- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A Little Rock center for the blind will close its doors for the holidays this week with no real certainty that it will reopen, leaving its clients and employees in limbo, its new leader said.

President and CEO Stacy Hunter Schwartz of World Services for the Blind told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/13c6HV7 ) that financial woes have put the future of the organization in question.

“It’s become clear to me that we are in a pretty dire financial state,” Schwartz said, noting the group’s staff is desperately seeking donors and a smaller campus. “I don’t want to be left in a situation where we have 35 clients here who are blind and visually impaired and we don’t have power or plumbing.”

The center helps blind and visually impaired people build skills to live independently and work. It will close Friday, and its clients who stay on the campus have been told to take all of their belongings home for the Christmas and New Year’s break. Staff will let them know if and when it can reopen.

Enrollment has steadily decreased despite efforts to increase the amount of people who stay at the center. World Services is the only facility that offers an International Revenue Service vocational program that fast-tracks graduates to guaranteed jobs with the federal tax collection agency.

“It would be tragic to lose that,” Schwartz said.

She said the group has been “running in the red for some years” as fewer states are paying to send blind people to the facility. The center has also been working maintain parts of the complex that date to the 1950s.

About 10 employees were laid off before Thanksgiving and there’s no certainty the remaining 40 can stay, Schwartz said.

“We’re hoping to get an infusion of donations that will let us reopen,” Schwartz said. “An alternate plan is to move to a location which is less expensive for us to operate. We are talking with churches and other organizations that might be able to take us in.”

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com


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