Clay is one of the easiest and most versatile materials to create with. So when Laura Alvarado, Director at the Indiana Blind Children's Foundation contacted us about making braille bracelets to include in their Gala swag bags, we said yes! We sat down with Laura to hear more about her role in serving blind and visually impaired students in our home state of Indiana. 

MudLOVE: Tell us a little of your story and how you connected with IBCF.

Laura Alvarado: I started working for the Indiana Blind Children's Foundation (IBCF) four years ago. At the time, I was ready to take on more of a leadership role and when I interviewed for my position of Exeuctive Director, I immediately knew that I wanted to be at the foundation and supporting the students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI). I was drawn to the position and the work as my career has been spent ensuring underserved youth have access to resources and programs that help them thrive and be successful. It has always been important to me that children of all backgrounds and abilities have equal access to a high quality education and programs that encourage kids to dream big. 

ML: What is IBCF's mission in the community? 

LA: IBCF's mission is to invest in children with visual impairments so each child may thrive in school and daily life. IBCF is a philanthropic foundation that supports the unique work of the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Since its inception in 1993, the foundation has focused on raising financial support for academics at ISBVI. Over the course of time, the foundation extended its focus to impact all facets of the students' intellectual, social, and emotional lives.

ML: What are some of the greatest challenges facing visually impaired students today? 

LA: I get asked this question a lot. At the school and foundation, we believe that our students can do anything with some adaptations in place. In many ways the greatest challenge out there can be the negative or mis-informed perceptions of individuals with visual impairments. There have been so many steretypes played out in the media and unfortunately individuals with any type of disability have to work very hard at ensuring people see beyond the disability. This is why we make the efforts that we do at the foundation and share images and news stories that focus on our students abilities and strengths because there are so many.

ML: Tell us about how the Though the Looking Glass Gala came to be.

LA: The Through the Looking Glass Gala started nine years ago after one of our Board members, Lindsey Jordan, who wasn't a Board member at the time, was inspired by a visit to ISBVI. She approached the foundation's Executive Director about putting on an event that could assist the foundation create awareness surrounding the students' needs and leverage dollars for those needs. She brought on friends and family to assist in putting on such a grand event and that first year I believe the event generated nearly $90,000. To date, this event has raised over $850,000 towards the IBCF mission and supported numerous programs at the school such as technology, arts and music programs, a 3D Print Lab and more. 

ML: How did you discover MudLOVE? 

LA: My family and I actually took a weekend trip to the Village at Winona Lake for my birthday a few years back. We had a wonderful time exploring the village while we were there and stumbled upon MudLOVE products at one of the gift shops. I was immediately drawn to your mission or belief that every person has the ability to change the world. Using clay, you not only create products that you can wear or use. but you turn those sales into investments into communities where there is hardship. My background is in the visual arts and for many years I oversaw community arts programs in numerous low income areas of Indianapolis. I love how the arts inspire confidence and thoughtfulness of the world around you. I believe that the arts are not only a powerful tool for expressing oneself, but can inspire positive social change in others. The arts have this positive chain reaction effect and you all at MudLOVE mirror that effect beautifully through your mission and efforts.

ML: How does MudLOVE fit in with the Gala or your mission? 

LA: I immediately thought of MudLOVE for Gala this year because when I first found your products I noticed the use of braille on some of your bracelets. The use of braille on everyday objects is not the norm. It struck me that you were an organization that not only used your craft for good to give back, but that you were also inclusive of others when doing so. I want to showcase businesses and products that practice inclusion in the things that we do at the Foundation so that inclusive approaches become the norm. This year especially with the Covid-19 crisis, I knew that I wanted to partner and focus on local Indiana businesses as our students come from around the state of Indiana to receive their education at the school. We have all been impacted by the challenges created by this crisis and if I can highlight local Indiana businesses to help increase awareness of their products then it makes me feel good that we are being concious and supportive of the community that gives so much to the children and families that we impact throughout the year. 

ML: What can our readers do to support the visually impaired community? 

LA: There are many ways to be more inclusive of individuals with visual impairments. Educate yourself more on policies or obstacles impacting individuals with visual impairments. Volunteer for an organization that impacts individuals with visual impairments and become a part of an effort that creates positive change for people with disabilities.

Thank you so much for sharing about IBCF and educating us on your mission! You can learn more about IBCF by visiting their website. We also made a few Braille bracelets available for you for a limited time. Find them HERE.

Indiana Blind Children's Foundation