to do this independently. Try spreading peanut butter with your eyes closed!

After lunch, we played Uno and then we closed in prayer. We played three games of Uno, and each child happened to win a game. How cool is that!

Camp Lakewood Talks About Jesus.



Here I am with two of “my” kids, at the most compelling statue in the garden of Mepkin Abbey.

Day 3 of Camp Lakewood was a field trip day, dedicated to Jesus' birth, earthly ministry and death for our sins. We traveled about fifty miles to the Mepkin Abbey, an area monastery. On the way, we did our Worship singing and discussed the first coming of Jesus into the world. Then, we lightened things up with a game of "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral", which neither of the children had ever played before. Even Great-Grandpa Jerry, who drove, got into the fun of the game!

The monastery features a unique labyrinth (maze) made with very tall grasses. I wanted the kids to have some practice with their cane skills, and the maze was a wonderful opportunity to do that. It was exhilarating to see the kids' confidence increase as they found their own way thru the maze. S even used her ears to help her travel. The tall grasses bordering the path thru the maze were full of little crickets. "The crickets are like arrows!" she exclaimed excitedly. "they point the way for us!"

After our exercise in the labyrinth, we headed for the garden, where two sculptures awaited us. During HURRICANE Hugo, many trees fell, including two large oaks on the grounds of the monastery. A man looked at the fallen trees and saw a vision of two Biblical depictions, the escape into Egypt and the Crucifixion of our Lord. He brought his chain saw and created two of the most detailed depictions of these scenes I have ever experienced. I have been wanting "my" kids to see these for a long time.

We arrived at the first sculpture, and I asked S to read to us from her youth Bible the account of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus as they escaped from Herod. Then each child was able to feel the life-sized statue depicting this event.

Then, S read again from her Bible the account of the Crucifixion of our Lord. Just as she read that Jesus proclaimed, "It is finished," the chimes at the monastery chapel began to sound. Only God could have orchestrated such timing.

Each of the children felt the crown of thorns on Jesus' head, His face, His beard, the cross and the nails driven into His hands and feet. Then we sang a chorus of "This Is The Day" and "Alleluia".

We stopped for a nice lunch, compliments of Dixie Land guide Dog Users, Inc. The children were allowed to interact independently with our waiter and waitress. We even sang our table prayer in the restaurant! A big thanks to Jerry, Audrey, Zack, Nancy, Luna, Max, Marti and Jackie for all of their help in making this day a success.

Camp Lakewood Celebrates "Resurrection Thursday"!



Here we are, getting ready for our scavenger-style Easter egg hunt!

Our "Resurrection Thursday", August 30 and Day 4 of Camp Lakewood, we had a spirited time of worship and music, then thirteen-year-old S led us in our opening prayer. We talked about the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, and what that means to us. We discussed the fact that, when Jesus is in our hearts, we can be sure that our sins are forgiven and that we don't need to be afraid when we die because we know that we will be with Him in Heaven. The kids were very open and understood the conversation very well.

For our fun activity, I decided that we should celebrate Easter with an accessible Easter egg hunt! I brailed scavenger-hunt-style clues and the kids and I set out all over the neighborhood finding Easter eggs! Before we started, we talked about how the bunny and eggs represent new life on Easter, and that Jesus is the One true Source of new life for us. Miss Audrey, Dorace (another "sighted angel" volunteer)and of course Great-grandpa Jerry took turns manning "egg stations" all over the neighborhood as the kids found the answer to each of the clues.

On this day, as they followed the clues on their Easter egg hunt, the kids were literally running down the street! It was so amazing to watch them in their excitement.

When they finished the Easter egg hunt, each of the children received a special token with the word "Lord" brailed on one side, and a cross embossed on the other. This coin is available at the Braille Super Store. We talked about how the empty cross is there to remind us that Jesus is risen!

Dorace and Miss Audrey went for our pizza, while Grandpa Jerry hung out with us and served as our sighted kitchen helper. We sang our table prayer and enjoyed a pizza lunch.

