Buckhalter piano

Ellen Buckhalter’s admiration for Braille Institute reaches back to her 1950s childhood—over two decades before she herself benefitted from its services. “They’ve been a big part of my family for some time,” she says.

Her uncle, Joe, had retinitis pigmentosa, losing his sight at an early age. “I remember how gracious and kind the people at Braille Institute were in helping him,” Ellen says. “They taught him not only how to cope with his vision loss, but also how to tap into his creative side by making stitched wallets and coin purses for Christmas gifts. They were an absolutely wonderful organization.”

At age 11, Ellen was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes. Her doctor immediately put her on an insulin regimen and sent her to an ophthalmologist, who found that her eyes were fine—or almost. “I needed glasses.”

Eventually, however, Ellen developed diabetic retinopathy. One day in her early 30s, her retinas suddenly hemorrhaged. “Over five minutes,” she says, “I went from seeing to not being able to see the hand in front of my face.”

Although laser surgery preserved what limited vision Ellen still had, she fell into a deep depression. A therapist suggested she go to Braille Institute. Over the first six months, she says, “I took a lot of classes, especially mobility. I remember one day they put blindfolds on those of us with some vision, and we had to walk across a very busy four-lane street. I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’” But she did it.

A Sizeable Show of Appreciation

What really chased Ellen’s depression away, however, were the people she met at Braille Institute. “There were some who were a lot worse off than me and that was when I sort of kicked myself in the rear end and thought, ‘How can you be so selfish?’ That was that!”

Ellen and George, her husband of 25 years, who passed away five years ago, began showing their appreciation by donating regularly to Braille Institute. “And before George died,” she says, “we set up a sizeable bequest in our trust.” Ellen subsequently revised the trust, making sure to safeguard that legacy.

“By donating a larger sum at my death, I hope Braille Institute will help more people in the future and give them more opportunities,” says the lively 63-year-old.

Still cherishing the wallet her Uncle Joe made for her all those years ago, Ellen Buckhalter adds one more important message: “I believe in paying it forward.”