A strong Faith Community provided “new Vision”

Edsel (Ed) dedicated his professional career to teaching mathematics to children. For his first 17 years, his skills were valued in a suburban Detroit Catholic high school. And over the next 16 years, Ed shared his gifts as part of the teaching staff at St. Thomas the Apostle school in Grand Rapids.

33 years of dedicated service would provide any teacher with wonderful memories and special accomplishments with students and their families. And certainly, Ed has many. Unfortunately, his teaching position came to a sudden conclusion well before he intended.

He had been challenged by vision impairment since birth. Retinopathy of Prematurity came as a result of premature birth. He also struggled with Cerebral Palsy. His left eye vision was restricted to peripheral, and his right eye had a foggy layer that didn’t allow clarity of sight. Ed needed to wear very strong prescription eyeglasses from early childhood and into his 30’s. At that time, he had Cataracts removed in both eyes, and for a short time his remaining vision “sharpened” somewhat.

But even as Ed’s vision seemed to stabilize, eye lens material separated and small objects required surgery for removal. The first surgery missed some, and when operated on the second time, Ed’s vision in his right eye deteriorated significantly. That was in 2012. Today, Ed’s has limited (“blotchy”) vision in his right eye and only peripheral vision in his left.

This greater vision loss, and its residual impacts on his mobility in his teaching assignment, were key factors in his 2014 retirement.

But lest someone think that Ed would “drop out” of his role as an educator, the exact opposite has happened. His many years of positive impacts on young students, their families and school administration has continued. Ed now is a four day-per-week volunteer, tutoring math and mentoring students at St. Thomas.

“I now have the chance to help elementary and middle school students showing promise in math…and with students who are challenged and need some extra tutoring.”

The school Community felt so strongly about his skills and talents, that they allowed him to continue working with their children throughout the year. Said Ed, “I now have the chance to help elementary and middle school students showing promise in math…and with students who are challenged and need some extra tutoring”.

This opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time. Ed was struggling with feelings of social isolation and loneliness…an unfortunate, yet common occurrence that often accompanies vision loss. Ed envisioned a bleak future for himself.

His continued contributions at St.Thomas are important to him. “When they considered a new opportunity for me, it was a saving grace, said Ed. I’m very happy in the school. It’s allowed me to help kids and use my talents…otherwise, I wouldn’t have known what to do.”

The St. Thomas “family” includes administration, students and their parents. As one student’s mother shared, “Ed is a phenomenal math teacher. He has a brilliant mind, and the kids are his life”. Ed’s “family” saw him drawing inward, and they provided help with accessibility, transportation and encouragement.

Ed is working to embrace the change in his life. He openly shares that his Catholic faith has been key to his support. The response by his “family” was an answer to his prayer.

Ed engrosses himself with kids, helping his students through encouragement, fostering analytical discussions, while using logic and creativity. With his “white board” always handy, Ed keeps the conversations interactive and energetic. And…all lessons end with a chocolate candy for each student.

St. Thomas’ principal, Suzi Furtwangler, envisions more opportunities for individuals like Ed. His volunteer mentoring has made a wonderful impact and she openly is seeking others for similar volunteer opportunities…having an education background, and a supportive personality for youth. Suzi fully realizes the positive benefits of helping students beyond the formal classroom setting.

Ed’s loss of sight has brought a renewed “vision” to the St. Thomas family.