Holiday Spirit

Max Murray attends a Vista Voyagers event where children who are visually impaired or blind were able to touch a whale skeleton at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center on Jan. 20, 2019. Courtesy Tina Murray.

Posted December 17, 2021

What's out there for the blind or visually impaired youth? At Vista Center — a whole lot
The nonprofit's Vista Voyagers program teaches kids with visual impairments how to be independent

by Lloyd Lee / Palo Alto Weekly

In elementary school, when Max Murray played hide-and-seek, his friends quickly disappeared.

Not so much because they excelled at the game of self-concealment, but more due to a combination of Murray's visual impairments, including nystagmus, an involuntary movement of the eyes that makes it difficult to steadily focus on things.

At a young age, Murray learned he couldn't participate in everyday playground games or team sports like basketball or baseball. Inevitably, he wondered: What sort of life lay ahead for him? Now 17 years old, ready to graduate from Los Gatos High School in the spring, Murray can confidently say there's a lot to look forward to — Palo Alto's Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired helped him see that.

For nearly three decades, Vista Center, a nonprofit that offers rehabilitative services to people with a range of sight issues, has operated an all-encompassing youth program for children from 5 years old to their high school graduation. In it, students are sent on field trips with special access or private tours, receive proper tools and educational resources to strengthen daily life skills, and get a chance to connect with other people who have some form of visual impairment.

The mission statement of the program, which was rebranded in 2015 to Vista Voyagers, is to help students learn how to become independent adults and, hopefully, be assured that the world can actually be quite accommodating for them — even without sight.

"I named it Vista Voyagers because this is an adventure they have to go on," said Bethany Small, senior director of programs at the nonprofit. "They have to be brave. They have to get out there and experience the world ... and they have to embrace who they are. That's a big piece with your visual impairment."

Each year, Vista Voyagers serves about a hundred children, Small said.

A critical part of Voyagers is to help administer the Expanded Core Curriculum, a federally mandated program with nine areas of learning aimed to prepare blind and visually impaired children to be independent. On top of the Common Core Curriculum that all K-12 students follow, students like Murray also receive instruction on subjects such as orientation and mobility, independent living skills and career education.

Murray has been involved with Vista Center since he was in late elementary school. Recently, he met with his vision teacher for a lesson on how to safely cook food in the microwave, during which Murray had to keep in mind to stay away from the microwave and to recognize the kinds of containers that can and can't go inside it. Before that, Murray had many lessons on knife safety, just one of many everyday skills often taken for granted.

Around Murray's age, students also receive career prep training, which goes beyond learning how to write a resume. Students sit down with a transition specialist to talk about what sort of goals they have and to learn about the career options available for the visually impaired or blind. They're also taught granular but critical career skills unique to their situation, including how to tell the interviewer that they're blind and what the disability rights laws are, Bethany said.

"There's all sorts of things that we, who have sight, don't really think about, but really need that kind of independence training and practice to get that job," she said.

It's not all work at Vista Voyagers, however. Students are all also taken on field trips in which they experience a museum or zoo in a way tailored to their needs. When Murray went to a marine laboratory, students were given a rare chance to touch the skeleton of a whale.

This past year, using a $15,000 grant awarded by the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund , the nonprofit maintained a healthy level of events and activities even as the Voyagers program shifted online. Virtual tours of the U.S.S. Hornet, a historical aircraft carrier, were hosted, and activity kits were sent to the students' homes. (Recently, Murray planted lavender seeds that were sent to him out in his backyard.)

One challenge that Murray's mom, Tina, says Vista Center approaches well is the need to provide activities for students with all levels of visual impairments. Murray not only has to work with his nystagmus but also has a rare genetic condition called oculocutaneous albinism. In addition to making his skin ultra sensitive to sunlight, the condition has also rendered his irises transparent, which means light floods the pupils even as the irises constrict.

At best, Murray can read a book that's six to nine inches away from him. But there are students at Vista Voyagers who are much more visually impaired or completely blind.

"Our kids range broadly on their vision," Small said. "But I can accommodate the same experience to encourage them all to learn and grow."

