Reprinted from the Auburn Pub - Jul 9, 2019

Over the past 20 years, a support group for blind and visually impaired people has been quietly meeting in Auburn to discuss and problem-solve issues centering around vision loss. We have met at many locations, grown and shrunk as people’s needs changed, and have recently seen a boost in membership in the last year. The group is run with the support of Aurora of CNY, and is co-led by Nancy Anderson and myself. Both Nancy and I are blind, and Nancy is the founder of the peer support group, and recently retired from Aurora of CNY.

The group currently meets at Cayuga Community College from 10 to 11:30 a.m. the last Friday of each month. Many of the members use the SCAT Van to get to the meetings, which are open to anyone both in and outside of the county to attend. There is no membership fee to join the group, and significant others and caregivers are welcome to attend.

Like most support groups, this group begins its meeting with introductions, and if members are comfortable to share, descriptions of their individual vision loss. The group hosts presenters, who talk about topics that concern people with vision loss, and they have hosted both the Auburn Fire Department and the Cayuga County Sheriff’s Office to discuss fire safety and personal safety and security. Often, the group has staff from Aurora of CNY come to talk about new programs or devices that blind and vision impaired people use to become more independent. We also have sharing times within the group to talk about things we are doing that may help others in the group that are struggling. The group has even gone to the Auburn Movieplex to try out the new accessibility devices that describe movies to blind patrons.

The main mission of the group is support. No one wants to think they are alone when dealing with something as devastating as vision loss or blindness. Eye diseases affect a wide range of people in our area, some very young, and others much older. This group is a representation of that dynamic, and most of the members are dealing with different eye conditions, but everyone knows what it is like to be losing their vision. Overcoming that fear is much easier to do when you have a group of people who are experiencing something similar, and have some years behind them that can offer wisdom and reassurance.

If you know anyone who is struggling with vision loss, please share this with them and encourage them to come. You can check out our brand new Facebook page by searching for "Blind support group of the greater Cayuga County areas," or feel free to contact Aurora of CNY at (315) 422-7263. If you would like to be put on the support group list, you can contact me at (315) 730-6845.


Lions Club and AURORA: A Perfect Match

Doug Russell (left) and Ed Cooney (right)

AURORA of CNY’s relationship with the Lions Club literally goes back over one hundred years as both organizations were founded in 1917 with similar missions to champion the needs of people in our community who needed assistance. In 1925, during an international convention of Lions Clubs that was held in Cedar Point, Iowa, Helen Keller charged Lions with becoming “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”  And the tradition and service to individuals with vision/hearing loss was begun.

Interestingly, it was a Lion, George Bonhem, in 1930, who created what we now know as the “white cane” by painting an ordinary cane white with a wide red band after he witnessed a man who was blind struggling to cross the street.


In our region, there are 25 Lions Clubs that have made a huge impact, with the Syracuse HOST Lions Club being one of the longest running as they celebrate 95 years in November. We are grateful for their ongoing support, the latest in the form of a generous $2,000 donation.

Recently, we met with Lion Ed Cooney who is the current, newly instated King Lion or president of the group, and Lion Doug Russell who has been a Lion for over 40 years and is the past president of the club, as well as the Membership Chair, and has held many district and statewide positions with the organization. In fact, Mr. Russell has affected Lions International by converting the LIONS acronym from its original Liberty, Intelligence, Our Nation’s Safety to Loving Individuals Offering Needed Services.

The number one priority for the Syracuse HOST Lions Club and all Lions Clubs is MEMBERSHIP. New members are urgently needed to carry out the service projects that directly impact our community. It is rewarding, fun and full of possibilities to join this largest civic organization in the world.  Lifelong friendships, worldwide travel and the “good-for-the-heart” feeling that comes from knowing that you are making a valuable contribution are all a part of the Lions experience.

There is a great motto that says… “Where there is a need, there is a Lion!” Wouldn’t YOU like to be one?

For more information contact:  Lion Douglas Russell PDG at 315-952-2136


AURORA of CNY, Inc. was proud to be one of eight nonprofit organizations to be selected to receive an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Community Health Award in the generous amount of $4000 to support our Outreach and Education to the public. This service includes free vision and hearing screens, one-to-one consultation and the provision of aids and devices for people with vision and hearing loss, as well as in-service training for the community at large.  AURORA shares the goal of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield of improving the health and health care of the residents of our community.

 Anne Costa, AURORA Assistant Director with Jim Reed Regional President of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield

Get Your Tickets for Thursday, May 23, 2019

Dr. Lawrence Stewart

The 17th Annual Musical Feast for the Eyes & Ears Gala Celebration Honoring our Presenting Sponsor: Dr. Lawrence Stewart

We are proud of the accomplishments of the organization over the past 102 years and recognize that we could not have delivered on our mission without the support of our sponsors, benefactors, and friends.

Join Us
Thursday, May 23, 2019
at Skaneateles Country Club
(3344 West Lake St, Skaneateles, NY 13152)

Cocktails (Cash Bar) 5:30pm
followed by Dinner, Music and Live & Silent Auctions 7pm
with special guest auctioneer Jim Kirby.
The evening’s musical entertainment specially created by Maria DeSantis.

Individual Tickets $150 each
Contact us for more information on sponsorship or to purchase tickets, contact at: or (315) 422-7263.

