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Visually impaired find work, family at South Texas Lighthouse for the Blind

Posted at 6:27 AM, Dec 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-05 14:22:32-05

South Texas Lighthouse for the Blind opened in 1964, and for more than 50 years, it has been manufacturing over a dozen different items.

“For a lot of our employees, this is their first job, of this is their first job since they became blind,” says Alana Manrow of the South Texas Lighthouse for the Blind. “So we bring them in here and train them on our manufacturing equipment or in retail, whatever the case may be.”

STLB is the largest employer to the visually impaired in South Texas. Through the manufacturing plant, 90 percent of its business is with the government and 10 percent is commercial.

The facility constructs a wide array of products.

“We make 350 varieties of binders, we make index tabs, we do toilet paper, we make mail trays for the U.S. Postal Service and we do kits for DPS,” Manrow said.

It is the first job for 36-year-old John David Mendoza. Eleven years ago, Mendina discovered he had meningitis in his brain.

After emerging from a two-week coma, Mendina learned he had glaucoma. After learning of the STLB, he found a job that his lifestyle at its plant. Now, he is the leader at his station for producing binders.

“It was very overwhelming, just to know there is somewhere that will hire people who are visually impaired or blind,” says Mendina.

Mendina says the workplace feels exactly like a family. And that’s how Diana Garza explains it after working at the plant for 11 years.

Garza became legally blind after having her last child.

“I became sick, and then I had really high blood pressure and it blew my optic nerve,” she said.

Earlier, she worked in the fast-food industry where other employees were telling her what to do. She became tired of that grind.

At the STLB, Garza constructs 3-ring binders. While awaiting the mechanic to refill a part of her machine to stamp the binders, Garza beams with pride talking about her job.

“This is like a second home to me, ya know besides my family,” she said. “I think I spend more time here than I do at home.”

The manufacturing plant is designed to make any visually impaired person to feel comfortable, with striping throughout the facility prevening bumps into materials and pallets. There are also Braille and audio substitutes for their newsletters and vending machines.

The plant is continuously producing items, and hopes to expand with more local businesses. If a local business would like to work with them, Manrow suggests calling them to find ways to help.

Tours of the STLB facility are available for groups, providing an indication how the operation works.

For more information on STLB, check this link.