As a kid, Murray may not have been able to participate in every activity with his school peers. But over the years, with Vista Center's program, he's learned that he could adapt and still lead a fulfilling childhood. It may not have been basketball on the courts but instead martial arts in the dojo.

"I feel a lot better ever since I went to (Vista Center)," Murray said.

Right now, Murray's in the process of honing his creative skills. (During a tour of Netflix with Vista Voyagers, Murray learned that there's a whole world of creative fields that are open to people like him.) He's brainstorming an idea for an alternative reality video game and taking a digital photography class.

His creative aptitude is not so surprising to his mom. Tina remembers the first time her son picked up a digital camera and took thoughtful pictures of the seemingly mundane.

"Max has an incredible eye," she said.

Make a donation
2022 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy$10,000

AbilityPath$10,000

Able Works$10,000

Ada's Cafe$25,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7,500

Art in Action$10,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
of the Bay Area
$10,000

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000

Canopy$5,000

CASA of San Mateo County$5,000

Children's Health Council$10,000

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto$5,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto$10,000

Counseling and Support Services for Youth - CASSY$15,000

DreamCatchers$15,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation$10,000

East Palo Alto Charter School$5,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring$15,000

East Palo Alto YMCA$10,000

Eastside College
Preparatory School
$7,500

EPACENTER$10,000

Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education
$10,000

Fresh Approach$10,000

Friends for Youth$5,000

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo$10,000

Heart and Home Collaborative$10,000

Hope Horizon East Palo Alto$7,500

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000

Kara$15,000

Learning Home Volunteers$10,000

Live In Peace$10,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$10,000

Mannakin Theater & Dance$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Midpen Media Center$7,500

Music in the Schools Foundation$8,000

My New Red Shoes$5,000

New Voices for Youth$5,000

Pacific Art League of Palo Alto$12,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation$10,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care $30,000

Palo Alto Players$10,000

Peer Point$20,000

Peninsula Bridge$10,000

Peninsula College Fund$10,000

Peninsula Healthcare Connection$10,000

Peninsula Volunteers$15,000

Peninsula Youth Theatre$5,000

Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship Foundation$20,000

Ravenswood Classroom Partners$20,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation$10,000

Reading Partners
Silicon Valley
$10,000

ReadySetExcel$5,000

Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)
$5,000

Rich May Foundation$5,000

Rise Together Education$10,000

Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Sager Family Farm$5,000

Silicon Valley
Urban Debate League
$7,500

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000

TheatreWorks$5,000

UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)$10,000

WeHOPE$15,000

WomenSV$7,500

Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center
$10,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000


As of January 28th, 384 donors have contributed $742,923 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

