“How Aurora Helped Me”


Agnes McCray

Agnes McCrayMy name is Agnes McCray. I want to tell you how my life has come full circle, from receiving AURORA of CNY’s services to being a member of AURORA’s board of directors!

When I came to America, a little over 30 years ago, AURORA was the first service that my parents and I got involved in. (Of course, way back then, AURORA was known as The Lighthouse.) AURORA stood out because of the type of services that they offered at the time, and the fact that they were so knowledgeable and caring.

People, including anyone from the average person to community leaders, think of vision and hearing loss and deafness as something that’s not such a high priority because it’s something that cannot be seen or touched, so AURORA makes a big difference for persons such as myself. I had vision issues from the time I was born from being so premature.

I can’t say enough about my three instructors, Ann, Paetra, and Heidi, and others at AURORA, who really assisted me during such a delicate and turmoil-filled time in my life. I had landed in a new country from the Caribbean, and had to get used to so much so fast, and it seemed like everything was just spinning. My parents knew that I was very sensitive about my vision, and that it was going to be a very delicate matter to try and get me through.

I could tell that Ann, Paetra and Heidi believed in what they did every day within their heart and within their whole being, and it wasn’t just a job that they were doing from 9 to 5. Paetra was the first person I worked with regarding how I would be able to navigate the world and my life. I remember when she started to work with me on the acceptance of the whole thing. The work is so delicate because you’re dealing with emotions and acceptance. I don’t think people really understand the delicateness when it comes to sight or hearing loss or what it entails, but I do have to say that Paetra pressed on, and no matter how long it took, she was right there.

Having to deal with gadgets and things in and around the home was a different aspect. I must say that it was nothing short of difficult for the longest time, and that is the truth, but Paetra was very patient and supportive. I think I started to come around once I got past the gadget phase and all the things that gadgets can help you accomplish and achieve in place of vision. I just was not comfortable with that at all, and there is where she really took her time. Paetra, Heidi, and Ann just filled in all the gaps.

There is nothing that I wasn’t taught or I didn’t end up feeling confident about. From start to finish I felt that there was nothing that I could not accomplish, and I could reach for every star in the sky if I wanted to when it came to be how I wanted my life to be.  Everything from my academic high achievements to my very strong advocacy career to the raising of my children, to being on Aurora’s board, I saw no impossibilities.

AURORA has really been the fabric of my life, and when I look back on it, it just makes me chuckle a little bit and smile, because to the average person, I can see as good as everyone else. There are very few people who are aware of how little I can really see with my eyes. AURORA really taught me see with more than just my eyes.

Susan Storms

Susan-StormsAs a busy single mom and active community member, (she serves as the President of the board of a local non-profit) Susan Storms doesn’t have much time to think about her progressive eye disease. So for the past 20 years she has been relying on AURORA of CNY, Inc. to equip her with what she needs to “do life” with a visual impairment.

“I feel like AURORA has put the tools in my hands that allow me to do things I could not do before; like being able to cook, clean and do laundry without “turning everything pink!”

Susan’s sense of humor and contagious positive attitude has inspired many people. She was United Way’s #1 requested speaker during a recent fundraising campaign and she routinely offers to help AURORA with anything we ask of her. It’s her way of giving back.

As her vision diminished, Susan has taken advantage of rehabilitation teaching and orientation and mobility services to help her get around the community safely. AURORA’s Adaptive Technology Center prepared her to become computer savvy enough to assist her late husband with running their business.

“Anything I have ever wanted to do independently, AURORA teaches it and without that training, I probably wouldn’t even be able to live by myself.” Susan explained.

In turn, we appreciate everything that Susan has done to promote AURORA to let people know in the community how we can help!

Prologue: We would also like to congratulate Susan on her recent appointment to the New York State Independent Living Council where she will represent the entire Central New York area as an advocate.“ I am so excited about this appointment-it will allow me to work on a state level and help to set policy and shape the Independent Living philosophy, and is such a step up from local advocacy…”

We are proud to know Susan and wish her the very best on this latest endeavor.