After lunch, I gave the kids each a Brailed word search that I had made for them. The word list consisted of twenty words based on the subjects of this week's study. None of the kids had ever seen a
Brailed word puzzle before, and they were so excited to be able to do yet another activity that their sighted peers do. We played another game of Uno, and then S led us in our closing prayer.

Holy Spirit Friday at Camp lakewood!



Here we are walking down the aisle of Grace United Methodist Church, Charleston, SC, the first stop on our Camp Lakewood outing dedicated to the Holy Spirit.

A successful Camp Lakewood drew to a close, with our final day dedicated to the Holy Spirit. We started with Worship, Music and prayer, then we began talking about the Holy Spirit. I told the children about how Jesus sent the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost. We talked about how the Spirit gave courage to the early Christians and still works today in the Church. We talked about how the Holy Spirit can help us in our daily lives and give us courage to witness as Christians.

After preparing the kids for the day, we paid a visit to Grace United Methodist Church, where Pastor Don prayed with the kids and gave them their Certificates of Completion for Camp Lakewood. (Thanks, Arleigh, for designing these certificates!)

Then, John Johnston, another sighted angel and Grace Church volunteer, spoke with the kids about the layout of the church. They got to feel a stained-glass window, kneel at the Communion rail, and walk up to touch the altar. We even offered a couple of songs to God in the sanctuary.

After our time at church, we went to Wal-Mart, where there is a McDonalds. Each of the children was allowed to order his/her food independently. As we sat down to the table, the restaurant was very noisy. As we sang our table prayer, the room became very quiet and many people bowed their heads to join us in prayer.

For our Holy Spirit project, we asked Miss Marti to help us pick out items appropriate for the Shoebox Ministry of Operation Christmas Child, a ministry very near and dear to her heart. Dixie Land Guide Dog Users gave each child $20 to spend on items for the shoeboxes. The kids were allowed to find the items independently on the shelves, put them in the shopping buggy, unload the buggy onto the counter and pay for the items.

We got back to my place in time to play a few more games of Uno. Miss Marti even joined us for a game!

The real joy came when I asked T to lead our closing prayer. During this prayer, his very first, he openly accepted Christ into his heart. His Grandma asked, "Did Laurel Jean teach him that prayer?" We all assured her that these were his own words, at which point she started to cry. Well, we all cried, as T wrapped up his prayer and told God, "I want you to be in my heart forever, in Jesus Name. Amen."

From VBS To Baptism!



I’m pictured here, singing with Taylor, who accepted Christ during our Camp Lakewood VBS for blind youth.

Sunday, August 9, 2009, at Grace United Methodist Church, Charleston, SC, this fifteen-year-old publicly professed his Christian faith, and was baptized by Pastor Don during the 11:00 AM service. There was not a dry eye in God’s house as T professed his faith aloud. Even Pastor Don cried along with the rest of us.



Special thanks to the folks at Grace Church, who even presented T with a dramatized audio Bible after handing him his Baptism Certificate.

We put T to work right away. He assisted me during the Children's Moment, and sang with me during the Offertory, "Open the Eyes of My Heart" ending with a chorus of "Alleluia". He got a
standing ovation.

Another special thanks to T’s great-grandparents, who are raising him. They were absolutely beaming with pride.

Please continue to pray for Taylor, and for the rest of us as we nurture this beautiful, young Christian in his newfound faith!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Children's Chaplaincy Update

Yesterday, I sat at my kitchen table, playing a simple game of Uno with 15-year-old T and his great-grandparents. It is an honor for me to serve T and his family as part of my Children’s Chaplaincy for blind youth. This young man, his great-grandmother and great-grandfather are three of the most amazing folks I know.

Many other health issues, including cystic fibrosis, complicate T’s blindness. Grandma and Grandpa have been raising T since he was four months old, and he was on a feeding tube until age seven. In spite of all of his challenges, including the daily ritual of “thumping” for cystic fibrosis and a complex regimen of medicines, T works every bit as hard as his peers, and harder than some. Grandma and Grandpa are his biggest fans, cheering for him with every step he takes.

