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IMPACT STORIES

Vista Center is proud to share impactful stories from our community.  Enjoy reading some of these meaningful stories!

Vista Voyagers Pumpkin Fest

Image 1: Voyager in an Incredibles costume carving a pumpkinThe Voyagers Pumpkin Carving Fest was an event which included all the senses! The smell of candy apples floated through the air as seven families carved their very own jack-o-lanterns, most of the pumpkins were larger than the size of a basketball! Amidst laughter and carving advice, the pumpkin seeds were removed, seasoned with salt and olive oil, and tossed in the oven to bake into a crispy snack for later. While waiting for the seeds to cook, the students had a friendly apple bobbing match and sipped on hot apple cider. Lastly everyone voted for their favorite pumpkin and waited eagerly to see who would win the grand prize! 

Expanded Core Curriculum skills Developed:

  1. Image 2: Voyagers preparing pumpkin seeds for roastingSocial interactions: This event abounded with opportunities for family, friends, and strangers social interaction. Family members worked together to choose a jack-o-lantern theme, friends shared their favorite Halloween jokes, and students introduced themselves to people they had not previously met before assisting with cooking. Regular opportunities for students to develop social skills in a safe and welcoming environment where students feel able to speak up or ask questions are imperative to smooth and appropriate adult career and social interactions. 
  2. Independent living techniques: Cooking and knife skills where practiced throughout this event. Students discussed various knife safety techniques and put these newly learned tricks into practice as they carved their own pumpkins. They learned how to use all parts of the pumpkin instead of throwing away the insides. They then cleaned, seasoned, and roasted the seeds for their snacking pleasure.
  3. Recreation and leisure skills: Voyagers participated in mainstream fall festivities in an environment that welcomed their unique needs and allowed for hands on instruction and extra time to complete the projects. Now the students are able to participate in apple bobbing or pumpkin carving at a mainstream festival without fear of falling behind or wondering if they will be able to participate. 
  4. Sensory efficiency skills: A combined sensory approach was offered which enabled Voyagers to practice sensory integration by listening for the clatter of dishes to travel to the kitchen, by tracing the shape of a wiki stick to cut the correct eye shape, or by navigating to their designated chair and understanding where their body was in relation to the people around them. Sensory efficiency must be taught and practiced on a regular basis so students can effectively utilize all their Image 3: Voyagers posing with a line of carved pumpkinssenses jointly as they move through society.  
  5. Self-determination development: Each Voyager examined all the jack-o-lanterns before casting their vote for their favorite pumpkin (outside of their own of course!). This activity required the students to analyze the options, evaluate the creativity and skill, then determine their personal favorite by casting a vote. This decision making exercise prepares the students for more vital adult decisions such as voting for President or choosing which college to attend.

Summer Is For Tech!

Youth of Tomorrow group holding thumbs up in front of the Vista Center Santa Cruz sign

Throughout the Bay Area, kids are excited to attend camps that spark their imagination and help develop future skills. This year, a handful of our Vista Voyagers, Vista Center’s Youth Group ages 9 - 22, participated in Vista Center Santa Cruz Technology Camp, where they were provided unique technology lessons catered to their specific vision needs. 

Lessons centered around using zoom, voice over, and iPad gestures to text friends or email teachers, speaking to Alexa from Amazon to simplify daily life, utilizing apps such as Seeing AI, Be My Eyes, or Aira to reach out for help, and reading and downloading audiobooks from Voice dream reader. The camp went above and beyond teaching assistive technology skills by introducing the students to the brains behind the products, engineers, and accessibility teams themselves.

Youth of Tomorrow group standing in front of a Amazon surfboardEach day the students met with a different technology team, touring Amazon Santa Cruz and peppering the employees with questions on what jobs Amazon offers, what tricks Alexa can pull off, and if there are REALLY free snacks all day. On another day, students spoke directly to the engineers of AIRA and Seeing AI, learning firsthand how the apps were developed and how they operate; and met professor Roberto Manduchi from UC Santa Cruz who shared what technology will help students through college.
What was perhaps most impactful of all, three young Stanford graduates, one who had a visual impairment himself, drove all the way from LA to present their start up, Group Theory. They shared their innovative approach to creating an aesthetically pleasing audioscape for screenwriting and a tactile learning model for understanding graphic design.  Meeting professionals from all walks of life, ages, disabilities, and ethnicities, spread a deeper message to the kids, “You can do it. All you have to do is try.”       
Vista Center Santa Cruz Technology Camp would not have been possible without funding from Monterey Peninsula Foundation. Vista Center would also like to thank the following companies;  Amazon, Microsoft Seeing AI, AIRA, Group Theory Design, and Adrian Rodriguez, for providing stimulating presentations, amazing speakers and brand new tech tools - iPads, Bluetooth keyboards and Amazon Echos.


Vista Voyagers at Google!

Sixteen Voyagers were awestruck as they walked onto Google’s campus and were greeted with refreshing boba tea, snacks, and excited Google employees. They quickly warmed up and began peppering the Google team with questions on accessibility apps, sharing product feedback, and responding to personal career stories.

The students product tested a Google accessibility app called Lookout which identifies, reads, and locates text or objects. The Voyagers had a multitude of product suggestions and ideas which were quickly jotted down for further consideration. After the demos, two Googlers who were blind and visually impaired shared their personal journeys of how they obtained jobs at Google, including describing their own occurrences with inaccessible materials, high school and college experiences, and concluding with a message of perseverance, determination, and self-advocacy. The Voyagers were then shuttled to a Google Cafe where they happily chatted with Googlers and friends as they munched on a fresh hot meal of their choice.

A collage of pictures from the event, pictures are group photos of the students and Google engineers, both outside and in a big conference room.

Expanded Core Curriculum skills Developed:

  1. Assistive Technology: Through the immersion lab students learned about and utilized several new accessibility apps which will increase their independence as they move throughout society.  
  2. Career education exposure: Googlers with and without visual impairments shared their personal career stories highlighting the need for tenacity and problem-solving skills. Hearing from adults who have felt the same frustrations normalizes their experiences and motivates them to continue to strive for success. 
  3. Social interactions: Voyagers were exposed to conversation on a professional level in a conference room like setting and a relaxed environment during dinner where they mingled freely. Learning how to navigate and understand the difference between these two settings is a vital skill set which will be utilized in future careers.
  4. Self-determination development: “Any questions?” A Google employee asked after sharing his story. An awkward silence filled the room for one beat, two beats before a student tentatively raised her hand. This is an example of how students overcome insecurities speaking in front of a large group of people, asking questions and sharing observations with business professionals and peers. Participating in a large group discussion is challenging for anyone, and especially so if one cannot see the visual social cues transpiring throughout the room.   

A very special thank you to the Google team who put this experience together!

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