About Us

three yellow dots

From the first formal meeting of the Buffalo Association of the Blind in 1907 to the Olmsted Center for Sight and now VIA, this organization has a rich history of helping the visually impaired see the future and be seen as productive members of the community by the world around them.

Whether we’re working with a child who was born blind, or an adult experiencing vision loss, VIA has a proven history of guiding people through vision loss, helping them to overcome it and providing the skills that restore their independence and confidence.

Staff/Leadership

VIA employs about 150 team members, some who have been committed to the agency for more than 30 years. Their dedication is what makes this organization the premier provider of services to the visually impaired community in Western New York.
Tammy Owen
President & CEO
Franca Trincia
Chief Financial Officer
Renee DiFlavio

              Senior Vice President               Development

Sheri Shaw
Vice President of Vision
Rehabilitation Services
Ray Ludwig
Vice President of Manufacturing, Distribution and Business Development
Dan Genco
Director of Manufacturing
Kelly Dodd
Director of Contact Center Services
GARY WAGNER

Director va contracts & public policy

Danielle Vacco

Director Human Resources

Shannon Lach
Marketing & Special Events Coordinator

Board of Directors

VIA is honored and humbled that many of Western New York’s most dynamic business leaders have gifted us with their talents and expertise. The guidance and insight of our Board is critical to the accomplishment of our mission.
Chairperson
KEVIN J. CROSS, ESQ

Attorney, Partner
Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP

Vice Chairperson

ALTHEA LUEHRSEN

CEO
Leadership Buffalo

Secretary 
LISA RAFALSON, PhD

Chair, Health Services Administration
D’Youville College

Treasurer
LISA M. KIRISITS

Managing Partner
Kirisits & Associates, CPAS, PLLC

Board Members

STEPHEN V. CROSS

VP & Chief Information Officer
Merchants Insurance Group

PAUL LEE, MD
Retina Consultants of Western New York
CARL SCANLON JR.
Store Manager
Wegmans
PATRICK ENGASSER
Direct Sales Coordinator
AFLAC
SHARON LOCHOCKI
Senior Vice President
Regional Retail Leader
Key Bank
ERIC RECOON
Vice President, Development & Leasing
Benderson Development
JACK GRECO
Executive Director
Techstars Ecosystem Development Program
MAI NGUYEN
VP Business Banking
M&T Bank
DENNIS McCOY
Attorney, Partner
Barclay Damon, LLP
KELSEY HANKS
Marketing & PR Services
RAYMOND REICHERT
Attorney
Bond, Schoeneck & King
GEORGE WANDS
Director, Internal Audit
Independent Health Association
JOHN KREMER
Employee Benefits Consultant
USI Insurance Services
DOMINIC SECCHIAROLI
Independent Business Owner
LAMONT WILLIAMS
Private Businessman
MARTHA LAMPARELLI

Retired – Coordinator Special Education Services Buffalo Public Schools

STEVEN V. CROSS
VP & Chief Information Officer
Merchants Insurance Group
PAUL LEE, MD
Retina Consultants of Western New York
CARL SCANLON JR.
Store Manager
Wegmans
PATRICK ENGASSER
Direct Sales Coordinator
AFLAC
SHARON LOCHOCKI
Senior Vice President
Regional Retail Leader
Key Bank
ERIC RECOON
Vice President, Development & Leasing
Benderson Development
JACK GRECO
Executive Director
Techstars Ecosystem Development Program
MAI NGUYEN
VP Business Banking
M&T Bank
DENNIS McCOY
Attorney, Partner
Barclay Damon, LLP
KELSEY HANKS
Marketing & PR Services
RAYMOND REICHERT
Attorney
Bond, Schoeneck & King
GEORGE WANDS
Director, Internal Audit
Independent Health Association
JOHN KREMER
Employee Benefits Consultant
USI Insurance Services
DOMINIC SECCHIAROLI
Independent Business Owner
LAMONT WILLIAMS
Private Businessman
MARTHA LAMPARELLI

Retired – Coordinator Special Education Services
Buffalo Public Schools

about via

What does VIA stand for:

VISUALLY
IMPAIRED
ADVANCEMENT

Tag Line:

Pathways for the Visually Impaired 

Pronounced:

“VEE-AH”

 

VIA Logo. Link to Home Page

OUR MISSION

To help people who are blind or visually impaired achieve their highest level of independence.

 

THE BRAND PROMISE

You cannot underestimate the impact a diagnosis of visual impairment or blindness has on a person and their loved ones. From education and equipment, to services and support, you are a partner that provides hope, empowerment and solutions for the visually impaired community.

contact Us:

1170 Main Street,
Buffalo NY 14209
Main Number: 716-882-1025
Hours of Operation
Monday – Friday 8am-4:30pm

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History

Our journey to VIA started in 1907 and has started and led to many interesting directions over the decades. Here’s a quick synopsis of our timeline.