Over the past seven months, I have been tutoring T and his family on a specialized computer for the blind known as the Pac Mate. Today, we veered from that schedule to concentrate on one of Grandma’s wishes for T, that he learn to enjoy playing games as many of his peers do. These three have been so busy with the often-daunting routine of healthcare and school that something as simple as sitting down to play a game together has understandably taken a lower priority.

Today, God blessed me as I sat with this family and watched a young man play a game for the very first time in his life. We all rejoiced as T progressed from intense concentration on the rules of the game and the adapted Braille cards themselves, to smiles and laughter as he used his turn to make his grandma draw more cards into her hand. When he won for the first time, we all cheered. He kept asking to play again and again, growing more confident with each game. I could hear the big smile in his voice as his grandma patted him and said, “It is so good to see you smile and hear you laugh.”
When we finished playing, my associate Miss Audrey’s guide dog Zack and my pet Lab, Zettie kept T smiling and laughing. Zettie sat beside him and placed her paw in his hand for a while. Then, Zack grabbed one of his tug toys and showed T how to play tug!

God indeed blessed all of us with a truly beautiful day! Thank God, and thank you, for the prayers and support which make days like this possible.

Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

God bless you, and keep His Song in your heart!

Laurel Jean

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day Music and Ministry


Here I am, sharing Music and Ministry with the children of Rockville Presbyterian Church, Wadmalaw Island, SC.

It was great helping this congregation celebrate Father’s Day, Vacation Bible School Graduation and the beginning of summer, all in one service! One of my most memorable conversations from yesterday (June 21) took place with Andrew, age five. He “gave me the silent treatment” when I asked his age and grade in school, so I started naming off various grades. When I said “high school”, he impatiently blurted out, “Do I look like I’m in high school?” (Now, that’s really a keeper!)

Pastor Mark asked Miss Audrey, Zack, Ethel and me to join his Sunday School class, Prior to yesterday’s Worship. In addition to participating in an inspirational discussion of Colossians, we were given an opportunity to share more about the outreach and Children’s Chaplaincy that are such an important part of this Ministry.

Talking about “my” kids, I thought of T, with whom I was blessed to work only the day before, and B, who I’m told placed fourth in her division of this year’s National Braille Challenge. It is such a joy to know these and the other young people whom God has placed in my life!

So many reasons to celebrate Father’s Day, and give thanks to my “Heavenly Dad”!

Colossians 1:17: “He (Jesus) is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

God bless you, and keep His Song in your heart!

Laurel Jean

Friday, June 19, 2009

Columbia, SC, Mission Outreach and Children's Chaplaincy



Slim (my long, white cane) and I are pictured here with Nancy Moore and her guide dog Luna to my left, and Audrey Gunter with her guide dog Zack to my right. They serve respectively as President and Immediate Past President of Dixie Land Guide Dog Users.

Yesterday, Music by Laurel Jean was honored to appear with Dixie Land Guide Dog Users at the South Carolina Commission for the Blind Summer Teen Program, held at the Ellen Beach Mack Center for the Blind in Colombia, SC. Eleven teens, along with Commission faculty and staff (both blind and sighted) shared an afternoon of music, entertainment and lively conversation.

We listened as our younger blind brothers and sisters shared their goals with us. Some expressed interest in radio broadcasting and communication; one young man looks forward to being a groundskeeper; one young lady hopes to be a fashion designer; and another dreams of flying for the first time on a commercial airplane.

We discussed some of the challenges we face as members of the blindness community, and laughed at the silly things that some sighted folks have said to us.

We encouraged the kids to use whatever mobility tool each chooses (a long, white cane; a guide dog; or a sighted “human guide”) competently and confidently. My fellow Dixie Landers and I believe that the key to educating the sighted community is a more active presence of the blindness community in the community-at-large.

Thanks to my technical assistant, Arleigh Baker, for his help with the creation of accessible handouts for the kids.

All of us are looking forward to making more visits such as these in an effort to encourage our blind brothers and sisters of all ages!

