Excellence Awards Bestowed Upon Foundation Leaders at VISIONS 2013

July 17, 2013 – The Foundation Fighting Blindness’ national VISIONS conference is a pinnacle event offering valuable networking opportunities for those affected by retinal diseases, updates on the latest research advancements, coping strategies and access to scientists making treatments and cures possible.

It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the Foundation’s progress and recognize those individuals, chapters and VisionWalks that fuel research funding while bringing critical awareness and support to communities across the nation. At the VISIONS 2013 Awards Dinner in Baltimore, Maryland, on Saturday, June 29, more than 600 people gathered to honor the recipients of the Foundation’s 3rd Annual Member Excellence Awards, as well as this year’s Builders of Sight awardees.

“Without these dedicated leaders who work so passionately to advance our mission, the Foundation would not be in the position we are today – actually restoring sight in clinical trials with many promising human studies underway and on the horizon,” says Foundation CEO, Bill Schmidt. “Congratulations to all of the award recipients, and a sincere ‘thank you’ on behalf of the millions affected with blinding retinal diseases.

Builders of Sight Award, recognizing extraordinary commitment and dedication to accelerating the advancement of sight-saving treatments into clinical trials and out to the millions of people around the world affected by retinal degenerative disease

Four adults holding a reward plaque above a guide dog.
Foundation President Ed Gollob, Board Director and Builders of Sight Award recipient Moira Shea, Chairman and Co-Founder Gordon Gund and Vice Chairman Jerry Shaw, with Moira’s guide dog, Finnegan.

Generously contributing to the foundation’s efforts since 1984, board director and national trustee George Villere has provided inspiringleadership in the fight against blindness as well as support for the Nashville VisionWalk. Affected by retinitis pigmentosa, George is a partner at St. Denis J. Villere & Co., an investment management firm in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Involved since 1980, board director and national trustee Moira M. Shea chaired the D.C. chapter for several years, founded the D.C. Blind Wine event in 2006, has supported the Northern Virginia VisionWalk, among other events, and works to increase funds for vision research. She recently retired from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she was a senior policy analyst in the office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Moira is a passionate advocate for people with retinal diseases, especially those with Usher syndrome, a condition that robs both hearing and vision. When Shea worked for a U.S. Senator in 1997, she made history with her guide dog, Beau, setting into motion a rules change to permit service dogs on the Senate floor.

Member Excellence Awards

VisionWalk Strides Award, recognizing significant improvement of a VisionWalk

Large Market: From 2011 to 2012, the Chicago VisionWalk grew by more than $40,000, from $286,000 to $328,000. In addition to this revenue boost, leaders also recruited 313 more registered walkers than the previous year and secured more sponsorship dollars. And Chicago is consistently the largest VisionWalk west of the Mississippi River.

Small Market: Thanks to a strong leadership team and a 23 percent increase in participation, the 2012 Jacksonville VisionWalk raised nearly $135,000, or $50,000 more than the walk’s 2011 fundraising total. Sponsorships also increased by $13,000.

Outstanding VisionWalk Award, recognizing sustained high achievement of a VisionWalk

Large Market: In its seventh year, the 2012 Orange County VisionWalk surpassed the $100,000 mark for the first time in its history, meeting the committee’s goal to raise $118,000. Nearly 600 people came out to Angel Stadium for the event, and sponsorships also reached an all-time high.

Small Market: With an initial goal of $50,000, the inaugural Western New York VisionWalk in 2012 exceeded this target a remarkable five weeks before event day, prompting the committee to increase its goal. Many leaders were new to fundraising yet banded together to raise $86,000 and a significant amount in sponsorships for a banner first year.

Chapter Momentum Award, recognizing significant improvement of a chapter

The Jacksonville Chapter’s leadership core has grown from an initial five people to a cadre of 15 active leaders, each bringing a particular expertise to the table. They’ve engaged many local low vision organizations to bring their resources to the chapter and engaged Walmart stores in supporting VisionWalk. The chapter’s comprehensive web page is a model for other chapters, updating its members on local activities, media visibility and successes.

Outstanding Chapter Award, recognizing sustained high achievement of a chapter

Atlanta leaders, Jim Vacheenas and Gail Handler, accepting the Outstanding Chapter Award
Atlanta leaders, Jim Vacheenas and Gail Handler, accepting the Outstanding Chapter Award

The Atlanta Chapter continues its forward momentum as a model chapter. Its leaders have cultivated strong relationships with many resource groups available to the visually impaired, as well as five retinal practices, engaging them to become sponsors and have teams at the Atlanta VisionWalk. The chapter organizes an annual golf fundraiser as well as a monthly Vision Resource group, which secures top-ranked retinal research presenters. There is something for everyone within the Atlanta Chapter because of the commitment and outreach efforts of its passionate leaders.