58 Anonymous137,070
Lani Freeman & Stephen Monismith*
Veronica Tincher*
Janice & Walter Sedriks100
Rob Colley & Kate Godfrey100
Wachtel Family1,000
Dr. & Mrs. Frederic J. Kahn1,000
Richard M. Glendening100
Kay Remsen*
Delle Maxwell1,000
Kenneth Bencala & Sally O'Neil100
Nancy & Joe Huber*
Ann & Don Rothblatt500
Retired*
Eric & Katie Seedman*
Mitchell Rosen50
Colleen Chihak and Joe Urbassik*
Debbie Mytels100
Elizabeth Shepard*
Roger V. Smith500
Annette Isaacson200
Julie & Dan Lythcott-Haims250
Anne & Don Vermeil*
Deborah Roth200
Page & Ferrell Sanders150
Tess & Eric Byler150
Robert & Barbara Simpson*
Denise and Jeff Simons*
Keith and Linda Clarke*
Peter Rosenthal1,000
Roderick C. McCalley100
Glenda & Gordon Hughes2,500
Nancy & Steve Levy250
Lynn and Andrew Newman*
Anthony & Susan Wood25,000
Boyce & Peggy Nute*
Maureen O'Connor150
Gwen Barry*
Martha Shirk1,200
Hoda Epstein*
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker1,000
Jack & Martha McLaughlin*
Elizabeth Lillard-Bernal75
Diane and Brandy Sikic*
Marilyn, Dale, Rick & Mei Simbeck*
Duane Bay & Barbara Noparstak150
Nancy & Jim Baer*
Werner Graf*
Alicia Newman100
Dorsey & Katherine Bass300
Jonathan MacQuitty & Laurie Hunter1,000
Bill Reller*
Edie Kirkwood1,000
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
Micri & Bob Cardelli*
George & Betsy Young*
Diana Diamond1,000
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Brigid Barton 2,000
Charlie Williams*
Janis Ulevich*
Diane Doolittle*
Theradep Technologies500
Lee Zulman*
Jack and Susan Thomas*
Korol Family250
Bruce & Mary Beth Train500
Julie and Jon Jerome*
Lawrence R. Yang & Jennifer W. Kuan10,000
Harriet Benson10,000
Andrea B. Smith100
Arthur Keller250
Mackenzie Family Fund25,000
Leif and Sharon Erickson500
Susan D Osofsky Fund200
The Havern Family5,000
Weil Family Fund1,000
Gwen Luce and Family*
Barry L. Goldblatt150
Margaret A. Krebs578
Diane and Joe Rolfe*
Diane Finkelstein250
Linda & Steve Boxer*
David & Betsy Fryberger400
Bruce & Jane Gee250
Judith Appleby300
Chris & Anna Saccheri5,000
Donald Barr150
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Edward Kanazawa300
Bill Johnson & Terri Lobdell2,500
Karen A. Latchford*
Dawes Family Fund500
Gavin & Tricia Christensen*
Kingsley Jack250
Braff Family Fund 500
Jean MacDonell200
The Fruchterman Family Fund250
The UMOC Charitable Fund 250,000
Nancy Wong and Robert Lipshutz200
Ellmann Family100
Vic and Norma Hesterman200
Gil and Gail Woolley200
J Platt & S Murphy*
Richard and Karen Olson500
Richard Zuanich150
Carli Scott*
Seema Ramanathan & Arun Ramchandran 250
Gwen and Wally Whittier200
Sue Elgee and Steve Eglash500
Charles Katz & Gina Signorello250
Patti Yanklowitz and Mark Krasnow100
The Dong Family200
Jody Maxmin*
Ted & Ginny Chu*
Ellen and Ron Krasnow*
Thomas Rindfleisch*
Ed & Linda Selden721
Cynthia Costell100
Romola Georgia*
Elgin & Elizabeth Lee500
Georgie Gleim1,000
Scottie Zimmerman100
Alice Schaffer Smith100
Rob and Lucinda Lenicheck250
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Christine and Bob Buss*
Alice Erber and Robert Steinberg200
Pat Burt500
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Jean Doble*
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Bonnie Packer500
Steve & Diane Ciesinski500
Elizabeth Lee and Remington Fong*
Gerald C. & Joyce M. Barker*
Barbara & Skip Shapiro*
Dena Hill500
Barbara Klein*
Dorothy Deringer200
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
George & Betsy Bechtel200
Jonathan & Judith Rattner100
John Tang & Jean Hsia*
Joan Willingham150
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
Ellen M. Lillington200
Stuart & Carol Hansen*
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Tom & Nancy Fiene200
Tom & Patricia Sanders*
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumgartner*
Fran Codispoti250
Bruce Campbell*
Amado & Deborah Padilla250
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Paul & Jane Millman250
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Deborah A. Williams & Jean Luc Laminette1,000
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
Merele McClure250
Kate & Marvin Feinstein1,000
Judy Kramer*
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
David Backer500
Constance Crawford250
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Jill and Brian Bicknell300
Rosalind Haber200
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Donald Price*
Judy Ousterhout*
John Keller100
Hyrkin Family500
Donna Silverberg100
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Charlotte Johansen200
Robert McMillen100
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Virginia and David Pollard125
Jim & Valerie Stinger100
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Carolyn Williams & Mike Keeler*
Marian Sanders*
Katherine Bryant100
Ralph & Jackie Wheeler 300
Barbara Riper*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Carolyn Caddes*
Kroymann Family250
Marian Adams100
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Elaine Hahn1,500
Joanne Koltnow400
Joan Norton*
Christina Kenrick1,000
Nina & Norman Kulgein200
Karen Winkleman Furman & Bruce Furman100
Richard Johnsson5,000
Becky & Ted Baer250
Xiaofan Lin100
Bonnie and Bryan Street*
Denise Savoie and Darrell Duffie*
Stephanie Klein & Larry Baer*
Larry Klein500
Marvin & Kate Feinstein500
Carol & Hal Louchheim400
Leonard & Mary Jo Levy150
Katherine L. Hunt400
Ajit Bhave & Manisha Kulshrestha500
Bill and Susan Beall *
Eric Keller and Janice Bohman*
Linda& Jerry Elkind*
Tony & Kathleen Hughes1,000
Leanne and Peter Giles100
Barbara Allen100
Dukovic and Frommer Charitable Fund100
John B. Florine Galen*
Diane Moore*
The Ely Family500
Scott & Sandra Pearson500
Trish Bubenik*
Eric & Linda Jensen250
Vic Befera 100
Mindy & David Sitzer*
David Kalkbrenner*
Rosalie Shepherd100
Kay Sabin*
George & Dianna Richardson250
Dr. Teresa L. Roberts1,000
In Memory Of

