Georgia Industries for the Blind open house showcases strong work ethic

Published 5:34 pm Friday, March 10, 2017

An open house was held at Bainbridge Georgia Industries for the Blind on Thursday.  Several years ago I had the opportunity to interview some of the people who were employed there, but I had not been in the facility since.

As I toured the different areas of the building, accompanied by local GIB Director Mike Jackson and Robin Folsom, Communications Director for the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, I was impressed by the new items being produced. I was even more amazed by the workers, their work ethic and learning their stories. There are 92 people employed there, and 58 have varying degrees of sight loss.

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A whole new section is devoted to the sewing, stamping and screen-printing of safety vests for law enforcement and highway personnel. There is even a child size vest for those children who catch school buses early in the a.m. or come home in the dark.

Commercial sewing machines, operated by some who were sighted, and others blind, were competently turning out the vests, which were then sent to the screen print room. That department employs a graphic designer who can create a logo or design of choice, and make it to customer satisfaction. They can also imprint hats and T-shirts.

Another new product being manufactured is bed pillows, primarily for military and hospital use.

Jeff Durham oversees a machine that converts loose polyester stuffing into rolls. He has been at GIB for 35 years, used to make brooms, and is cross-trained to operate nearly every machine in the building, according to Jackson.

A pillow tick machine folds, cuts, sews and serges the seams of the pillow casings, making them ready for stuffing. John Roberts, an employee of 13 years, supervises that machine. He, too, is cross-trained for other machines. The pillows are then packaged in clear plastic and boxed for shipment.

GIB has many years of a government contract to produce legal binders. Todd McGough, who is legally blind, wears a camera that magnifies the process over his eyes so that he can see the fasteners are placed properly.

One of the most amazing stories is that of Lionel Thomas who works in the paper products area. He is a U.S. Army veteran who served six years, some stationed overseas in Germany, Beirut and Egypt. He had a going business repairing and painting cars for 30 years when he suddenly lost his sight in 2008, apparently overnight. He said he had worked on painting three cars on a Friday and when he woke up Saturday morning to go finish the job he couldn’t see them. He has been diagnosed with what he called open angular glaucoma, from which there is no cure. But, here is the most amazing part of the story. He still paints cars. He said he can detect the body work by feeling the dents with his hands. He has to rely on others to tell him the paint colors, but otherwise he paints them. “I have to make sure I’m not too close or too far away,” he explains.

Asked if he ever got the wrong color, he laughed about the time he painted a truck for one of the engineers at GIB. No one told him it was two-toned. One side was one color, the other a different color. “People generally help me out with that.” He is teaching his nephew the trade of auto painting.             

He has been at GIB 6-1/2 years and has also come up with a measuring device and designed a container that holds parts.

Two long tables of workers in the assembly department speedily put the finishing touches of the file folders.

The workers come from many places, even some foreign countries. There is a contract with the State of Florida and several workers have come from there.

All Georgia Industries for the Blind workers are employed by the state of Georgia, with all state benefits. They work five days a week, Monday through Friday and the average wage is $10.50.  They must make their own living and transportation needs.

They are very industrious and appear to be quite independent.

Mike Jackson commented, “If you take a visitor through the plant, and at the end they say, ‘I saw no blind people,’ then we’ve done our jobs.”