September 27, 2006 - In August, the Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired opened its newly renovated rehabilitation center, a modular building that on the inside now resembles an apartment.

There's a bedroom with a dresser, an iron and a king-sized bed. There's a bathroom, a washer and dryer and a kitchen with a stove and a refrigerator.

The new features help the center's employees teach the blind how to safely complete every-day chores, like cooking on a stove, ironing or making the bed.

"It's a pretty fantastic facility, I'd have to say," comments Lisa Banta, SAAVI's Rehabilitation Program Coordinator.

According to Vanta, the renovation project was spearheaded by one woman, Debra Anderson, vice president of Casas Lindas Development Corportation. Anderson has multiple family members who suffer from impaired vision.

The rehabilitation center, called "the back module" by SAAVI staff, has been formally renamed, "The Casas Lindas Development Corporation Rehabilitation Center."

When the renovation began, Anderson and Casas Lindas only had agreed to donate some paint and one day of labor to make the rundown building look a bit nicer.

Then they realized that the building needed its entry way more thoroughly renovated. Then, they found more work that needed to be done and appliances that need to be upgraded.

"It was tremendously larger than we originally planned," Anderson says. "We just kept on going."

More than a week and a half later, when the project was complete, Casas Lindas had donated multiple days of free labor, as well as a handful of nights and weekends. Anderson also had convinced other area businesses to donate materials, appliances, and paint.

"I just badgered them until they gave in," she says, "I'm pretty good at that."

Once an ugly, shabby back building used mainly for storage, the center is now the centerpiece of SAAVI's comprehensive day-based training program.

In the publicly funded program, SAAVI helps the visually impaired gain the skills they will need to get a job or read Braille. The new renovated areas, however, are used mostly to teach the students how go about their every day home lives.

For example, the stove in the center's kitchen has raised dots stuck to all of its knobs. The students are taught how to use those dots to turn the stove off and on without putting themselves in danger of being burned. The center has similar raise dots on the washer, dryer, iron and microwave.

When the students go home, they are given their own stickers and helped to put them on their appliances.

Banta says the building's renovation to seem like a working apartment has made the training more effective.

"It's important that now we have these, we don't have to say, 'pretend this is an iron,'" she says. "Now we can say even when teaching how to make a bed, 'here's a pillow and here's a pillowcase."

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