Cynthia Watson would take exception to Thomas Wolfe’s assertion that you can’t go home again.
The Texas native is indeed back home as president and CEO of the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, where she is making history herself as both the first female president and CEO and the first president and CEO of the agency who is blind.
A native of the Houston area, Watson is one of a growing number of people who are blind leading major nonprofits. She moved to San Antonio after a successful run in Seattle as president and CEO of The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.
Watson, who earned her undergraduate and MBA degrees from the University of Houston at Clear Lake, also earned a certificate in management from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business as part of NIB’s Business Management Training program. Over the course of her 20-year career, Watson has been a tireless advocate for empowering people who are blind.
After a fellowship at NIB, Watson’s career steadily progressed. She served as the director of contract services at NIB associated nonprofit agency IFB Solutions in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; provided teaching, counseling, and employment assistance at the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Division for the Blind in Dallas; led the American Foundation for the Blind’s Center on Vision Loss and Web Programs in Dallas; and served as vice president of services at Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind (now Envision Dallas).
Selected for the San Antonio post after a national search that drew more than 200 candidates, Watson, who took office in August 2021, is only the fifth CEO in the 88-year history of the agency.
The San Antonio Lighthouse is one of Texas’ largest military apparel manufacturing operations. In addition to a 140,000 square-foot manufacturing plant, the agency operates 15 AbilityOne Base Supply Centers® across the state as well as in New Mexico and Oklahoma, and employs nearly 500 people.
Watson will encounter different challenges at the San Antonio Lighthouse than those she faced in Seattle. While the two agencies are comparable in size, they differ in scope. The Seattle operation is focused on a variety of manufacturing and service businesses, employing people who are blind, DeafBlind, and blind with other disabilities. And while the San Antonio Lighthouse similarly hosts large product manufacturing and service business divisions, it is also one of the largest providers in the country of rehabilitation services for people who are blind.
As the agency’s first CEO who is legally blind, Watson believes she brings a deeper understanding of the challenges people who come to the agency face, whether they are seeking employment or assistance with adjusting to vision loss. The San Antonio Lighthouse offers a wide array of comprehensive services, ranging from education programs serving children who are blind to senior services for individuals over the age of 50, and everyone in between living in the city and surrounding areas.
Watson is honored to succeed former president and CEO, Mike Gilliam, who she considers a friend and mentor. “I look forward to taking the solid foundation that Mike built at the Lighthouse and carrying it into the future,” Watson says. “I’ve lived the agency’s mission, and now I get to move it forward.”
As Watson settles into her new home, one thing is certain: The San Antonio Lighthouse will continue to offer meaningful employment and top-notch services to the blind and visually impaired in the area.