Longtime member of the Foundation Fighting Blindness Jim Vacheenas was given the foundation’s Southern Region Volunteer of the Year Award in recognition of his outstanding service and support of the non-profit’s mission to restore sight lost to retinal diseases.
Held at Minneapolis' Hyatt Regency in June, the Foundation’s VISIONS 2012 national conference Awards Dinner recognized Vacheenas’ efforts in front of more than 500 people. The Foundation Fighting Blindness is a national non-profit organization committed to vision-saving research for retinal diseases like Retinitis Pigmentosa, Macular Degeneration, and Usher Syndrome.
"It means a lot to me to be recognized by my FFB colleagues for all the time and effort I have put into this," Vacheenas told Tucker Patch. "What many do not realize is that I get much satisfaction and knowledge for my own personal benefit by doing this for others."
The Tucker resident dedicates his time and effort to raise awareness of these visual impairments and diseases, and regularly supports research and the local visually impaired community through fundraising. His steadfast commitment to support the foundation and surrounding community is no surprise, either; both he and several family members are affected by Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition that progressively degrades vision over time.
"Many individuals are devastated when they get a diagnosis from an ophthalmologist that they are going to lose all or some of their vision," he said. "The doctors are not equipped to help their patients when there is no cure for their disease. That is where my group and the FFB can provide real hope by showing them real solutions and examples of individuals that are succeeding in business and their lives with little or no vision. We have helped turned many lives around after getting them plugged into available resources and keeping them optimistic about facing their challenges."
Vacheenas’ ongoing efforts include working with local retinal specialists to provide patients with helpful resources and leading a support group for people with severely impaired vision. He is also the Foundation’s Atlanta chapter leader and has acted as an Atlanta 5K VisionWalk team captain. In this year’s walk Vacheenas managed to surpass his individual goal of raising $4,000 to fund sight-saving research.
"Providing support to those that are attempting to cope with there vision loss is a big part of what we do," Vacheens said. "I lead a monthly support group of about 20 members where we discuss tips, devices, techniques etc. on finding ways to do things differently than the way they use to before they were had to adapt."
Without inspirational leaders like Jim Vacheenas, “the Foundation Fighting Blindness would not be in the position we are today,” says CEO Bill Schmidt. Because of Vacheenas’ avid support, the Foundation is “actually restoring vision in human clinical trials.” Several research institutions within the United States participate in such trials and other retinal research, including Atlanta’s own Emory University. For the more than 10 million Americans—and 250,000 Georgians—affected by retinal diseases, ongoing support for these trials is vital.
Besides Vacheenas, the second annual VISIONS 2012 conference honored eight other individual members with excellence awards and six groups from Foundation chapters and VisionWalk events with awards. Hundreds of visually impaired individuals and their loved ones attended the four-day conference to discover the latest advancements in retinal research, learn skills for coping with vision degradation, and meet other people from across the country with similar retinal diseases.
Vacheenas is a part of a non-profit foundation that has raised over $450 million since 1971 to fund research focused on preventing, treating, and curing a spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases. As the leading non-governmental funder of retinal research, the Foundation Fighting Blindness has led breakthrough studies using gene therapy to restore significant vision in blind children and young adults.
With the help of individuals like Vacheenas, the Foundation maintains a network of almost 50 chapters and provides support and resources to affected individuals and their loved ones in communities across the United States. Vacheenas added, "The biggest fear I have found with individuals losing their vision is of the unknown. The FFB is the answer for that."
Although Vacheenas was not able to attend the honor ceremony in person this year, his continual support is a perceptible presence in the Foundation Fighting Blindness community. “We are truly grateful for [Vacheenas’] ongoing drive to make a difference,” says CEO Schmidt. Vacheenas’ efforts are certainly visible to the outside world as well: promising advancements in gene therapy and cell-based studies give 10 million Americans affected by retinal diseases—Vacheenas and his family included—hope that a cure is in sight.