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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Florida Center for the Blind awarded Community Development Block Grant

A Community Development Block Grant has been awarded to Florida Center for the Blind to assist with the construction of a new preschool for visually impaired children in Marion County.

At the Marion County Board of County Commissioners regular meeting on Tuesday, March 15, the commissioners unanimously approved a Community Development Block Grant of up to $600,000 for the Florida Center for the Blind, which is located at 1411 NE 22nd Avenue in Ocala.

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program is an initiative of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, and it helps fund local community development. The goal of the program is to provide affordable housing and expand economic opportunities for residents with low-to-moderate incomes.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the CDBG program has several important values and principles of community development:

  • The program’s flexibility helps empower people and communities to design and implement strategies tailored to their own needs and priorities.
  • The program’s emphasis on consolidated planning helps expand and strengthen partnerships across all levels of government and the private sector.
  • The program’s technical assistance activities and set-aside for grantees help to build the capacity of these partners.

Anissa Pierboni, President and CEO of the Florida Center for the Blind, stated that the center plans to use the grant funds to establish a preschool in early 2023 to provide intensive early-learning experiences for blind and visually impaired children. “We will then seek approval for a charter school for kindergarten through second grade, with a goal of mainstreaming our students into our local public schools by the third grade,” said Pierboni.

This preschool aims to remove many of the barriers that visually impaired children often face in school by equipping them with skills they need to thrive socially and academically alongside their sighted peers. This will also help lower costs for public schools by reducing the number of paraprofessionals that are needed for blind students.

Alan Altany, Ph.D. and chair of the Florida Center for the Blind’s board of directors, said, “This grant initiates a major expansion of our Ocala campus and will make Marion County a leader and model program for services that support blind and visually impaired individuals. After years of planning, our expansion is coming to fruition and will transform the lives of blind and visually impaired babies, children, teens, adults, and seniors.”

According to a media release from Marion County, CDBG proposals may be submitted year-round to meet identified goals, emerging needs, and expenditure deadlines. Proposals will be evaluated on how the project addresses county goals, priority needs, and national objectives. All proposals, submitted as a “pre-application,” must be submitted online via ZoomGrants.