Volunteers of the Year, recognizing six regional leaders’ excellent service in support of the Foundation’s mission in 2012

Western Region - Judy Hauger and her husband, Craig, have played an integral role in the Arizona VisionWalk since 2010, motivated by their daughter, Ashley, who has Usher syndrome. Their powerhouse VisionWalk “Team Ashley” raised more than $17,000, or 22 percent of the walk’s total funds, in 2012. They also recruited 260 team members, breaking the national record for team participation.

Midwest Region – A born leader, Mark Valenziano brings a passionate drive, magnetic personality and huge heart to the Foundation and the Northern Lights Chapter. His VisionWalk team has raised more than $65,000 to date, and, as chair, Mark helped boost walk revenue to its all-time high. He also co-chaired the Twin Cities Dining in the Dark in 2012 and 2013, which raised a combined $250,000. Mark, who is affected with Stargardt disease, mentors new leaders and regularly gives presentations to spread the Foundation’s mission.

Midwest region Volunteer of the Year, Mark Valenziano
Midwest region Volunteer of the Year, Mark Valenziano

Florida RegionJudy Kahl has created a real buzz with her “Just Bee-cause”-themed events, raising $370,000 since 2009. A national trustee since 2010, she’s not only planned multiple fundraising events; she’s engaged others to follow her lead and host their own events. Judy has secured sponsorships from retinal practices and is very focused on gaining the support of the eye care professional community. Affected with Usher syndrome, she’s also committed to bringing the Foundation’s message to the masses through media outreach and visibility.

Southwest RegionScott Burt has been a national trustee for more than eight years, providing solid leadership in Colorado as a chapter leader, fundraiser and founder and chair of the Denver Scramble for Sight golf tournament. This annual event has raised more than $1 million over the past 13 years. Motivated by his son, who has retinitis pigmentosa, Scott’s family VisionWalk team has also participated since the first VisionWalk.

Northeast RegionWendy Kreisberg played a big role in transforming both the Westchester-Fairfield Chapter and VisionWalk, determined to help find a cure for her son, who has retinitis pigmentosa. Her walk team, “Yes Eye Can,” has secured more than $66,000, and, as chair in 2011 and 2012, she rallied a huge jump in participation and funds raised. Wendy has also engaged local retinal practices, raised awareness throughout the Westchester community and participated as a chapter leader since 2009, truly going above and beyond.

Atlanta leaders, Jim Vacheenas and Gail Handler, accepting the Outstanding Chapter Award
Mid-Atlantic region Volunteer of the Year, Davida Luehrs

Mid-Atlantic Region – Passionate about providing support to anyone with vision loss who needs it, Davida Luehrs fuels the Northern Virginia chapter as president. A national trustee affected with retinitis pigmentosa, Davida was instrumental in bringing VisionWalk to the area, which triumphantly passed the $1 million in its eighth year. She’s twice chaired the Northern Virginia Dining in the Dark, and Davida’s efforts have led to nearly $2 million raised to support retinal research.

Outstanding New Trustee, recognizing notable contributions and sustained commitment to the Foundation’s mission during the first three years of trusteeship

Kamal Majeed, Ph.D., became a trustee in 2010 and has worked to raise research funds and awareness within the Tampa Bay Community. He has co-chaired the Tampa/St. Petersburg Dining in the Dark for the last three years, engaging top community leaders and philanthropists, so they have a true understanding of the Foundation’s mission. Over the past four years, when Dr. Majeed has been involved with Dining in the Dark, the event has raised more than half a million dollars.

Outstanding Veteran Trustee, recognizing a trustee who has held the position for five or more years, and has made notable contributions in the areas of philanthropy, volunteerism and networking, and has maintained a sustained commitment to the Foundation’s mission during his/her tenure

The Foundation posthumously presented this award to Jack Wiedmer, who sadly passed away in the spring. He saw a great deal during his lifetime – from Winston Churchill’s famous Iron Curtain speech, to breathtaking landscapes from the cockpit of the planes he loved to fly, to the rhythmic flow of his line while fly fishing. Later on, macular degeneration stole Jack’s sight and many of these pleasures, and his focus turned to the Foundation’s mission. He played a huge role in building the Foundation’s presence in St. Louis, serving as chapter president for 10 years and helping to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through numerous events.