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News BLINDNESS, BACKPACKS, AND GIVING BACK: THE TERRI O’BRIEN STORY

At MCB, we recognize the achievements of the people we serve. The stories here celebrate individuals who strive to live independently in order to give back to their families, friends, community, and world.
12/01/2020
  • Massachusetts Commission for the Blind
This is an image of the backs of four students walking on a campus with backpacks on as they walk to or from school

Terri O’Brien, 67 is an Everett native. She’s a homeowner who doesn’t live too far from where she was born and raised. Terri was known as “the coke bottle kid” growing up because of the thick lenses in her eyeglasses. Ever since she was 5 years old, Terri has had to overcome challenges related to her visual impairments. She recently had cataract surgery, and she has some usable vision.

“If you’re walking towards me on the street, I can see that it’s a person, but I can’t tell who the person is or what they look like. Details just aren’t there.”

She has been registered with Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) for more than a year. Terri doesn’t drive and relies on walking or friends and family to get where she needs to go. She uses a magnifier to read screens and print. Terri recently worked with her Social Rehabilitation Counselor from MCB, Donna DiNapoli, to assess her home for ways to improve her use of appliances and more to help her remain independent. 

“I am thankful that I can do what I can do,” said Terri. “It’s the little things, like I love that MCB gave me these little buttons for my microwave so I can see how to turn it on and off now.”

“Terri has been a pleasure to work with,” said Donna. "She is extremely independent and has done very well using the adaptive equipment that MCB has provided to her, including a portable CCTV and hand-held magnifier that she uses to do her volunteer work.”

Although Terri is retired, she keeps busy. She walks to pick up her grandson from school on a regular basis, and she dedicates much of her time to helping others. Terri volunteers twice a month to distribute food for the Bread of Life Everett Food Pantry located at Everett City Hall.

Terri worked with Brandon King, Everett Food Pantry Coordinator, and other volunteers to spread the word about Bread of Life services to school principals in Everett with the goal of reaching more children and families in need. During her conversations with school leadership, Terri and Brandon discovered that many students in Everett were low income, and some were homeless or in shelters on a regular basis. She wanted to make sure that these students had access to food despite their lack of resources and constant housing transitions. Terri worked with Brandon to create the Everett Bread of Life Nutrition Backpack Program. Through this Program, school leadership at 3 schools in the Everett Public School District get approximately 30 backpacks full of mostly non-perishable food delivered every other week for distribution to children and youth in need. Donations are used to purchase the backpacks, and food for the backpacks is provided from the Everett Food Pantry.

As Everett schools recently closed their doors due to COVID-19, Terri and other volunteers were concerned that children and teens who rely on the Backpack for Students program in Everett would be struggling for food resources while at home or homeless during the pandemic. Terri worked with Bread of Life to put together 100 backpacks full of food and other resources needed in response to COVID-19. The backpacks now include items such as cereal, soup, applesauce, and pasta. On May 1, Terri’s son delivered them to one of the Everett schools during their Lunch Program so that students could walk or drive to pick up the backpacks up simply by showing a student ID. 

“It’s important in crisis, but it’s important at all times that we take care of one another. Kids are really helpless, and a lot have no choice in their situation. Access to food was bad before the pandemic for these kids, and now their families are out of work,” said Terri.

When Donna heard about what Terri was doing in the Everett community, it immediately helped her connect the dots to one of her MCB co-workers, Dahalia Jackson, a Children’s Social Worker who works in the area with children who are blind or visually impaired. Dahalia had recently heard from several families in need while at home during COVID-19 in Everett. Donna and Dahalia contacted Terri about how the children would benefit from the Backpack program, and Terri worked with her son to ensure the families received Backpacks and more from the Everett Food Pantry every week during the Commonwealth’s stay-at-home order.

“Terri has a huge heart and cares deeply for her fellow Everett residents, especially the children,” said Donna. “She did not hesitate to help when we reached out to her about some local families in need. She also provided backpacks to a family’s elderly neighbor. Terri is a wonderful person and an inspiration to all who know her.”

Terri said that the families who received the backpacks were so grateful because they were afraid to leave their homes due to fear of contracting COVID-19.

“When I volunteer and hear a child say, ‘Mommy look, it’s cereal!’ then I know I am doing the right thing,” explained Terri.

If you want to help children and families in need who need access to food every day and especially during COVID-19, Terri urges people to volunteer or donate to their local food pantry.

For more information about the Bread of Life and Everett Food Pantry, click here.

Massachusetts Commission for the Blind 

MCB provides the highest quality rehabilitation and social services to Massachusetts residents who are blind, leading to their independence and full community participation.
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