On the steel wall of the original Blind Center of Nevada building is a mural of Lady Justice—sword in hand, blindfold draped across her eyes—fighting a dragon who seems far too mighty to defeat. Lady Justice has sliced his stomach and throat and, though she will win this fight, the battle never ends.
That is how Cory Nelson, president of the Blind Center of Nevada, describes the battles in life for a person, sighted or blind. The Blind Center has opened the doors to their brand-new 35,000-square-foot facility, the Visions of Greatness Center, to aid blind residents of Nevada in their challenges. With the new building comes the expansion of their arts and music classes and the addition of culinary and children and teens programs.
“Just because someone loses their sight doesn’t mean they have to give up on life and give up on doing great things,” Nelson says. “So they come here and we encourage them to follow one of the paths, or even their own path.”
These “pathways to greatness,” as Nelson calls them, are designed to give members an outlet, a hobby and even job opportunities. Blind unemployment rates are upward of 55 percent every year. The Blind Center offers jobs to its nearly 300 legally blind members in its electronic recycling program, its tech and call centers and soon in its new culinary program.
One member, Gus Garcia, has held an array of jobs at the Blind Center since joining as a teen. He started in the electronic recycling room tearing apart computers and servers, then transitioned into a music teacher of sorts and leader of the center’s rock band, and now is taking on the role of the communications director of the Blind Center.
“Whether you are blind or not, whatever it is you want to reach, you have to work your tail off to get it,” Garcia says. “When you start telling people, ‘Look, I expect for you to be great,’ that is going to make a really big difference.”
Garcia began losing his sight at 14 years old. A number of incidents—including a car battery exploding in his face and being jumped by other teens shorty after as well as a few unsuccessful retina-reattachment surgeries—led to Garcia losing all sight in one eye while the other is slowly deteriorating. He recently started using a cane, something he says he hates, mostly because he hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it.
Garcia came to the Blind Center after high school in search of a job on the recommendation of his high school friend Ivan Delgado. While most members of the center lost their sight later in life, Delgado was born blind. Garcia started in the electronic recycling room, but after jam sessions with other members, decided to put his full investment into growing a band—the Blind Spectacles. With Garcia on guitar and lead vocals, Delgado on the drums and three other members on the bass and keys, respectively, the band’s success grew and they have even found themselves on the House of Blues and Smith Center stages.
“The Blind Center has definitely been instrumental in creating who I am as a person,” Garcia says. “This place has been here for me, it has supported me, and I want this place to do the same in the life of other people, especially young people.”
Garcia’s next mission is to be a leader as they introduce the new kids and teens program to the Blind Center, which previously only helped adults. Nelson says he hopes the center can become a place where blind teens across the city know they aren’t alone. Garcia is especially passionate about the project because he was once a “normal” kid with his whole life ahead of him before he lost his sight. Instead of succumbing to defeat, he relied on his support system to become stronger than his ailments. He wants to provide that support for teens and remind them they are still capable of greatness.
“I want to flip the switch in the mind of the disabled person, especially the blind person,” Garcia says. “If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not going to get anywhere. It starts within you. It starts in your mind.”
The entire center is buzzing with excitement as the members learn their way around the Visions of Greatness Center. It is complete with a large common room for dining and socializing, a new stage for the music groups to perform on and a state-of-the-art kitchen to house the new culinary program. Every program in the Blind Center, new and old, was created to help its members remember they can achieve greatness no matter what limitations are placed on them just because they are blind.
“What people tell you is really powerful,” Garcia says. “[The Blind Center members] have heard the wrong things for a really long time, and I want to change that.”