A long-running program to help Montanans with vision problems practice important skills is set to move to Billings after 15 years in Helena.
Each year, the Montana Association for the Blind brings together about 20 students for a summer orientation program.
“We teach those independent living skills that you need to have a good, fulfilling life – everything from how to walk with a white cane, to how to put toothpaste on a toothbrush without getting it all over the place, to doing laundry and dressing and things like that,” said Jocelyn DeHaas, executive director.
In addition to those basic classes, the program also offers electives in things like Braille, computer skills, woodworking, cooking, sewing and crafts.
DeHaas said the orientation fills an important need for this group of people.
“It’s life-changing, it’s transforming for people,” she said. “There aren’t too many programs for adults who lose their vision.”
The Montana Association for the Blind covers most of the costs for its students.
“Our founders really mandated that this would be a program that anybody could attend, rich or poor – that lack of money would not be a barrier,” DeHaas said.
The orientation program started in the 1940s. For about 15 years, the group has rented space at Carroll College each June and July to hold it. This year, however, DeHaas said they decided to look for a new location, after the amount it would take to rent there went up substantially. She estimated the organization’s costs would have risen from about $4,300 per student to about $5,800.
“That’s a lot of money for a nonprofit to raise, to make up that difference,” she said.
DeHaas said there were also more restrictions on how the association would be able to use the space at Carroll. She said they had previously used dorm rooms in Trinity Hall for their classrooms, as many classes have very few students. She said leaders wanted them to instead rent larger classrooms in other college buildings, because they didn’t want furniture moved out of dorm rooms.
DeHaas said MAB is now in talks to bring the orientation program to Rocky Mountain College in Billings.
“We’ll give it a try over in the east part of the state now,” she said.
DeHaas said they had liked holding the event in Helena because they had students from around Montana and Helena was a central location. She also said Carroll College and other Helena organizations have been great partners over the years, and that they are disappointed to have to move.
The Montana Association for the Blind will begin accepting applications for this year’s summer orientation in February. You can find more information about the program at MAB’s website , or by calling them at (406) 442-9411.