1907-1920

May 1907 – The first formal meeting of the Buffalo Association for the Blind was held. Mr. Carlton Sprague was elected president.
July 1907 – A broom factory employing blind workers was opened at 489 Ellicott Street.
December 1908 – A Certificate of Incorporation for the agency was issued, stating in part its objective “to improve the condition of the blind within the County of Erie.”
November 1913 – The Wishbone Club, the agency’s first social club, was formed to promote social life among blind women.
January 1916 – Rug weaving, chair caning and basketmaking were added to workshop activities.
February 1917 – The agency worked with the New York State Commission for the Blind in providing home visits to blind community members. In one year alone, nearly 1,400 home calls were made for the purposes of tutoring, sick calls and friendly visitation.
1919 – To fuel fundraising efforts, the agency joined with eight other social agencies in the city to form the “Federation of Charities and Social Agencies for Financial and Other Purposes,” which ultimately became the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County.

1921-1940

June 1923 – Rapid growth necessitated the relocation of the agency’s headquarters to the old Lutheran Church at Michigan and Goodell Streets..
July 1927 – Dr. Conrad Wettlaufer, Board President, donated the necessary funds to remodel agency headquarters to house the Buffalo Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic, also known as the Wettlaufer Clinic.
1936 – As part of the WPA, the agency became a distributor of Talking Book Machines. Manufactured under the aegis of the Library of Congress, the machines read pre-recorded books and magazines.
September 1937 – The agency’s first news and cigar stand, operated by blind vendor Anthony Obstarczyk, opened on the first floor of the Erie County Office Building.
December 1937 – A telegram from Helen Keller recognized the agency’s 30th anniversary, commending the organization’s “pioneer work in broadening the field of opportunity for sightless people.”

1941-1960

May 1946 – The Board of Directors voted to purchase the property at 864 Delaware Avenue to better accommodate the growing organization.
September 1946 – The agency’s first preschool, the Michael Nursery School, was opened to help prepare blind children for mainstream schooling.
June 1949 – The first client to the agency’s newly established “Testing and Rehabilitation Center” was accepted, receiving training in skills of daily living and household carpentry.
December 1949 – The Lighthouse Unit, a women’s service guild, was organized. Sixty women signed up to begin the tradition of volunteerism and fundraising.
January 1953 – Sub-contract work stitching cardboard cartons for the Iroquois Brewing Co. was secured in the workshop.

January 1957 – The agency became a member of Industries for the Blind of New York State, an organization that secures orders from state institutions for workshops for the blind throughout New York State.

1961-1980

January 1962 – Renovations began on the agency’s current building at 1170 Main Street due to an urgent need for more space.
July 1964 – The agency initiated an Orientation and Mobility program, including training in the use of the white cane.
December 1971 – The agency became an affiliate of National Industries for the Blind, a workshop development organization.
January 1974 – An open house was held to announce the agency’s new name: the Blind Association of Western New York.
1975 – The agency acquired its first closed circuit television visual aid, the Visualtek, which enabled people with some functional vision to read books and other written materials.
1976 – The Low Vision Clinic opened, providing people with impaired sight with specialized optometric exams and prescriptions.
1979 – The Skills of Daily Living apartment was opened, featuring a living room, bathroom, laundry area and kitchen where clients could train in performing day-to-day activities.
Fall 1980 – The Technical Advisory Committee developed the first-ever Braille desk calendar, filling a strong need expressed by blind professional workers.

1981-2000

March 1983 – The Visually Impaired Preschool (VIP), a home-based program for infants and pre-schoolers up to age five, was initiated.
August 1983 – The first Ride in Plain Sight bike tour was held, an annual fundraiser that featured tandem bicycles ridden by visually impaired cyclists with sighted partners. In 1988, a stationary bike corporate challenge was added to the event.
January 1987 – Senior Vision Services was started, a program serving Erie County senior citizens who, while not legally blind, are experiencing diminishing sight.
November 1993 – The agency opened its first apartment building, Excelsior Manor, in the city’s Lovejoy area.
February 1996 – The agency began overseeing switchboard operations at the Buffalo Veterans Administration Medical Center, employing a full staff of blind and visually impaired operators.
June 1997 – A grand opening celebration was held for Gratwick Manor, the second housing project for visually impaired or physically disabled tenants.
September 1999 – The National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality Service conducted its first class with students.
December 1999 – The agency changed its name to the Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted, M.D. Center for the Visually Impaired.
October 2000 – A grand opening celebration was held to show off the completed renovations. New features include an education center/auditorium, an expanded vision rehabilitation clinic, a resource library and an atrium.