Thank you, for your ongoing prayers and support!

God bless you, and keep His Song in your heart!

Laurel Jean

Music Ministry, Eastern Kentucky


Big thanks to all who helped make this past weekend’s Music and Ministry in Eastern Kentucky a success. “Seeing and Being God’s Light” was the theme on Saturday, June 13. Music By Laurel Jean was honored to be the main presenter for this year’s Prime Time Retreat, Church of the Nazarene, Eastern Kentucky District. The retreat was held on the beautiful Mount hope Church Campground, where we were hosted throughout the weekend.

Sunday, we were up bright and early, on the road to Paris, KY, to help God’s kids of all ages celebrate Vacation Bible School Graduation at Paris Church of the Nazarene. Then, Sunday evening, we were off to another of God’s Family Rooms and Evening Worship just down the road at the Flemingsburg Church of the Nazarene.

It is always such a joy to meet more of my brothers and sisters in Christ! God bless you, and keep His Song in your heart!

Laurel Jean

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In Tune For Summer, 2009!

After several blessed weeks of Music and Ministry in Illinois, we’re getting “in tune for summer” here in sunny South Carolina! The month of June was off to a productive start as the mailman brought a double armload of packages to my door. Thanks to Mary in Texas, for sending Braille devotional materials to share with “my” kids!

Back in 2000, Mary was a music student attending the Summer Institute of the National Resource Center for Blind Musicians in Bridgeport, CT when I first met her. Since then, she has followed my Ministry and kept me updated on her life, too! Mary is currently the “Arts Tip” Host on WRR Classical 101.1 FM, Dallas/Fort Worth.

Last Thursday, June 4, I was honored to attend the Eighth-Grade Graduation of one of “my” kids, 15-year-old T, here in Charleston. T is no stranger to hard work. He and his great-grandpa arrived early Friday morning to do more work with his Pac Mate. He’s looking forward to using this specialized computer in school this fall!

As T and his grandpa headed for home on their motorcycle, I prepared for more guests to arrive! The week before, I had received a phone call from Tanya. Tanya is the granddaughter of Josie, a Braille transcriber from Indiana whom I was privileged to meet while presenting for the 75th Anniversary of Lutheran Blind Mission, St. Louis, MO, back in 1998. Josie, who has also kept in touch with me, had been planning a trip to Charleston to attend Tanya’s daughter’s Graduation. Josie told Tanya that, aside from watching her great-granddaughter graduate, the one thing that she wanted to do was to visit my Charleston Headquarters. We had a nice visit. Josie even received her own presentation of “Vision Thru Your eyes”, a song that I love to sing especially for those sighted folks who volunteer to better the blindness community.

I said goodbye to Josie, just in time for 13-year-old S to arrive. She spent the weekend with me. We attended the bridal shower of Nancy Smith, President of Dixie Land Guide Dog Users. I helped S to bake a big batch of cookies for the occasion. We also took several walks. Throughout the weekend, S was able to hone some of her independent living and cane travel skills.

Another highlight of the weekend was the celebration of Pastor Don’s 40th year in Ministry, at Grace United Methodist Church. A big thanks to everyone at Grace for their ongoing support of Music By Laurel Jean, my Outreach and Children’s Chaplaincy.

I continue to be amazed by God’s handiwork. He brings His children together across the miles, through the years, from generation to generation.

Psalm 145:2 “Every day I will praise You and extol Your name for ever and ever.”

Stay tuned for more updates. God bless you, and keep His Song in your heart!

Laurel Jean

About Me

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God has blessed me with a Music Ministry that is still ongoing and growing after twenty-plus years. This includes my outreach promoting Braille Literacy in the Christian venue, and my recently-founded Children's Chaplaincy for blind youth. To make things a bit more interesting, I have also been blind since birth. I consider my blindness to be a unique gift from God, an opportunity to serve as an ambassador among blind and sighted folks of all ages, on all walks of life. To learn more about my work, from South Carolina to Central Illinois and beyond, please visit my Web site, and be sure to stay tuned to my Blog!