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Nonprofit organization offers community, education, empowerment for those who experience sight loss

PMG FILE PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Hull Foundation and Learning Center celebrated the 50th anniversary of its five senses Gardens of Enchantment last summer. The Hull Foundation and Learning Center, though still a best kept secret to some, is a destination for those with low to no vision seeking education, adventure and empowerment. For 60 years now, the 32-acre retreat center has offered programs to help those new to sight loss learn how to navigate everyday experiences and also learn that they can still do activities they loved before, even "high adventure" excursions like rock climbing and rafting.

The center also offers spaces for anyone to rent, including a heated indoor pool, dormitories, outdoor event spaces, indoor event spaces and more.

With this being the Hull Foundation's 60th year, staff and volunteers have launched a campaign to garner support and honor the time the nonprofit has spent serving people not only in Oregon, but nationwide. To recognize the foundation's 60 years, supporters are asked to give a donation of at least $60 — 60 for 60. The foundation, like many businesses, nonprofit organizations and families, has not been immune to financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board member Tom Ciesielski says there were benefits but also major challenges that have come out of the past two years. On the positive side, having to resort to Zoom groups and meetings has opened the foundation's programming up to even more people, regardless of location. But a large con is that the foundation has "lost $200,000 or more in rental revenue during COVID," only increasing the need for donations for the nonprofit that doesn't receive any government funding. PMG FILE PHOTO - Hull Foundation offers a variety of workshops and adventures for those with low to no vision.

Most programs Hull Foundation offers, excluding those like their moderate to high adventure retreats, come at no cost to participants.

Ciesielski, who has been serving at the foundation in some capacity since the mid-1980s, says "we provide services that are unique probably from anyone else."

"Anybody who receives our services is treated with respect, dignity and humor," he added.

In his four decades affiliated with the organization, Ciesielski says he's seen "remarkable growth in the operating philosophy" at the foundation. He explained within the last 10-12 years that the board and staff have updated terminology used to be more welcoming. Rather than clients or customers, those visiting the center are called guests, and the more rigorous recreational opportunities offered have been expanded upon and referred to as retreats rather than camps.

"HFLC is pretty much the only organization in the nation with this philosophy and guest appreciate feeling like they're treated like adults," Ciesielski says.

PMG FILE PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Mary Lee Turner, who lives with sight loss, has been serving at Hull Foundation and leading workshops there for more than a decade. Longtime volunteer, board member and Lions Club representative Mary Lee Turner agrees that the foundation and learning center are unique and a great resource for all.

"If you've ever been to a place that has a history or a life — that has an aura — I think of the Hull Foundation like that," Turner says. "It has the ghost of so much laughter and so much fullness of life."

Turner has served at the foundation since around 2010 and says the impacts it can have on those who visit the grounds are why it needs more support.

"I — like our readers — grow older every day," Turner says. "The buildings, too, are aging. The staff is aging. The only thing we can count on is our passion for this work continuing. And our focus has increased to being a resource for folks new to sight loss."

Because of age — since the parts of the center are upwards of 40 years old — the foundation is looking to upgrade the pool, upgrade parts of the retreat center, and more, so that the foundation remains a well-maintained resource for another 60 years plus.

Turner has not only served on the board at the organization but also as someone with lifelong sight loss has taught workshops to others with low to no vision about living with sight loss. PMG FILE PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - The Gardens of Enchantment were created with those with low to no vision in mind and is full of plants that cater to all five senses.

"Folks who experience sight loss and their friends and family come out and they leave expanded," Turner says. "They leave nourished and refreshed and willing to take on new things in their lives because they have had the opportunity to be in a place that nurtures and honors, that respects and challenges our guests, staff members and board members."

The foundation does not receive federal dollars, so the board relies on donations and renting out the grounds, pool and buildings for events for operational funding.

Donations can be made online at oralhull.org or checks can be mailed or delivered to the Hull Foundation and Learning Center, P.O. Box 157, Sandy, OR 97055.PMG FILE PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Monica Butler has worked for the foundation since 2018 and now acts as executive director.


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