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Chicago mainstay for visually impaired shines light on suburbs

The Chicago Lighthouse Vision Rehabilitation Center in Glenview, 222 Waukegan Road. (Jeff Danna, Tribune reporter)

The Chicago Lighthouse Vision Rehabilitation Center in Glenview, 222 Waukegan Road. (Jeff Danna, Tribune reporter)

A century-old Chicago institution for people with visual impairments has made Glenview its second home.

The Chicago Lighthouse officially opened the doors of its first suburban facility in January, but the nonprofit organization is scheduled to dedicate the new location with events April 12 and 15.

“We’ve always wanted to expand,” said Janet Szlyk, president and executive director of The Chicago Lighthouse.

Founded in 1906, The Chicago Lighthouse has long called the city home while serving people from across the Chicago region. Thanks to a grant from the North Suburban Healthcare Foundation, the agency was able to open its Glenview facility with the hope that its services would reach even more people.

“We decided we wanted to do something that would be meaningful in our community,” said Beverley Kroll, chairwoman of the North Suburban Healthcare Foundation.

One key demographic the agency hopes to serve through its new location is the elderly, Szlyk said. As the population of the north suburbs ages so, too, could the number of people with vision impairments, she said.

At the other end of the spectrum are younger people who statistically don’t suffer vision loss to the same extent. But they might be looking for a little extra help getting through daily tasks like reading text on computer screens.

Szlyk calls it “optimizing your sight.”

“I have normal vision, but I use magnifiers galore all over the house,” she said. ”Those things help me do my job better.”

Like its city location, the Glenview Lighthouse will sell adaptive technology designed to aid people with low vision.

The center will also offer many of the organization’s other services, including psychological counseling, programs for children and seniors and free legal aid for people dealing with issues like discrimination and personal injury claims.

Szlyk said the Lighthouse’s comprehensive model of care is somewhat unusual among groups serving the vision-impaired. In other places, people who are diagnosed with visual impairments would need to see multiple agencies to receive the same care that many Lighthouse clients can receive under one roof.

“That’s what’s really tough for people diagnosed with vision problems,” Szlyk said. “You have to find your way and navigate and try to pull a program together for yourself.”

Kroll said she has been impressed with The Chicago Lighthouse since her days as chairwoman of the board at Rush North Shore Hospital. The Chicago Lighthouse operated a small facility at the hospital, and she said she saw a lot of good come from it.

“When patients would read something, they would have tears in their eyes. They were so pleased,” Kroll said.

Last year, The Chicago Lighthouse served 77,000 people, Szlyk said. With the opening of the Glenview facility, officials hope to serve at least 28,000 more.

Most often, clients are referred to the Lighthouse after being diagnosed with vision problems. But many people also learn about the organization through friends, family and their own research — and just knowing help is out there is a big revelation for many, Szlyk said, adding no one is turned away.

“You don’t have to live with it,” Szlyk said.

Open houses to dedicate the new facility are scheduled for April 12 and April 15 at 222 Waukegan Road, Glenview. Guests must RSVP by calling 847-510-2055. For a schedule of events, go to www.chicagolighthouse.org/north.

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