IFB Solutions: A nonprofit with a vision

April 15, 2019

If you’re not familiar with the work that Industries for the Blind (IFB Solutions) does for our community, we’d highly recommend learning more about them in our #AshevilleSpotlight. This nonprofit is on a mission to create opportunities for the visually impaired or blind, and provides manufacturing jobs for more than 55 in Asheville.

Tell us about your business and the role you play in it.

IFB Solutions Asheville (known locally as Industries for the Blind) is a nonprofit whose vision is to create life-changing opportunities for people who are visually impaired or blind. We provide jobs for more than 55 people in this population in Asheville, and nearly 1,000 (almost 500 blind) people all across the country. Today, IFB Solutions is the largest employer of people who are blind or visually impaired in the United States.

Our Asheville employees manufacture many useful items for troops in all branches of the US military, including poncho liners, fuel handler coveralls, high-tech outerwear, and flyer’s kit bags. We also manage an Impulse Merchandising Program where we package and ship items that go to military commissaries around the world.

IFB Solutions has existed since 1936 when we were originally known as Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind. The Asheville organization was affiliated with the local Lions Club. The Winston-Salem operation purchased Asheville Industries for the Blind in 1991. I am the Operations Manager for the Asheville facility; I’ve been working with this organization for 26 years.

Who are your key partners?

We partner with many organizations in the community, including Mountain Mobility, Lions Club, doctors who specialize in low vision, and federal government agencies, such as DOD, DLA, GSA, DECA, and FPI. We also work with other National Industry for the Blind (NIB) agencies, and Source America Agencies.

What is a little known fact about your organization?

Some 70 percent of working-age adults who are blind are not employed! That is a startling statistic that we are working to bring down. Our vision is working. Providing employment for this talented group of people changes lives and encourages independence. We also provide training for our employees, and we adapt equipment and our facility to make it easier for them to be productive.

If you had to give one piece of advice to someone just starting out in the non-profit realm, what would it be?

Nonprofits are often an outcome or expression of a community need or issue. Those of us who work for nonprofits are inspired by living out and realizing this mission. But a strong and compelling mission needs to be supported by financial viability. If you are starting out in the non-profit sector, make sure you have and can raise the funds necessary to support your mission.

What does the word “community” mean to you?

We have a close-knit community at IFB Solutions, and it’s all about people helping and sharing with other people. More than 100 employees in our facility work together. Employees who are blind teach others who are blind to sew, to get around the plant, and use our equipment. Other employees who are visually impaired teach others to use technology such as JAWS (a computer program for people who are blind). When an employee discovers an app, they share it with others.

Many of our employees are friends outside of work, and if someone needs help, we make sure they get it. That may come in the form of people bringing food or collecting funds to help others out or donating clothing as needed. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and have an ongoing awards program to celebrate our successes.

As a sighted person, I come here every day and am inspired and grateful for the work our employees produce and the quality they instill in every product. I can’t think of any better place to work.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share?

Revenues from our manufacturing work, plus grants and donations, fund many community programs. For example, our Community Low Vision Center (CLVC) fills a critical need in WNC. Low vision means that your vision cannot be corrected with glasses, contacts or surgery. The CLVC helps people lead more independent lives. We sell adaptive aids, computers, smart devices and more that make everyday life simpler.

Two to three times each month, low vision specialist physicians offer evaluations and exams, then our low vision associate, who is also low vision, works with clients to provide the best solutions for their needs, including training on the devices. The CLVC is open M-F from 8am-4pm. Visits are free, and walk-ins are welcome.

Other community programs include our SEE (Student Enrichment Experience) camps for children who are blind or visually impaired. We offer three weeks of camps, a day camp and two residential outdoor experience camps that are free of charge for the children. We also offer Sensitivity to Blindness Programs for the community and through the school system—these are also free thanks to donations and community support.

To learn more about IFB Solutions, visit us at 240 Sardis Road, Asheville, call 828.667.9778, or go to ifbsolutions.org. You can make a donation here.