A local resident is the newest board member for the Northwest Association of Blind Athletes.
Teresa Lawwill, of Camas, recently agreed to join the board of directors. She previously served the association by volunteering on the auction committee.
Lawwill, community relations director for the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, has experience in fundraising, event management and community outreach.
She is impressed with Billy Henry, executive director of the association, and its progression.
“I admire what Billy has been able to accomplish at such a young age, and it inspires me to help,” Lawwill said.
“I feel I can make a difference and have a profound impact with this organization,” she added. “This is one of the most worthy causes I have come across in my 30 years of helping in my community. “I believe my experience and community connections will help NWABA reach more individuals who are visually impaired by raising the funds needed to continue and sustain what Billy and NWABA has put into place.”
Henry, a visually impaired resident of Vancouver, and Nick Wilks, also of Vancouver, founded the association in 2007 to ensure that people who are blind were participating in sports and physical activities. Henry was 15 at the time, and Wilks — now the board president — was 17.
The association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides programming for more than 1,000 children, teens and adults. It has grown from helping six to more than 1,000 people in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
Lawwill said a lack of confidence and self-esteem can lead blind and visually impaired children to not participate in physical education. That contributes to a lack of fitness and muscular strength.
“While their peers are playing sports such as baseball, basketball and football, they are sitting on the sidelines,” Lawwill said. “Once introduced to sports and physical activity, individuals with visual impairments build more self-confidence and are opened up to the possibility that they really can pursue their dreams in both sports and life.”
In February, an auction raised $75,000 — an increase of 67 percent over the previous year.
Lawwill credits the generous support of donors, sponsors and volunteers for making the association’s programs possible and decreasing unemployment rates for the blind and visually impaired.
Also in February, the association partnered with the American Red Cross Youth Council to teach sighted students goalball at Camas High School.
It involved wearing blacked-out ski goggles.
“Exposing sighted students to the challenges visually impaired students face in sports is a way of showing them what is possible,” Lawwill said. “We are all limited by something. We all just would like an opportunity to overcome our limitations.
“NWABA is committed to continuing to enhance and expand opportunities for youth and adults with visual impairments across Clark County and the Northwest,” she added.
Goalball is a Paralympic sport developed after World War II as a way to keep blinded veterans physically active. According to Henry, it has become one of the premiere team sports for people who are blind and visually impaired.
Since each team member on court is blindfolded, goalball allows the visually impaired to compete equally with the non-visually impaired.
The game is played on a floor similar to that of a volleyball court. The object is to listen for and block the goalball with the body so the opposing player cannot throw it into the net behind the defensive team. A goalball is about the size of a basketball with bells in it, moving at an average speed of 30 miles per hour.
“It is a game that requires superb hearing skills, excellent reflexes and superb mental concentration,” Henry said. “This sport has been a unique athletic outlet for many visually impaired individuals from around the country for over 40 years.”
The national goalball championships, featuring participants from the NWABA and the United States Association of Blind Athletes, will be held June 20-22, at McLoughlin Middle School, 5802 MacArthur Blvd., in Vancouver.