Social Entrepreneur

Social Entrepreneur | Lighthouse Works: Empowerment through Employment

Lighthouse Central Florida provides quality vision-specific rehabilitation services for people of all ages, helping families deal with the high health care costs and a projection of eye disorders doubling by 2050. However, Lighthouse understands there is more to be done than rehabilitation, and through Lighthouse Works, the organization has been able to provide employment opportunities for those with vision loss. As it has grown over the years, a shift has taken place in its mission focus.

Over half of the revenue for Lighthouse Central Florida comes from state dollars as the organization fulfills contracts for the Florida Division of Blind Services. As with other groups heavily reliant on state funding, those funds can limit an organization’s expansion plans.

The organization identified a viable funding source. It knows seven out of 10 working age adults who are blind or visually impaired are unemployed or completely out of the labor market, despite some having college degrees and others previously who were entrepreneurs and business leaders.

“They go into the market, and people just don’t know how to utilize them,” Lighthouse Central Florida Vice President Kyle Johnson said. “It’s not malicious; the employer market doesn’t understand what someone who is blind or visually impaired is capable of.”

Utilization of the Workforce

Through Lighthouse Works, the organization has been able to get closer to its goal of assisting the visually impaired towards organizational independence while working towards the company’s goal of financial independence. According to Johnson, the organization was created with two points, the first being the creation of competitive employment opportunities for the blind and visually impaired. The candidates go through the normal application process, with a resume, interview and hiring based on qualifications. The second point for the company is to generate revenue that will go back to Lighthouse Central Florida in order to help the organization fund daily operations.

Lighthouse Works operates a call center, where agents who are visually impaired deliver services such as quality assurance, event communications and customer service. While call centers can have an attrition rate between 35-45 percent, according to Johnson, the one operated by Lighthouse Works is below 10 percent. Johnson credits the education and work experience of the employees, as well as their belief in the mission, behind the high performance seen at the center.

By September 30, 2021, the company looks to double the number of Central Floridians served per year to 1,200.

The journey towards self-sustainability is still a work in progress, but with the help of Lighthouse Works, Lighthouse Central Florida has made great strides since Johnson joined in September 2013. The revenue budget for Lighthouse Works is $6.5 million, and the company has grown from under 50 employees to 95, 47 of them under Lighthouse Works. Over the last two years, the organization’s supply chain division has grown from three blind or visually impaired employees to 16. The company also signed its first major state agency call center deal, which has the potential of filling the center with 40 workers, with the opportunity to put Lighthouse workers in the agency’s call center in Orlando. For Johnson, the partnerships are a result of the quality of work the organization has done, in addition to its focus on helping the blind and visually impaired.

“By doing business with us and benefiting from our expertise and extremely reliable and quality-focused workforce, you’re also performing corporate social responsibility in a really neat way. Plus, you’re helping strengthen Central Florida economically and socially in the process,” he said.

Giving Back While Looking Forward

For Lighthouse Works, this is only the beginning. By September 30, 2021, the company looks to double the number of Central Floridians served per year to 1,200 through Lighthouse Central Florida, while having more than 200 employees between Lighthouse Central Florida and Lighthouse Works.

For Lee Nasehi, president, the opportunity to service Central Florida’s blind and visually impaired through vision rehabilitation and employment is especially rewarding, as she originally came to Lighthouse to find services for her visually-impaired son.

“It’s my passion to be able to provide the resources, real life-changing services and tools for families of young children who are blind or visually impaired, so they know their child can grow up and be independent, have a job and a family, and pursue happiness and liberty like everyone,” she said. “And for those adults who are working and had sight, and through illness or trauma lost it and experienced the devastation, there is life after vision loss. They still can have a career and be independent.”

“They go into the market, and people just don’t know how to utilize them. It’s not malicious; the employer market doesn’t understand what someone who is blind or visually impaired is capable of.” – Kyle Johnson

Want To Learn More?For more information, visit online at www.lighthouseworks.org

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i4 Business

i4 Business magazine has become one of the most trusted voices for and about the Central Florida business community. Each month through our print and digital platforms, we provide access to meet, to learn from and to learn about some of the incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders who are shaping our region.

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