They get up early each weekday, often traveling great distances to assist their fellow Floridians in need. During tough economic times and record high unemployment, they consider themselves fortunate to have jobs. And despite diverse backgrounds, they share a common bond: blindness or visually impairment.
Meet members of the Lighthouse Works 4Sight360 call center team who, through a special state contract, are helping local residents who have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic access unemployment benefits.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our dedicated and talented team members, many of whom must cope with their own disabilities while helping their fellow citizens secure benefits to take care of their families during this emergency,” says Kyle Johnson, president and CEO of Lighthouse Central Florida and its subsidiary Lighthouse Works.
Johnson notes that the NIB associated nonprofit agency is no stranger to community service, having provided education, independent life skills, and job training and placement to more than 100,000 people who are visually impaired and their families since 1976.
The agency is Central Florida’s only private, professional nonprofit offering a comprehensive range of vision-specific rehabilitation services to residents in Orange, Seminole, and Osceola counties.
Johnson points out that Lighthouse Works had the infrastructure and in-house trainers in place when the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reached out for additional assistance in March, as the pandemic caused massive layoffs.
“One of our first business lines was a commercial contact center in which we were handling unemployment calls for the Department for a little more than a year,” he explains.
To accommodate the extra workload, Johnson expanded the full-time staff from 15 to about 40. All but one team member is blind or visually impaired.
He credits the Bank of America Charitable Foundation for providing a $20,000 gift to help support employment training and procurement activities at Lighthouse Works.
“At a time of such volatility and economic uncertainty, it’s incredibly reassuring to have the stability of a partner who shares your values and supports your mission,” Johnson says.
The funding also allowed Lighthouse Works’ Supply Chain division to continue purchases of personal protective equipment like masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers to support the efforts of local hospitals and state agencies, including the Division of Emergency Management, Department of Health, and Department of Corrections.
Like its counterparts across the country, Lighthouse Central Florida has adopted procedures to ensure the safety of employees. All staff and visitors receive temperature checks as well as face masks upon entering the agency’s main facility. In addition, hand sanitizers are available throughout the building. When COVID-19 created some shortages at local grocery stores, Lighthouse Works opened a small pantry for employees in need of food and other essential items.
Despite the stress of dealing with the pandemic’s challenges, staff members count their blessings.
“The hardest part has been reassuring my children that everything will be okay even though things are so uncertain,” says Sophia McCall, a customer care professional who processes unemployment claims. McCall, who is visually impaired, has been with Lighthouse Works for the past three years.
“I am grateful to have a job where I can make a diﬀerence in peoples’ lives and offer a little hope when some situations are so bleak,” she says. “It makes me realize how fortunate I am.”