VisionCorps renames building to honor local philanthropist

Jana Benscoter
  • ForSight Vision of York merged with VisionCorps of Lancaster in April.
  • The number of blind or vision-impaired individuals living in York and Lancaster counties is nearly 13,000.
  • The number of people living with visual impairments or blindness is projected to double to more than 8 million nationwide by 2050.

Sometimes great ideas surface from conversations over a beer. That's happened when 93-year-old Ann B. Barshinger met with VisionCorps CEO Dennis Steiner.

Their meetings are a convergence of Barshinger’s favorite things: a good stout, innovative solutions, and showing off. She has written checks for many years toward causes she believes in, which includes supporting those who are legally blind or vision impaired.

When Barshinger, a York native, learned of the merger between ForSightVision of York and VisionCorps of Lancaster, she decided to pledge without hesitation $1 million to VisionCorps. She said she wants her money to help others.

York and Lancaster: There are 13,000 people in York and Lancaster counties who are either legally blind or vision impaired, VisionCorps Marketing Communication Coordinator Amy Giangiulio said.

There is another anticipated wave of aging baby boomers, who are more apt to have eyesight problems, according to recent studies funded by the National Eye Institute. They are going to add to that population.

ForSight Vision merged in April with VisionCorps. The merger is not only vital for its square-foot and services expansion, but also for the company’s mission to help a growing community, Steiner said.

The “primary reason” they’re able to offer numerous services is because of investors like Barshinger, Steiner told a handful of supporters at a building dedication in the Barshinger’s honor. Ann recently donated $2 million overall to VisionCorps.

VisionCorps offers rehabilitation services, which includes: orientation and mobility, case management, occupational therapy, low vision therapy, assistive technology instruction, preventative vision screenings, and youth services programming.

Steiner said when he’s talked privately to Barshinger, she understands others’ needs, like recognizing the emotional side of vision loss. VisionCorps extends help to those who need community counseling or therapy for severe depression.

“That kind of thinking is what we are all about,” Steiner said.

Merger goals: The anticipated influx of people with vision loss is something the newly formed VisionCorps wants to assist, Giangiulio said.

VisionCorps serves more than 3,000 individuals who are blind or vision-impaired in Lancaster, Lebanon, Chester, York and Adams counties through rehabilitation services and employment opportunities.

Studies show the number of people nationwide living with visual impairments or blindness is projected to double to more than 8 million by 2050, she said. That’s mostly due to lifestyle choices made by baby boomers, from tanning under ultraviolet lights to reading on a computer for hours, according to the National Federation of the Blind.

Other health factors play a part in determining good vision. Diabetes is a top reason why people begin to lose their sight. When a person starts to have cloudy vision, an inability to see shapes, see only shadows, have poor night and tunnel vision, they need resources to assist them, Giangiulio said.

ForSight Vision and VisionCorps merged in April, coinciding with the retirement of outgoing ForSight Vision President Bill Rhinesmith, who had been at the helm for more than three decades.

“The union was created to leverage both organization’s combined resources in order to provide the highest level of service within the community," Steiner said. "We are excited to begin collaboration and look forward to serving the blind and vision impaired community for years to come.”

VisionCorps also hires and trains individuals who have vision loss and are considered legally blind. Giangiulio said 75 percent of VisionCorps’ employees fall into the legally blind category.

“Employees are hired and then trained on various jobs, from food manufacturing, light manufacturing, product assembly to supply chain,” she said.

The downtown Lancaster facility fulfills contracts for the Department of Defense, including finishing, packaging and distributing helmet pads for the U.S. military.

The Barshingers: On Thursday, which would have been Richard Barshinger's 95th birthday, the organization dedicated its building at 1380 Spahn Ave. in York City as the Richard & Ann B. Barshinger Visionary Center of York.

Ann and her late husband, Richard, are known in York and Lancaster counties for their generosity. Barshinger grew up on a farm, while Richard Barshinger's family was involved with the former Red Lion Milling Co., which became Con-Agra Foods of Red Lion.

Richard Barshinger attended Franklin & Marshall College, and his first philanthropic move was to support his alma mater. Then the duo began to write more checks to medical causes. Now, not only does Ann Barshinger have a cancer institute named after her at Lancaster General Hospital, but she also has the Ann B. Barshinger Center for the Arts at York Country Day School.

Richard Barshinger died in 2001.

Ann Barshinger said VisionCorps is doing “wonderful things.” Although neither she nor her husband were diagnosed as legally blind, they felt compelled to help others who suffer from vision loss.

Barshinger said she is inspired by the loved ones and friends she’s watched age. Early detection for prevention of vision loss is very important, Barshinger said.

“If you’re not out and circulating, then you don’t know what’s available,” she said. “When you talk about your vision, you learn. There are people who don’t know what’s available. Talking about it, you learn it doesn’t have to be so confining.”