A.V.R.E. Newsletter - March 2017

AVRE Insight Newsletter

By the Association for Vision Rehabilitation and Employment, Inc.

Meet Jim Keeler: 2017 Employee of the Year


Jim Keeler used to believe that he was incapable of working because of his vision loss. When his friends suggested that he get a job, he’d reply, “I can’t do anything because I am blind.”


Photo: Jim smiles in front of AVRE’s National Industries’ for the Blind sign.

Photo: Jim alters the speed of the Will-Pemco paper sheeter to prepare for a paper roll change

After developing Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), an eye condition that results in a quick loss of central vision, Jim was unsure of the next step. He had no idea what it was he was looking for other than assistance due to his sudden change in vision.

In 2002, Jim discovered AVRE and called on a whim. After meeting with Vision Rehabilitation Therapist Annie van der Wal and learning about AVRE’s job opportunities, Jim started work immediately. After ten years with the agency, Jim left AVRE for a few years. He returned in 2014 and trained to become a machine operator.

According to Production Manager, Luigi DiRusso, “It was great to have him back as he is an asset to the production crew and overall AVRE family. I can depend on Jim whenever I need something completed.”

Jim’s day-to-day responsibilities are made easier and more effective because he works on a machine that has accessible features and assistive technology built into it. The machine incorporates large print touch screens, high color contrast, and voice output. Jim points out that the voice output helps because it tells him and his teammates how fast the machine is running and where problems occur. He acknowledges, “Although it’s chaotic, it’s a lot of fun.”

Jim takes pride in his work and recognizes that the organization has provided him with an opportunity to grow professionally and personally over the last several years. As AVRE’s 2017 Employee of the Year, he is honored that his peers recognize his dedication and hard work.

“It’s nice to be appreciated,” Jim admitted. “I’ve changed a lot since I first left AVRE.”

When he is not working, Jim enjoys reading, crossword puzzles and caring for his beloved dog, Faydra. Jim aspires to write a novel based on The Beatles song “Cry Baby Cry” and looks forward to settling down and getting married. He also looks forward to improving himself as a person and continuing down the path he is on.

“I think it’s a good one,” Jim smiled.

Our Mission: “To create opportunities for success and independence with people who are blind or visually impaired.”

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A Year in Review

By Ken Fernald

When thinking about 2016, I remember the opportunities, the successes and especially the challenges AVRE and our team faced.  From the heartbreaking loss of two AVRE family members to cancer, to celebrating personal and professional accomplishments and recognizing years-of-service at our Annual Employee Appreciation and Recognition Banquet, we all experienced an array of emotions.

With a continued focus on our mission, Team AVRE’s manufacturing department broke five year sales records for 11 of 12 months, creating good jobs with good pay and benefits, while providing quality products and services to our federal, state and local customers. These record sales have been led by the ever growing demand for our copy paper products, our expanding offering of manila file folders, the addition of Contigo and Bubba water bottles and coffee containers and increased demand for our Rayovac battery lines.  Our manufacturing team works hard every day to be more productive and efficient, ensuring we meet our customer needs.

AVRE’s VA Switchboard Operations lead the way in superior customer service and safety for our veterans who use the services of the Bronx, Montrose and Castle Point VA Medical Centers.   A superior level of professionalism in the manner our operators interact with each caller and respond to each critical alarm has earned them numerous commendations and recognitions again in 2016.

Our Health and Rehabilitation Services department continues to find new ways to reach more people in our communities who may benefit from the range of professional vision rehab services we offer.  Each day, AVRE’s certified vision rehab professionals are in schools, universities, homes and workplaces teaching people who are blind of all ages, the critical skills to find success and independence.

Reaching deep into nine New York counties, our Low Vision Clinic has expanded Functional Low Vision Exams to now include exam days at multiple satellite locations throughout our communities.  Through our strong relationship with the New York State Commission for the Blind; we focus our team’s efforts to improve successful outcomes for people who are blind or visually impaired.


Beginning in late 2016, AVRE has been more visible. With much appreciation to the Lavelle Fund for the Blind for its generous support, AVRE has launched a comprehensive media campaign to better reach individuals who are blind or visually impaired who may benefit from our services or may be looking for employment.  We will also focus our efforts on getting the word out to the business community about the quality products that are produced right here at our facility in downtown Binghamton.

With 2017 here, I look forward to the months ahead, the opportunities to come, getting past the challenges and celebrating our successes.


Classmates to Co-Workers

Patti Casciotti first met Luigi DiRusso in 1963. They were first grade students in their school’s sight-saving program. The school district designed the program so that individuals who are blind or visually impaired can mainstream through the public school system by making available large print, visual aids, and adaptive equipment. Luigi recalls, “I not only had a language barrier [being born in Italy], but I had a visual barrier as well. If it wasn’t for the program I would have really struggled.”

Photo: Luigi DiRusso and Patti Casciotti stand together in front of AVRE’s AbilityOne Program sign.

After going separate ways after grade school, Patti and Luigi found themselves sharing a bus last year. “When I recognized him on the bus I thought, ‘I know that guy!’” Patti laughed, “I think we went to school together.”

The two started talking about work. Luigi told Patti about his job at AVRE and about the employment opportunities for people who are blind and visually impaired. Patty was looking for a change and asked Luigi about any openings. It wasn’t long before Luigi offered Patti a tour of our facility and she quickly signed on to work in our manufacturing department. Patti truly believes that the sight-saving program back in 1963 and the recent bus ride brought everything together.

According to Patti, “Everything happens for a reason!”


Thank you for your contributions!

As spring quickly approaches, AVRE continues working diligently towards our goals and mission. These goals have been attained, in part, through the generosity of our donors. All of the funds raised during the Annual Appeal directly support our vision rehabilitation services. AVRE is committed to engaging the community in creative ways to connect more people with services that foster independence and success at home, work, and in school.  Our donors help us to expand our outreach and increase the number of people we are able to serve. 

Thank you for helping us truly make a difference!

If you have any questions regarding making a gift, including AVRE in your planned giving, or how you can learn more, call Jaclyn Boushie-Bombard at (607) 724-2428.

We are encouraged knowing you take the time to learn about AVRE by reading our quarterly newsletter. For up-to-date AVRE news, please visit us on our website www.avreus.org, Facebook, and Twitter.

InSight is published quarterly by the Association for Vision Rehabilitation and Employment, Inc. 174 Court St., Binghamton, NY 13901


Phone 607-724-2428 Email: avreinfo@avreus.org

Website www.avreus.org

Editor: Cassie Burgess


InSight is available in the following formats: Large Print (14 pt), Braille, emailed text, Word document on disk or CD, and regular audio cassette.


If you would like to receive InSight in a different format, please call us.

AVRE serves visually impaired individuals of all ages who live in the New York counties of Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Otsego, Tioga, Tompkins and Schuyler.

AVRE is an Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Employer.


If you would like more information about AVRE and its services, please feel free to contact us.