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Visually impaired workers enjoy time at work

NATCHEZ — The 12 employees who spend their weekdays sorting and packaging plastic forks, knives and spoons in the basement of the Natchez Senior Citizen Multipurpose Center consider what they do just another day at work.

But with limited sight or total vision impairment, it makes tasks challenging, “but still fun,” the LC Industries employees agreed.

LC Industries, headquartered in Durham, N.C., has operations in 10 states and was started in 1936 by the Durham Lions Club to provide job opportunities for people who are legally blind. The company’s mission is to provide meaningful employment for people who are visually impaired. Today, LC Industries is the largest employer of blind people in the U.S.

For more than 70 years, LC Industries has grown and diversified to become a modern not-for-profit corporation operating under the AbilityOne program, the largest source of employment for people with disabilities.

“This is an awesome company, and we have one right here in Natchez,” Supervisor Anna Fountain said.

Fountain said when she first came to supervise operations at LC Industries, she had no idea what it is like to be blind.

“People should know that the visually impaired are capable of taking care of themselves and working for a living,” Fountain said. “I’ve learned that being blind has its disadvantages, but at the same time, advantages that you wouldn’t realize.”

Fountain said that because of blindness, other senses are heightened.

The senior center provides the space needed to employ the LC Industries workers, ranging in age from 30 to 75. The company gives back to the senior center by paying their part of a utility bill.

“I like people,” Fountain said. “And this gives me the opportunity and joy to interact and learn their individual needs and talents.”

Laura Harris has been employed at LC Industries for almost 10 years. Harris is known as a multi-tasker around the facility, and Fountain said she consistently produces good work.

“I take a lot of pride in my work,” Harris said. “I like a challenge. I don’t think of my blindness as a disability, but an inconvenience.”

Like any job, production has to be maintained, and it is Fountain’s job to make sure goals are reached each month.

Goals include packing 311 bags of plastic ware a day. Often the forks, knives and spoons are packaged together in a set and sent for use by the military. The Natchez company also produces whistles and plastic stands for desk calendars.

“Efficiency should be 50 percent above our goal this month,” Fountain said. “Every morning we come in and have something to do. Can you imagine sitting at home all day with nothing to do? I think that’s one reason we all get along so well here.”

Fountain learned about the job through an unemployment agency in 1993.

“I’ve been working here ever since and I love it,” Fountain said. “Working with the blind is a special thing.”

The employees of LC Industries in Natchez say they take great pride in their jobs, and have fun chatting and sometimes teasing each other.

“This job keeps our morale up,” employee David Taylor said. “I’m proud of this job and I enjoy coming to work every day. I think at 66-years-old, coming here is really the best part of my life. My wife says she sees me enjoying it, too. I’ve only been here since November, but it’s one of the best organizations I’ve ever worked for. We have a good time here, too.”

Fountain said transportation can be provided if visually-impaired people in the area are interested in applying for a job. Contact Natchez Senior Citizen Multipurpose Center Executive Director Sabrena Bartley at 601-442-5082 for more information.

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