USDB’s New Education Foundation
SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly 5,000 sensory-impaired students throughout the state are educated by the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind, headquartered in Ogden. One week before Giving Tuesday, the schools launched a foundation to benefit students at its Salt Lake City location.
Foundation director Amy Zaharis said dollars raised won’t fund school operations but will instead go toward purchasing accessibility equipment, like white canes and hearing aids, as well as other needs the school doesn’t provide.
“These students have a lot of needs that they need to bridge the gap in education that aren’t covered by the school,” she said. “In life, it’s vital, important things that they need.”
According to the schools, approximately 45% of the students who attend USDB’s three locations come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The foundation, Zaharis said, will connect those students to often expensive technology that makes an education possible.
Among the foundation’s donors is LeAnna Willmore, of Bountiful. She and her family lived in Ogden for years, she said, during which time her son, Trent Florence, attended USDB.
“He wasn’t learning to read or doing anything, so they gave him a start to his education,” Willmore said.
Florence was diagnosed as a child with Alström syndrome, which caused him to progressively lose his eyesight. Between the ages of 5 and 10, he learned to read, and even swim, at the USDB.
After moving back into his neighborhood schools and eventually graduating from Ogden High School, Florence went on to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Seattle, Washington, and work at Discover Card for 23 years.
“He was able to go on and be just a normal kid in public school,” Willmore said. “It gave him a full life.”
Kelsey Ensign is one of the many students who will benefit from the foundation. After Willmore presented a $50,000 check, Ensign signed a message of gratitude as she introduced a video students helped create to promote the foundation.
The schools have made a world of difference in Kelsey’s education, said her mom, Alisa.
“She started preschool when she was 3, and one of my greatest fears as a parent was how was I going to be able to teach my child to read, and they’ve taught her for me,” Alisa Ensign said.
Beyond helping Kelsey have a successful school experience, she added, USDB have assisted the family in making their home more accessible for her. The new foundation is meant to help USDB expand this kind of aid.
Kelsey’s parents are most grateful for the sense of normalcy and the opportunities USDB have brought to her life. At the school, she has deaf role models and friends in her classes and extracurricular activities. When she goes home, because of the instruction provided by USDB, she’s able to communicate effectively with both her parents and her siblings.
“It’s better than just having to gesture. I can just sign, I can just be myself in my native language,” Kelsey Ensign said.