Mary Shakespeare

Mary-ShakespeareNeed to talk to someone at Lowe’s? Call Mary and Ike!

Mary Shakespeare is “back in her element” and loving every minute of her new job as a telephone operator at the brand new Lowe’s store off of Midler Avenue in Syracuse.   She returned to work with assistance from AURORA’s Supported Employment Program.

Blind since birth, Mary is a graduate of the Alabama State School for the Blind and worked for many years in the Syracuse area as a receptionist and telephone operator.  When she began looking for work again, AURORA stepped in with a number of services to make the transition a smooth one.

Mary received help from her employment consultant to apply for jobs, prepare her resume and stay positive throughout the job search.  Once she was hired, Mary was assisted by staff members who made simple accommodations such as brailling telephone lists and putting Braille labels on commonly used items such as the microwave oven in the break room.

Mary is accompanied each day to work by her dog guide, Ike (also pictured) who has been a welcome addition to the Lowe’s team, as well.  Together, they ensure that customers are treated with courtesy and are accommodated promptly when they call the store.

Congratulations Mary, on your new position!

 Mrs. Reggie Schwartzwalder

Mrs. Ruth SchwartzwalderSuccess Story: Mrs. Reggie Schwartzwalder

Mrs. Ruth Schwartzwalder, who recently turned 94, hasn’t slowed down much. Not even a recent diagnosis of macular degeneration has stopped her from enjoying the simple pleasures of life.“ I can still do my crossword puzzle every morning, thanks to the magnifier that AURORA provided,” she explained.

Mrs. Schwartzwalder, known as Reggie, by her friends, recently completed vision rehabilitation services through AURORA. “She’s a real success story,” Joyce Mahoney, AURORA’s Rehabilitation Teacher explained.“She learned how to use everything that I gave her and was very conscientious.”

The Schwartzwalder name is legendary in Syracuse and across the country because of Reggie’s late husband, Floyd “Ben” Schwatzwalder. He was the highly successful football coach at Syracuse University from 1949-1973. Those were the vintage days of S.U. football when Coach Swartzwalder developed a string of running backs with such names as Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, Jim Nance and Larry Csonka.

“I was the one in the background…way in the background!” exclaimed Mrs. Schwartzwalder who still enjoys SU football and tries to attend every home game. “When we first came to Syracuse (in 1949) we only won four games…but we beat Colgate and that was the saving grace! Every year the offer to stay just got better.”

Since her husband’s death in 1993, Mrs. Swartzwalder has remained active and enjoys traveling to visit her five grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren. When she noticed that her sight was failing, she visited her eye doctor and he referred her to AURORA.

“AURORA has done everything!” Reggie remarked, “It’s the most amazing awakening to find out about all the help that I could get. I had no idea!”

She received low vision, rehabilitation and orientation and mobility services that enabled her to receive equipment such as a talking calculator, magnifiers and a white cane in order to continue her life in spite of her vision loss. “The magnifiers help me to read and write and the white cane is great. I really like it and I feel very safe with it,” Reggie commented.

Mrs. Schwartzwalder summed up her experience with AURORA like this: “ I think that the result of all this help that I’ve received from AURORA is that as my vision gets worse, and I know that it will, all the equipment and all that I have learned will help me to be able to cope better.”

We couldn’t have said it better and we thank Mrs. Schwartwalder for “coming out of the background” to share her story with us.


Jimmy and JessicaWe have taken Jimmy to specialists all around the country in search of someone who could address his complex vision needs. In doing so, we have met doctors with varying personalities. It was a pleasant surprise to have the opportunity to see Dr. Krol. He was extremely thorough and informative, and I now have a much better understanding of Jimmy’s level of functional vision, as well as how he uses his functional vision!

We appreciate Dr. Krol taking the time to give Jimmy an eye exam and meaningful information that will help us give Jimmy a better quality of life! I attached a photo of Jimmy and his sister, Jessica, right after we received the adorable glasses in the mail! He is truly using his vision to reach for things...our family and Jimmy’s therapists have been doing a lot of crying in the past few weeks as we watch Jimmy explore things as if for the very first time!

Thank you!
Sue Ellen Holmes