Holiday Lights for Sight helping Woonsocket student get Braille device

Holiday Lights for Sight helping Woonsocket student get Braille device

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, along with the Rodriguez family and members of the city’s Public Works Department, attend an event Friday announcing that city employees had raised nearly $2,000 for the Lights for Sight fundraiser. The money will go toward the purchase of a Braille notetaker for Jalen Rodriguez, a Woonsocket High School junior who is losing his vision. Blackstone Valley Eye Care continues to raise funds for Jalen with a light display and donation box outside the office at 385 Mendon Road. (Breeze photo by Sandy Seoane)
Mendon Road Christmas lights display to run through Dec. 24

WOONSOCKET – It began as a holiday promotion, a simple way to attract attention to a long-standing city business.

But as the staff at Blackstone Valley Eye Care prepared to have a display with some 20,000 lights set to music assembled outside their Mendon Road location, they realized they had an opportunity to help someone local.

“My entire career has been in Woonsocket, so I wanted to give back here,” said Jeff Kenyon, an optometrist and the third owner of the nearly 80-year-old business.

The eye care store’s fundraiser, Holiday Lights for Sight, has since raised hundreds of dollars to help Jalen Rodriguez, a Woonsocket High School junior who suffers from a rare disorder causing vision loss, to purchase a Braille notetaker, a specialized computer that will help with his studies.

The display was put together by Tyler Horrocks, a Coventry native whose elaborate charity-driven display appeared on ABC’s “Christmas Great Light Fight,” in 2014. Horrocks’ parents have since sold the house that once showcased his creations, and the talented holiday illuminator was in search of his next project.

Kenyon’s office manager, city native Chris Tremblay, helped organize the partnership.

“We wanted something local and something to do with the eyes,” he said of Jalen’s cause. “I’m giving back to the city that helped raise me. We’d like to do it every year.”

When city officials got wind of the cause, they jumped on board, raising thousands of dollars more for the city student.

Rodriguez suffers from lebers congenital amaurosis, a retinal dysfunction causing his sight to deteriorate.

“With the support of his friends, family and the school community, Jalen has learned skills and strategies to compensate for his visual impairment,” a promotion about the fundraiser noted.

Jalen’s father, Joe Rodriguez, works for the Woonsocket Public Works Department and on Friday, dozens of his co-workers joined a gathering with city officials and local police and firefighters to present the family a check for about $2,000, roughly a third of what they need to purchase the equipment, a modern tablet that uses Braille. A donation box outside Blackstone Valley Eye Care has landed another $500 and a GoFundMe campaign online has earned around $300.

The device, a BrailleNote Touch produced by company Humanware, costs around $6,000.

The City Hall effort centered around dress down days, where employees can contribute to a cause for a chance to come to work a little more casual.

Firefighters, meanwhile, raised nearly $2,000 during “No Shave November,” where they grow a beard and make a donation, around half of which will go toward Jalen’s cause.

“We have never had a turnout so successful,” said Baldelli-Hunt on Friday. “It’s extremely heart-warming.”

At 385 Mendon Road, fundraising efforts continue, with light shows every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m. through Dec. 24. Kenyon said he’s glad he could use the display to benefit an optometry-related cause.

“It’s been an honor for me to meet this very special young man,” Kenyon said of Jalen. “It’s great for the season, great for the spirit and great for the city of Woonsocket.”

“It gets our name out there a bit, but more importantly, it’s a great cause,” said the doctor, who has owned the business for the past 10 years.

As the family accepted the donation this week, Joe Rodriguez thanked supporters. “We’re very blessed to be surrounded by so many good people,” he said. “This is a huge help.” Contributions to Lights for Sight can be made out to Blackstone Valley Eye Care and left in the donation box outside 385 Mendon Road or submitted via www.gofundme.com/HolidayLightsForSight .