Your donation is tax-deductible. Fair market value of the Musical Feast ticket $60.
Business Attire — All events will be interpreted for our guests who are Deaf.

Crystal Sponsors: 

Photo of Dr. Donna KonickSPOTLIGHT ON
Dr. Donna Konick O.D.

Dr. Konick is a Doctor of Optometry and a Low Vision Specialist who works in Aurora’s low vision clinic. In this interview she shares her passion for her work!


Dr. Konick, What IS low vision?

Low Vision can be defined as decreased central vision or peripheral vision that even with the best optical correction provided by conventional prescription lenses, still results in visual impairment from a functional point of view.

A low vision optometrist is a specially credentialed individual who has earned a Doctor of Optometry degree (O.D.) and has also received additional clinical training in the functional aspects of low vision.

Low vision rehabilitation, offered here at AURORA, includes examining, treating and managing the care of patients with visual impairment that can't be fully treated by medical, surgical or conventional spectacles or contact lenses.


How can you help people who are struggling with vision loss?

I tell my consumers that I pick up where their medical eye care professional leaves off. When they are told there is nothing more that can be done for them medically, I can help them optimize their remaining vision and improve their function.

I mainly help by introducing visual aids such as indoor and outdoor light filters, high power LED hand and stand magnifiers, high power reading spectacles, and portable and large screen CCTV’s.  So often, when someone hears 'there is nothing more that can be done' from their eye doctor, they don't realize this usually refers to what can be done medically.

I love my work at Aurora on many levels.  Every day I am here, I am surrounded by other folks who, like me, just want to help people. People who genuinely care and go the extra mile for others and where everyone works together for the greater good of the consumer. Aurora is a wonderful place to work.

I personally love doing low vision because there is no better feeling for me than seeing someone go from feeling defeated and hopeless because of their vision loss, to hopeful and excited about life again. These folks are at some stage of dealing with their 'new normal' that they didn't ask for.  They have often lost some level of independence and are forced to rely on others, sometimes for the first time in their lives. I always make sure they know I can’t undo whatever medical diagnosis they have but I promise to do my best to make it better. It's quite simple, better is better.


Tell us about your experience

I have been working with Aurora of CNY and the NYS Commission for the Blind for 5 years.  I received my Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) from the New England College of Optometry, Boston, MA. I have 31 years of experience working in full scope comprehensive family practice.  I am nationally certified in the treatment and management of ocular disease. I am also currently chief of vison therapy at Weiss Savedoff and Ciccone where I provide treatment for such conditions as amblyopia, strabismus, as well as problems with visual tracking, focusing and eye teaming skills.  I also work extensively with post-concussion visual assessment. I received my Low Vison Certification from NYS in 2013.


THANK YOU, Dr. KONICK! For more information about low vision services, Contact AURORA at 315-422-7263 or the New York State Commission for the Blind at 315-423-5417

AURORA is pleased to announce that we have received a grant from the Central New York Community Foundation to support our Children’s Hearing Aid Program (CHAP).  This program was inspired by J. Daniel and Diane Pluff in honor of their daughters Anna and Sofia, and is made possible through a partnership with Dr. Arlene Balestra-Marko, AuD., PASC and Hear 2 Learn Inc.  The program began in 2012 and has served over 50 families, providing  more than 80 hearing aids to children who need them.

We are grateful for the on-going collaboration and support that makes this program possible.

“The United Ways of Central New York, Oswego and Cayuga Counties are a vital link to supporting the day to day operations of our organization,” remarks Debra Chaiken, President, “and our core services are funded by them.”  AURORA’s United Way funded programs together serve close to 1,000 people a year in our community who have vision or hearing loss.  This year’s campaign is already in full swing with each of the counties getting the message out to the community about the value of United Way.

In Cayuga County, AURORA’s Cayuga County Support Group for People with Vision Loss will be featured in the United Way campaign video. Board Member Susan Gray, Nancy Anderson and Outreach Specialist Donna Reese spoke of the importance of peer support.  In Oswego County, the Speaker’s Bureau has been resurrected and our Honorary Board Member Laura Smith will be presenting at several area companies.  In addition, the United Way of CNY is featuring Monica Johnson in a television commercial to share how the Community Living Skills Program affected her personal and professional success.

We are proud to promote the United Way to help meet each community’s fundraising goals to keep vital programs going in our region.  Please be generous in supporting the United Way in your area.

United Way of Cayuga County’s 2018 Campaign Video


The voting season is fast approaching and every poling site in the US is supposed to have at least one accessible voting machine that can be used by people with disabilities independently. Whether you have a visual impairment, mobility impairment or can just use your foot, the voting machine can accommodate your needs.  Even if you don’t feel that you have a visual impairment but you find it hard to fill in those little ovals on the ballot, you can use the accessible voting machine.

There are 56 million Americans who have disabilities and this is the largest single minority group in the nation. Every year a Candidate’s Forum is organized by local service agencies to determine the understanding of those running for office of disability issues facing their constituents. Questions to consider are:  Does the candidate hold meetings in accessible locations where people with mobility impairments can attend.  Does the candidate arrange for sign language interpreters for appearances? Does the candidate provide hard copy in alternative formats like braille or large print so that you can learn about the positions that concern you if you have a visual impairment?

These and other issues continue to be barriers to full access but they don’t have to be. If you are interested in learning more about accessible voting, contact Starr at AURORA at 315-422-7263.