Hadley's courses have helped me to better understand myself and see life from a different perspective.
— Trivita Mathoora , International Student of the Year


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Meet the 2016 Student and President's Award Winners

For more than 95 years, many Hadley students have demonstrated growth and accomplishment. In 1959, we began what has become an annual tradition of honoring our highest achievers. Each year, Hadley instructors and faculty choose a small number of students who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in their studies. Today, the Student Awards, presented each year during The Edwin J. Brach and Hazel and Bertram Brodie Award Presentation, recognize individuals whose hard work, determination and spirit serve as an inspiration to others.

Since 2007, the Hadley President's Award has been given in recognition of an individual or group demonstrating exceptional spirit in raising awareness of the needs and abilities of individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

2016 President's Award Winner
Nancy Brown JonesNancy Brown Jones — Winnetka, IL

Nancy Jones is a woman who can accomplish anything she sets her mind to! In 1953, Hadley, with only $500 in the bank, was on the verge of closing. Nancy passionately stepped forward to protect the future of Hadley — the beloved school her father, Dr. E.V.L. Brown, co-founded with William A. Hadley. Along with six other friends, Nancy formed the Hadley Woman's Board and led its very first fundraising campaign, securing more than 1,200 contributors. Two short years later, Hadley, once again, was growing strong, and it became apparent that the school was in need of its own building. Nancy "jumped in," joining her husband, Clarence Boyd (Bud) Jones, to raise the required $250,000, going door-to-door throughout the community. Soon after, an acquaintance asked if there were a way to share the word of her support for Hadley in a Christmas Card. Nancy responded by creating the first Braille Holiday Card and Sale — which remains one of Hadley's treasured traditions.

Many times over the years, Nancy used her voice and innovative spirit to ensure Hadley's future. In 1985, addressing the Board of Trustees, she concluded her remarks with the statement, "You know how dearly I love this school and singing its praises!" This evening, we sing the praises of Nancy Jones, whose lifelong dedication and foresight helped to secure the future of Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Her efforts impact Hadley today and will continue to do so, well into the future. We are proud to honor Nancy Brown Jones for being a champion for Hadley and tirelessly supporting its mission To promote independent living through lifelong distance education programs for people who are blind or visually impaired, their families and blindness service providers.

(Nancy Jones is a Life Trustee of Hadley and resides in Winnetka. Her husband, Clarence Boyd Jones, passed away in 1994. Her daughter, Gwen McConnaughy, is a Life Trustee, and Gwen's husband, Tom, is a former Trustee. Nancy's son, Ted, served as a Trustee for 39 years, and her nephew, Dr. Steven V.L. Brown, has been a Trustee for the past 26 years.)

Student of the Year
Sandra CollinsSandra Collins — NC

At age 31, Sandra was the first person in her family to earn a college degree – a monumental milestone – and a launching pad to accounting. But, just a few years later, an unsuccessful eye surgery resulted in glare disability, fluctuating vision, pain and a vestibular disorder, forcing Sandra to leave her full-time position.

"I suddenly found myself with long days," said Sandra, who could now only use a computer for brief periods of time. "But Hadley was the answer to my prayers, allowing me to continue my life-long love of learning."

She credits Hadley's large print text and legible font for stretching her "eye budget." Taking more than 40 courses over the years, Sandra's favorite is usually "the one I'm currently taking." She related, "The course that helped me most comprehensively was Get Ready, Get Set, Study. My learning style was visual, but after my surgery, I started to read more with my ears, and love to learn while moving, especially listening to Seminars@Hadley."

Her instructors also have kept her on track. "They give me encouragement and hope… They make me feel like I'm their only student and do everything they can to make sure I accomplish my learning goals."

"For those students who have experienced a struggle with eyesight issues, gaining one's confidence is one of the first steps they need to pursue," Sandra says. "Hadley courses, along with podcasts, are a great way to achieve knowledge and become empowered with solutions."

Braille Student of the Year
Susan BraselSusan Brasel — AL

When Susan first lost her vision at age 60, due to a detached retina, she worried about all the activities she couldn't do. Instead, she discovered that there is so much more that she can do.

Reading always has been one of Susan's passions. Through Hadley, she has taken many braille literacy courses. When struggling with braille reading, she began to attend her instructor's virtual Office Hours sessions. Other students offered suggestions and related their personal struggles, so Susan knew she wasn't the only one experiencing problems. "There are so many memorable opportunities I've had through Hadley that I don't have a favorite! I hope my enthusiasm is contagious! I want others to know that Hadley is a great place to learn and to meet people!"

As a craft instructor at Extreme Experience Retreat (EER) – the annual event in Andalusia, AL, otherwise known as "blind camp" – Susan has shared her skills with others, teaching everything from pine needle basketry to wine bottle wind chimes. When notified of her award, the first person she called was Wanda Scroggins, founder of EER, who introduced her to Hadley's offerings.

