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Chirpy eggs put hunt in kids' reach at Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind in Brooksville

Teacher Karen Hettle, left, and Diane Badger help her grandson, Dawson Auger, 6, search for eggs at the Easter egg hunt for visually impaired children and their siblings Saturday in Brooksville.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Teacher Karen Hettle, left, and Diane Badger help her grandson, Dawson Auger, 6, search for eggs at the Easter egg hunt for visually impaired children and their siblings Saturday in Brooksville.

BROOKSVILLE — The Easter egg hunt began as they always do, with the children in a bunch, fidgeting, baskets in hand, ready for the adult in charge to just stop talking and finally say:

Go.

And they were off.

"Listen, do you hear it?" a teacher asked, holding the hand of her student, Dawson Auger, who is 6. He held onto his grandmother with his other hand.

The egg was bright pink and chirped softly. Dawson, thin with shaggy brown hair, swayed his head back and forth. He kneeled on the ground and let go of his teacher and his grandmother, which is why this hunt was organized, so these kids — all visually impaired, some blind like Dawson, some who can only see out of the corner of one good eye, some whose world is light and shadows and know that, one day, they will lose even that and everything will be dark — aren't afraid to be kids. To run. To fall down. To not define themselves by their sight.

"They aren't blind kids," said Sylvia Perez, 39, the executive director of Lighthouse, an agency for the visually impaired and blind in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus.

"They are kids who happen to be visually impaired."

The egg hunt was her idea, and it was held on the Lighthouse grounds in Brooksville Saturday afternoon. She's been nearly blind since birth. It's like she sees through two straws and what she can see is still blurry.

Her parents had four children after she was born, and she figures they were too busy to treat her any differently, so she just did whatever her siblings did. She even went on Easter egg hunts with them.

"But I never found any eggs," she said.

As a teen and young adult, she felt isolated. It was hard. Back then, she was the blind girl, the girl who was different and odd and left out. Her lack of sight was her identity.

But then she found visually impaired friends and gadgets to help her gain confidence. She learned how to use a cane, so she wasn't always terrified of falling. She learned Braille, as what sight she has will likely be gone sometime soon. It fades, subtly, each day.

She married her college sweetheart and had a daughter, Olivia, who is 9. She threw herself into a career of making sure other kids don't feel alone, like she did, and that they challenge themselves.

"You can sit back and do nothing," she said, "or you can persevere."

There is no easy day.

"It's hard," she said. Just chatting with someone while walking outside takes mental energy, a curb here, shrub there, slopes, slippery leaves. But doing it makes her confident, which makes her happy. This is why she gently guides children sitting on the sidelines, safe with their parents, to the melee, the action.

The hunt.

"Listen," the teacher said. Dawson could hear it, the egg's soft chirping, and he stretched his hands out in the darkness, fingers over mulch and leaves, dry, brittle.

This was his first Easter egg hunt, and on the drive over from Homosassa he kept talking about how it was his day; his special day, he called it.

"My eyes are broken," he said.

But you have so many things that do work, his teacher said. Your brain. Your heart.

"What does work?" she countered.

"My ears," he said.

"What else?"

"My hands."

He scooted himself closer to the sound, knees in the dirt and then he felt it, smooth, plastic, and grabbed with both hands, smiling, and held it close, his egg, one of many he found that day.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com.

. FAST FACTS

About Lighthouse programs

The Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind is a nonprofit agency that provides services, including home sessions, at no cost to clients in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. For information, call (727) 815-0303 or (352) 754-1132 or go to www.lighthouse-pasco.org.

Lighthouse of Pinellas can be reached at (727) 544-4433 or www.lighthouseofpinellas.org. The Tampa Lighthouse is (813) 251-2407 and www.tampalighthouse.org.

Executive director Sylvia Perez wants to have a day camp for kids between 6 and 13 this summer. Services for children and older teens and adults are funded, but Perez said there are no programs or grants for older children and young teens. She's hoping for help from the community.

Chirpy eggs put hunt in kids' reach at Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind in Brooksville 04/11/09 [Last modified: Sunday, April 12, 2009 12:04pm]
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