Westmoreland County Blind Association building brimming with activity
The plain tan-colored building with the giant American flag along Main Street in Greensburg belies the hive of activity inside, where the chatter from 125 Westmoreland County Blind Association workers is constant and the mood is cheerful.
Management encourages pajama parties and pizza lunches for the workers in the 62,000-square foot building of warehouse, office and store.
“When I leave here, my heart feels 10 times bigger,” fundraising coordinator Debra Sabatine said. “No aches and pains here – they're so happy to have a job.”
Physically and mentally challenged workers enjoy steady employment at the association's document destruction program, which shreds 1.5 million pounds of paper for recycling each year. Clients are attorneys, CPAs, banks and schools.
The association has provided employment, services and programming to the blind in Westmoreland County since 1948. The nonprofit has a board of directors whose goal is to maintain independence and a high quality of life for association clients.
Interim CEO and President Tim Miller visits frequently and knows all of the workers by name. They bump fists and talk as he moves along the line. He's been with the blind association since he went to college and got a master's degree in social work.
Miller, 53, is a husband and father of three and has low vision.
“It's never stopped me from doing anything,” he says, and the attitude is picked up by those around him.
The first workers in the lineup remove metal clips and staples, providing a steady feed of loose paper for about 30 shredders.
Stephen Short, 54 of Hempfield, said having a job means he can save money and make friends.
“I buy stuff of my own,” Short said. “When I have problems, I talk to Tim.”
Blind and visually impaired people work in the manufacturing room, where the whir of sewing machines is constant.
Cindy Ziller, 45, of Jeannette clipped strings off parts for bags being shipped to U.S. military in Afghanistan as part of the association's contract with the Department of Defense. She's blind and uses a service dog and a cab to get to work.
In the custom embroidery department, workers can personalize hats, shirts, towels, blankets – just about anything. One recent order was for eight pink-and white-stitched bathrobes for a bridal party. Orders for embroidery are taken in the store or by calling 724-837-1250. The Embroidery Store also has pre-made items for sale.
The specialized services department offers caseworkers dedicated to going to the homes of blind clients and taking them to doctors' appointments, grocery shopping and other errands. Funding cuts have made fundraisers for these programs even more important. Upcoming evens include a “Paint Your Pet” event at the blind association building and a golf outing June 19 at Norvelt Golf Club.
The association focuses on blindness prevention by providing screenings in elementary schools and educational information to the elderly and others who are experiencing vision issues.
Dawn Law is a contributing writer.