Teenager losing sight gains new skills through program

NEWARK, AR (KAIT) – Every teenager dreams of gaining some independence from their parents.

A 16-year-old boy from Newark got his first taste of freedom this summer thanks to a unique program for high school students that are either blind or visually impaired, like him.

Andrew Summers has lost some of his eyesight because of complications from a rare genetic disorder called Bardet-Biedl syndrome.

"He basically sees 21/25 with his glasses on, so he can still see," said Andrew's mother, Crystal Summers. "He's not completely blind, but he does have some major visual impairment."

Andrew's vision problems have limited his ability to do some things for himself, so that's why he wanted to attend Jump Start, a three-week career development program organized by the state Department of Human Services Division of Services for the Blind.

"I was wanting to learn independence because I'd never learned it [before]," Andrew said.

The DHS Division of Services for the Blind chose 21 students this summer to learn life skills that most people without visual impairment take for granted, like cleaning and cooking. The Jump Start program taught the students not only how to plan out their meals but also how to buy the groceries and prepare the food themselves.

"It was my first time actually getting to make the food," Andrew said, "because in the past I've burned myself."

He even came home with a tool that slips onto his fingers and allows him to cut vegetables, but not himself.

"He's come home now, and he's been like, 'Mom, what can I help you do in the kitchen?'" Crystal said. "I just think that's wonderful."

The program also taught Andrew to use a walking cane to improve his mobility. He even got his first job at a senior citizens facility in Little Rock, where he answered the phone, greeted visitors and entertained the elderly by playing his guitar.

"He made, I think, about $500 while he was there in that three weeks," his mother said. "It was just a great experience for him."

To attend Jump Start, Andrew did have to stay during the weeks in Little Rock at the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The trip marked his first time ever leaving home.

"It was just so hard for me," Crystal said. "I just cried, and he was just like 'bye mom' because he really wanted to do it."

Andrew is eligible to attend the program every summer until he graduates high school. Right now, he is home-schooled but plans to attend college and then transfer to seminary in hopes of becoming a minister.

Those future goals aside, what he wants now is to do it all over again next summer.

"It's made a huge difference. I'm very grateful for the things that I was able to do," Andrew said. "It was just a great experience in getting to meet new people and getting to know people that are like me and getting to understand how they go day-to-day."

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