Margarot T. Hanks200
Florence K. Ho2,500
Carol Berkowitz*
Bill Land100
Marilyn Hansen*
Betty Meltzer50
Bertha Kalson*
Boyd Paulson Jr.3,000
Alan & Tracy *
Dr. David Zlotnick*
Paul Seaver*
Nate Rosenberg100
Kathy Morris1,500
Jeffrey David Tuerk*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Chet Brown*
Andre Jones *
Mary Floyd50
Mr. & Mrs. Ray Tinney200
Nellie Perna Bartello100
Mason & Ryan*
Mary & Emmet Lorey*
Ian Halliday250
David Sager100
Ruth Satterthwaite*
Marie and Don Snow200
Er-Ying and Y.C. Yen250
Beverly Aarts*
Ted Linden200
Philip M. Stein*
Jack Sutorius750
Walter Dean*
Rabbi Sidney and Marjorie Akselrad *
Gary Zweig500
Karl Knapp500
Bob Donald*
Aaron O’Neill*
Jim and Dottie Mellberg*
Zorro*
Shiela Mandoli*
J Norman Rossen*
Shiela Mandoli 100
Edward and Elizabeth Buurma*
Elizabeth and Edward Buurma*
Bob Markevitch100
Ray Bacchetti300
Bob Donald350
Steven T. Ross100
Leonard Ware*
Michele Wilson*
Lily & Philip Gottheiner150
Gerald Berner300
August King*
Bob Simoni500
Phil Zschokke200
Franklin Elieh*
Mary Alice Carpenter Pearson50
Robert Spinrad100
David W. Mitchell*
Samuel Benjamin Kurland300
Robert O. Jack150
Kaye H. Kelley & Richard C. Van Dusen*
Franklin*
Suman Patni*
Patricia A. Popp*
Duncan Matteson1,000
Maureen Martin*
Pam Grady250
In Honor Of

Dr Ron Radzilowski*
Marie Wolbach50
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach and Thomas & Louise Phinney1,000
Darla Tupper3,922
Marilyn Sutorius750
Joe Simitian*
Lee Zulman96
Polly Caddes*
Gabby Perez & Logan Marsh250
Liz Kniss250
Georgia Lee*
Barbara Zimmer and Kevin Mayer150
Businesses & Organizations

Delores Eberhart DDS*
Angelo Family Foundation 5,000
soccermoviemom.com150
Palo Alto Business Park*
Arrillaga Foundation10,000
Leannah Hunt Realtor250
Peery Foundation10,000
Hearts & Minds Activity Center75
Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run67,893
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Hewlett Foundation25,000
Packard Foundation25,000
Communications & Power Industries LLC*
McCalmont Engineering2,500

Past Holiday Fund Grant Recipients

2018-2019 | 2017-2018 | 2016-2017 | 2015-2016 | 2014-2015 | 2013-2014 | 2012-2013 | 2011-2012 | 2010-2011 | 2009-2010 | 2008-2009 | 2007-2008 | 2006-2007 | 2005-2006 | 2004-2005 | 2003-2004 | 2002-2003 | 2001-2002 | 2000-2001 | 1999-2000