Volunteers clean up facility for the blind after winter weather storm

They went from “COVID to SNOW-vid” says CEO President of World Services for the Blind, Sharon Giovinazzo

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Volunteers from different groups and organizations began the clean up efforts for World Services for the Blind (WSB) Friday morning after student clients had to be moved to the Holiday Inn at the airport due to busted pipes in their facility.

WSB is a vocational rehabilitation center training people who are blind or visually impaired for individual career aspirations. They’ve been open for 74 years serving more than 70,000 people from across the country. 

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Sharon Giovinazzo has been the President and CEO for six years now. 

“I was the first blind person that I knew. I lost my vision at the age of 31 because of multiple sclerosis. I didn’t know how I was going to cross the street, let alone be the CEO of a residential city block facility taking care of other folks,” said Giovinazzo.

Monday brought plumbing issues that they assumed was the result of a frozen sewer main. Later on that afternoon, they ended up with over 500 gallons of water in one room that had backed up from the sewer.

“With the weather being as extreme as what it was, there wasn’t any plumbing companies that were available to be dispatched, because they’re keeping their employees safe as well,” said Giovinazzo.  

They moved clients over to another dorm space. 

Tuesday brought pipes bursting in one of the mechanical rooms of the building. Giovinazzo said the water was coming down so fast and furious like a car wash on one floor. 

“Which led to a beautiful waterfall feature on the brick wall below it. It looked like a nice water fountain until you realize the water was up to your ankles on the floor, which is not a good thing on the inside,” she said. 

They shut the water off going through the night into Wednesday. Since the snow stopped, they assumed plumbers would be available, but the roads were still bad. That’s when they decided to move all of the clients into hotels for the time being. 

Collie Robinson is a student client new to Little Rock. She said she felt Giovinazzo and the team were out there getting their hands dirty just to make sure they were comfortable during the winter weather storm. 

“When the snow first started, that was exciting you know for me being from Georgia. You know we had pipes bursting and water everywhere, but I really have to commend Sharon for pulling up her sleeves for us,” said Robinson.

Cleiton Johnston is from Indiana and is used to the snow. It’s just been a while since he last experienced it.

“I kind of thought I left the snow behind back in my home state, so I was a bit surprised seeing the snow, but I just had to adjust and adapt,” said Johnston.

Kevin Athey is waiting on the facility to get back in order so that he can return as a student client. Athey is also appreciative of care throughout the winter weather storm.

“All the people there at WSB were you know trying to keep us at the forefront,” said Athey. 

They cleared up pipes Friday and had volunteers shoveling icy snow around the facility in order to make room on driveways and spaces for student clients when they return.

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Giovinazzo said they went from COVID to SNOW-vid. 

They reached out to the mayor, who sent help from the Central Arkansas Water Authority. They also got help from Senator Joyce Elliot, who outsourced resources to get the facility back up and running so that students can get back.