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A Guiding Light for New Jersey’s Blind

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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By Pete Levine Your Union Never Quit

For New Jersey residents who’ve lost their eyesight but are trying to maintain their independence, among the first calls they make will be to the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Independent Living Department.

And the first person they talk to will be Cynthia King.

If they begin their journey fearful of being greeted by an uncaring bureaucrat, anxious about navigating a maze of forms, their concerns will be dispelled when they speak to King, whose warmth and patience immediately puts clients at ease.

 “You should hear her,” says King’s co-worker, Wanda Blann. “She is so compassionate, so understanding. I say she has the patience of Job.”

King, a member of Local 2318 (AFSCME New Jersey), is a senior therapist program assistant for the Independent Living Department. The office’s goal is to provide the visually impaired with the tools they need to make living on their own manageable. Whether it’s offering coaching, providing resources to make daily tasks like cooking, watching television or doing household chores easier, or providing services that allow clients to get to and from work or school, clients who reach out to the Independent Living Department want to preserve a life of normalcy and dignity.

Pictured: (From left to right) Deborah Wright, Teresa Eastlack, Wanda Blann. Seated: Cynthia King. Member-provided photo.
Pictured: (From left to right) Deborah Wright, Teresa Eastlack, Wanda Blann. Seated: Cynthia King. Member-provided photo.

Many of the people King speaks with are elderly, and are desperate to hear from a supportive, encouraging voice.

“The first thing I do is just listen to them,” says King. “I find out how their vision loss came about, what their needs are. And I reassure them that there are other people going through the same thing they’ve gone through.”

King, who has been working for the commission for 18 years, will walk people through the intake process step by step, including how to send in any necessary forms, all the while patiently educating callers about the services they may be eligible for. Then, she’ll outline the important next steps in the journey toward independence. She is the first and among the most important guides her clients will know.

But King is only one member of a team of service providers. Blann, who works in tandem with King, is a rehabilitation teacher, and her job is to go into the homes of the Independent Living clients and share techniques on how best to perform daily tasks. Blann is visually impaired herself, and she works alongside Deborah Wright, a 24-year driver’s assistant for the commission, visiting clients throughout the day.

Together, they nominated King for AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award.

According to Blann, King is “the heart and soul of this department.”

Wright said King’s dedication to her clients and her co-workers goes far beyond what might appear on her job description.

“She doesn’t just take information from a client and pass it along to someone else. She’ll follow up with the client to make sure they have the information they need,” said Wright. “Our office is  a very well-oiled machine, and it’s because of Cynthia.”

What has kept King motivated and enthusiastic over her nearly three-decade career with the state of New Jersey?

“I love helping others. I really enjoy sharing knowledge,” she says. “That about sums it up.”

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