"This award tells me that my efforts are being noticed. That other people see that I have potential," she said. "Now it is my turn to find possibilities in others so I can offer them hope! Hadley doesn't just offer courses, it offers dreams."

View an interview with Susan Brasel.

Donald Wing Hathaway Lifelong Learning Award
Evelyn Vyhnanek — IL

Born with glaucoma in the 1950s, Evelyn Vyhnanek received little encouragement to learn braille. "I believe that my Mom didn't want to admit that something was wrong with my eyes," she said. "Neither she nor my husband encouraged me to use braille, so I didn't stick with it."

However, some 40 years later, a friend, along with her son, suggested that Evelyn give it another try – and she reached out to Hadley. "When I passed the course, my son said, 'Go for it, Mom!' He loved that I could read braille."

So did Evelyn. With a boost from two of her favorite instructors, Martha Pamperin and Julie Kay, she not only became a stellar student, but now lectures to others.

No one knows what lies ahead. However, Evelyn said she expects to lose sight in her other eye – a development that once would have scared her, but one she accepts matter-of-factly. "I'm OK with it because I'm so prepared – and so many people who have taught me that it's not the end of the world."

Her advice to others who are anxious about returning to school echoes the Nike slogan. "Just do it," she said. "Don't be afraid. Blind people really can do all the same things sighted people can do. I'm proof of it."

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Robert J. Winn Family Education Award
Michelle AlbrechtMichelle Albrecht — MD

Michelle Albrecht's first exposure to visual impairments occurred in 2013, when she and her husband adopted their daughter from Ukraine. "The day we met her, she opened our eyes to so much," said Michelle, a physical therapist. "We knew she would be our daughter, but we had no clue of the wonderful journey she would bring us on."

Almost three years later, they would add to their family again – this time, a boy from China, who also is blind. Michelle, who home-schools her children, turned to Hadley to help her unlock their potential – especially important, given their hard starts. Her experiences were so positive that she encouraged her husband to enroll, as well.

"Hadley instructors gave me the tools I was missing. They helped me realize that learning braille is not an impossible thing, as it is sometimes presented in the sighted world," she said. Nafisa Keels is the instructor who helped her to arrive at this "lightbulb" moment.

"Bringing home a child who was blind was viewed by many as a big challenge, but when I took classes with Nafisa, I was just a mom doing what was best for my child – not greater, not less. It was just what I needed as a new mom."

"Without Hadley, I'm not sure where I or my children would be, but I do know that we would not be the confident individuals we are as a family living with blindness in a sighted world."

View an interview with Michelle Albrechat.

Dean W. Tuttle Professional Award
Jill LenihanJill Lenihan — CA

Jill has no sight issues – nor does anyone in her family – but that didn't prevent her from envisioning a new career path for herself.

As a teaching assistant in a special education classroom, Jill's love affair with braille started in 2012, when she was assigned her first student with vision impairment, a young boy who was blind. Her heart was touched the day they met, and she was instantly overwhelmed with a passion for the visually impaired.

"I began researching braille on the Internet and started carrying around the braille alphabet in my pocket so I could review it whenever I had a few moments. My family and friends thought I was crazy."

Not long after, someone recommended Hadley. Jill was thrilled to hear of such an organization, as she knew she had much to learn in order to pursue her passion for teaching children with visual impairments. There, she connected with the most "kind and caring" instructors. "My passion grew exponentially with my knowledge – and continues to grow with their patience and guidance."

Today, Jill's expertise has her shuttling among nine school districts in the San Diego area, assisting vision-impaired students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. "If it wasn't for Hadley, I'd still be stuck with that braille alphabet in my pocket and desire in my heart. But now, I'm living a wonderful dream."

View an interview with Jill Lenihan.

International Student of the Year
Trivita MathooraTrivita Mathoora — Mauritius

Trivita Mathoora lost the sight in her right eye when she was five months old. At age four, she became blind in the left eye. So, navigating in a world without vision is all the 31-year-old has ever known.

But even from a small island east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, Trivita found her way to Hadley, which she credits with helping her both personally and professionally. Her Hadley courses have assisted her in a number of jobs, including her current position as a part-time lecturer at the Mauritius Institute of Education. She also is the braille resource person for a school for the blind, overseeing the braille program and library, training staff and researching assistive technology.

Before taking Hadley courses, Trivita used braille only for her academics, but now she has found a myriad of ways to weave it into her daily life, such as labeling all her CDs and DVDs, so she can enjoy music and movies on her own. Other applications include creating her personal braille calendar and labels to identify everything from shades of cosmetics to the expiration dates of dairy products.

"In short, Hadley's braille courses have helped me become more independent. In fact, it has helped me to better understand myself and see life from a different perspective. It also has helped me fulfill one of my most cherished dreams – to work at the same school for the blind where I attended as a child. I am so happy to receive this award. I cannot thank Hadley enough for making my life so wonderful."