The first written history of The Seeing Hand Association was recorded on May 23, 1936. The YMCA and Director Ivan Justice were thanked for "their generosity and helpfulness to us for the past season." They called themselves the Sponsoring Committee for the blind.
Over the next year or so members formed a board and five committees. In 1937, Justice suggested the name "The Seeing Hand" be adopted and used with the subtitle, "Ohio County Association for the Blind." It was then proposed to hold a sale of blind products which would provide an opportunity to see the blind at work. The public has always needed educated about the ability of blind and visually impaired workers.
The organization continued to move forward and filed a charter in 1946, which was approved by the state of West Virginia. The Seeing Hand, Ohio County Association for the blind, was the first organization in the state of West Virginia to serve the blind. In 1997 the name was changed to “The Seeing Hand Association, Inc.”
Miss. Ethel Clara Elikan joined the board in 1946 and become the director in 1947. She remained the director for 50 years and passed away in 1997. Eilkan worked tirelessly advocating for the blind and visually impaired in our area. In 1948, the American Legion offered to raise money to pay for property at 737 Market Street. The Seeing Hand remained in that location until 1997 when we moved to our current location at 750 Main Street. Our Main Street location has a workshop which was dedicated and named "The Elikan Center."
Under Miss Eilkan’s direction many programs were developed. In 1948, The Sightless Workers Guild was formed. Weaving classes, instruction for rug looms, and chair caning began. In December 1950 our first Christmas party was held and was attended by 97 people. The Rotary sponsored a blind and visually impaired bowling league in November of 1953 and we still continue to take the Cheerful Bowlers to bowl each Saturday morning from September until April. The Cheerful Bowlers were national champions for many years during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
The Seeing Hand employees learned to make mops in September 1954. A gentleman by the name of Don Pruitt holds the record for making 34 mops in one day in March of 1955. We still make mops. In May of 1955, braille lessons were offered and Bob Hicks still teaches them today.
In October of 1956 the idea of camp was proposed. The following May summer camp for 50 blind adults was held. Each year in July we still have Camp Independence at Wheeling Jesuit University for blind and visually impaired children ages 10 to 17.
Much of Elikan’s efforts focused on finding ways to sustain The Seeing Hand. To this day much of our funding comes from an endowment which she started.
In September of 1962, a garden was designed for the blind, and displayed at a room in Wilson Lodge. The room was filled with plants and flowers. Each plant had an identification card written in English and braille.
Following the passing of Elikan, there were several interim directors, most notably Board member Edwin (Ted) Spears. R. Alvin Schafer, Jr was the CEO/President from March of 1999 until his retirement in September of 2009. Director Schafer developed the “Advisor” newsletter and expanded the staff. He oversaw the computerization of the office and the development of Camp Independence.
Carolyn Heath become the director in 2009 until 2011. Heath was familiar with the daily struggles of a blind individual as her daughter has been visually impaired her entire life.
Karen Haught, our current director, joined us in April 2012. Karen comes from a diverse background of business management, teaching, and non-profit management. It is her goal to find new projects for our organization and to grow the number of employees and programs.
Under her direction, we were given a lot on Wheeling Island and in 2013 we developed the Edelman Garden. This lot was donated by the Edelman family with the hopes of offering our blind and visually impaired workers the opportunity to learn how to weed, plant, water and harvest produce. The garden has many vertical elements which make it possible for our workers to navigate the garden with ease. In the summer of 2017, we are doubling the size of the garden and installing braille identification plates. This project continues to be one of our most visible accomplishments and we are very proud of how beautiful this once vacant lot has become.
We are expanding our workshop in July 2017 to refurbish fire extinguishers. This project enables us to expand employment opportunities for the blind and visually impaired and to transform our organization from one of sustainment to one of growth.
The Seeing Hand has been searching for a project for over 20 years and we are most excited about this new opportunity. Our organization has made a huge difference in the lives of many blind and visually impaired individuals. We offer many services including low vision products, home assessment, orientation and mobility, share group, recreation activities, braille, computer lessons, and employment. Haught believes her work at The Seeing Hand will never be done until all blind and visually impaired workers have the same opportunities as their sighted peers.