Gina Loiacono, Community Engagement & Grants Manager
Habitat for Humanity of the Lehigh Valley
“Re” is such an interesting little prefix, isn’t it? Just two little letters completely alter the meaning of words. Throw that prefix on a word, and you can instantly start reading, writing, and talking about doing things again, or going back to a previous state of being, or arranging something in a different way. At the Habitat Lehigh Valley ReStore, those two letters are incredibly impactful. Yes, it is a retail store location, but it is so much more thanks to an R and an E.
The Habitat for Humanity of the Lehigh Valley ReStore, located at 1053 Grape Street in Whitehall, is a treasure trove contained within the walls of the old Circuit City space. Once a shopper enters the storefront, they can be transported back in time surrounded by antique pieces and bric-a-brac of years gone by. Other shoppers, knowing it’s time to retire their outdated interior design and renovate their living space, may enter the storefront and be thrilled to find brand new, unopened, top-of-the-line, trending furniture, homegoods, and decor. Contractors, landlords, and home repair specialists alike can enter and find materials, supplies, reusable furnishings, new shipments of tile, flooring, and so much more! There’s lumber, windows, doors, cabinets, and plumbing supplies to be had. See, no day is the same as the day before or the day after at the ReStore...it is an ever-changing retail space of gently used and brand new items.
Opened in 2013, the ReStore is a hidden gem perfect for the DIYer and home decorator on a budget. With products sold at a fraction of the regular retail price, shoppers will leave the ReStore with the knowledge that not only did they score a great deal, but they also supported the mission of Habitat Lehigh Valley- building strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter in a world where everyone deserves a decent place to live.
All revenue generated at the ReStore funnels directly back into the Habitat Lehigh Valley homeownership program and its endeavors. When you shop at the ReStore, you are helping low-income, hardworking families in the Lehigh Valley achieve their dream of homeownership. You are helping a young child have access to a secure and stable living environment. You are helping mothers and fathers establish financial success and develop goals for themselves and their children. You are helping families in need invest in healthcare and education. You are supporting something bigger than yourself...you are a member of the local community that may be shopping small, but impacting something huge.
The ReStore’s services don’t begin and end at retail operations. Donations to the ReStore not only contribute to Habitat Lehigh Valley’s mission, but they also support and maintain a better, eco-friendly environment for everyone. As one of the most environmentally sound shopping and donation options in the Lehigh Valley, the ReStore has diverted over 8.2 million pounds of reusable goods from local landfills since opening in 2013. Additionally, the Habitat Lehigh Valley ReStore has recycled over 10,000 gallons of latex paint due to the remarkable efforts of staff, volunteers, and community support at monthly latex paint recycling drives held at the ReStore. Paints are recycled, remixed, and resold in a plethora of new colors, including exterior, interior, and chalk finishes.
At the ReStore, staff, volunteers, and shoppers are part of the Habitat Lehigh Valley family. Their efforts are part of the blueprint for a thriving community which supports its homeowners and small business owners. There, reducing, reusing, and recycling are all actions taking place to make sure that no one goes without a safe, affordable place to live. The Habitat Lehigh Valley ReStore experience is a pivotal cog in the revitalization of a local community. Now is the time to reimagine how you shop, donate, and volunteer...reinforce your personal commitment to giving back to others, and rekindle a family’s dream of owning a home in the Lehigh Valley.
Twelve years ago, Bryan Shumway faced a major life change. He was losing his sight, his career as a welding inspector, and his way of life as he knew it. A routine eye exam revealed a serious problem. He underwent a lens transplant, and the diagnosis came later: retinitis pigmentosa. He now uses a cane to walk, relies on friends and family for rides, enrolled in online courses, and embarked on a whole new career in energy healing, public speaking, and life coaching.
But, the 55-year-old Whitehall, Pa., man did not get there alone. He did so with the sage counsel and support of others facing life-altering vision changes at Sights for Hope in Lehigh Valley and Monroe County. “It’s scary when you are losing your sight. You feel like your life is ending. I would highly encourage anyone to help seek the proper support. You’re not going to do this alone especially if you are losing your vision. You are going to need help and guidance,” Shumway said.
That is why we are raising the alarm about so many people putting off routine eye exams – as well as preventive overall health checkups – during the pandemic. It’s time to make those appointments – especially for young children whose healthy vision is critical to learning success.
With in-person kindergarten registrations canceled for the second straight spring and fewer people pursuing routine and preventative care, at least 15,000 children in the Lehigh Valley and Monroe County started school without receiving a vision screening or eye exam. Through data collected from our screenings, we know that approximately 10 percent of children have an undetected vision problem. So, with pandemic-related cancellations, we expect about 1,500 children in the Lehigh Valley and Monroe County to have unidentified vision problems. By starting these important years of early education without eye screenings, they are at a great disadvantage. About 80 percent of learning happens with vision.
To make matters worse, a recent study published in JAMA Ophthalmology shows an apparent link between extra at-home screen time during the pandemic with increases of myopia in children. That is why it is more important than ever for parents of children ages 3-5 to schedule an eye exam and for schools and daycare centers to offer them. According a 2019 brief from the CDC, on average of only 6 out of 10 preschoolers had their vision checked before the pandemic.
Adults should also pay attention to their eyesight and use the 20-20-20 rule to minimize eye strain given the increased amount of screen time during the pandemic. The 20-20-20 vision rule is a great tool to combat eye strain when looking at screens too much. The rule entails looking at something 20 feet away from your screen every 20 mins for a total of 20 seconds. With less time commuting to the office, adults are spending more time working and looking at screens for longer periods of time. According to Eyesafe Nielsen, in March of 2020, the first month of the pandemic, it is estimated that screen time per person 18 and up increased to about 13 hours a day.
Our health is paramount, and vision is part of that. There are several resources to help people maintain healthy eyesight. In the Lehigh Valley and Monroe County area, Sights for Hope, formerly Center for Vision Loss, empowers people with visual impairments to seize their independence and opportunity, and champions healthy eyesight throughout its communities. We combine a service of tradition motivated by Helen Keller in 1928 with contemporary practices and advanced technologies to offer vocational training, rehabilitation services, transportation to medical appointments and grocery stores, and social programs that enhance the quality of life for clients who face life with visual impairments.
For children, we offer free vision screenings that could potentially flag issues now that might impede learning later. In a typical year, we screen 8,000 or more children, most of whom are of preschool age. Our trained professionals use advanced hand-held screening devices that are highly accurate and especially effective with kids who are autistic, have other physical challenges, or have language problems.
While we are in a time in history when we are singularly focused on our health, we must remember that caring for ourselves also means we need to prevent illness. One major way to do that is to keep our regular medical checkup appointments and ensure that our eyes are every bit as important as other parts of our health.
Dennis Zehner is Executive Director and CEO of Sights for Hope serving the Lehigh Valley and Monroe County PA.