2001-Present

May 2001 – Olmsted Center adopted the theme line “Where Challenges Meet Solutions”.
September 2001 – Olmsted Center’s manufacturing division supplied all the U.S. Flags at the opening game at Yankee Stadium following the tragedy on September 11, 2001. This was the largest distribution of flags in New York State.
January 2003 – The manufacturing division at Olmsted Center secured its first federal contract with the Department of Defense for flight jerseys for the Navy.
February 2003 – Elizabeth Harvey Apartments in the North Tonawanda, the agency’s fourth housing project, opened its doors to visually impaired and physically disabled tenants.
May 2003 – The agency began overseeing switchboard operations at the Erie Veterans Administration Medical Center in Erie, Pennsylvania, employing a full staff of blind and visually impaired operators.
January 2005 – Statler Center accepts its first international student from Canada.
March 2006 – Construction begins on the Ira G. Ross Eye Institute. The Ross Eye Institute is a unique and nationally innovative collaboration among the Department of Ophthalmology of the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Olmsted Center for the Visually Impaired, and University Ophthalmology Services. Envisioned as the premier research, ophthalmologic education and subspecialty eye care program in Western New York, this Institute will include a nationally unique state-of-art, university and human services linked campus that will provide a continuum of integrated prevention, treatment and rehabilitation services to individuals of all ages in need of holistic vision care; as well as, new research facilities at the medical school.
November 2006 – Olmsted Center brings property management of all five of its properties in-house.
January 2007 – Statler Center hosted its first class outside of Buffalo, New York. The Blind Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, became home to Statler Center for 10 weeks and became the 23rd graduating class since its inception in 1999.
March 2007 – After gaining approval in June 2006 from the New York State Public Health Council to open a subsidiary Article 28 Diagnostic and Treatment Center, the Paul T. Bulger Vision Rehabilitation Clinic opened its doors.
May 2007 – Statler Center was awarded $457,000 from the Lavelle Fund for the Blind, Inc. This money will allow Statler Center to train and work with disabled people more strategically in career development. In this model, job placement will actually be “front-loaded” through the development of corporate relationships with businesses that have shown commitment to hiring the disabled, have positions available, and are willing to partner in advance with Statler Center for training and job placement.
June 2007 – The Olmsted Institute of Business and Technology is established.

December 2007 Olmsted Center celebrates 100 years since inception. A centennial celebration takes place in summer 2008 since the corporation was officially formed in December 2008.

January 2008 Statler Center begins training of the first contact center training program.

June 2008 Avaya Corporation generously donates a new telecommunications system for the entire organization enabling Olmsted Center to open a call/contact center. The system provides additional functionality for all users who are blind.

June 2008 Olmsted’s Summer Employment Program (SEE) for students between the ages of 16 to 19 who are blind is expanded to include weekend programming allowing students from across the state to participate.

November 2008 Statler Center, in partnership with Lighthouse of Central Florida and the Department of Education, Division of Blind Services, brings their successful hospitality and customer service training program for the blind or visually impaired to Orland, Florida.

June 2010 Olmsted Center opens Nelson Hopkins Apartments, its’ sixth residential affordable apartment building specifically designed and built for people with physical disabilities.

June 2011 Central Referral Services/211WNY formally merge to become a program of Olmsted Center. 211WNY has a national presence in approximately 45 states and provides health & human services information and referral resources to the community at large.

December 2011 Regional Action Phone (RAP), based in Batavia, New York, officially becomes a subsidiary of Olmsted Center.

December 2011 Olmsted’s Early Education Program begins providing school age contracts for expanded vision services.

April 2012 Vision Rehabilitation begins offering Diagnostic Vocational Evaluations.

April 2012 Renovations on the 4th floor of 1170 Main Street are completed.

June 2012 Olmsted Center holds its first Fore Sight Golf Tournament at Chestnut Hill Country Club. The event is intended to raise both awareness and dollars for programming. The inaugural event attracted 94 golfers and raised over $9,000.

July 2012 Statler Center hosts graduation ceremony at the historic and newly re-opened Statler Hotel. The celebration is of significance since Ellsworth Statler built the hotel in the early 1900s and was widely recognized as a pioneer of the entire hospitality industry. This event also was the unveiling of a commemorative display highlighting the life of Ellsworth Statler to be displayed permanently at Olmsted Center.

August 2012 Vision Rehabilitation Department launches a new summer program for children. Youth Experiencing Success (YES) is a program designed to introduce and reinforce the necessary life skills to students ages 10-14. This four-day, 24-hour program, will focus on socialization, self-advocacy, daily living skills, identifying personality traits and interests.

September 2012 Ron Maier, President for 27 years, retires from Olmsted Center.

September 2012 Olmsted Center hosts it first annual Dining in the Dark fundraiser, hosting 125 guests and raising over $15,000 for agency programs in its inaugural year.

November 2012 Statler Center conducted training program in Albany, NY for 12 legally blind students.

March 2013 The Rehab Department introduced FOCUS, a two-day, one overnight, recreational program at Beaver Hollow Conference Center for children who are blind/legally blind. Program objectives focus on the student’s socialization, self-confidence, teamwork and leadership skills. Students have access to numerous physical activities including swimming, hiking, rock climbing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, yoga and a full state-of-the-art fitness center.

April 2013 Tamara Owen started as President & CEO.

April 2013 Olmsted/Statler Center partners with Veterans One Stop and has dedicated office hours helping disabled and blind veterans.

June 2013 2nd Annual “Fore Sight” Golf Tournament @ Chestnut Hill with 125 golfers and raising $9,600

August 2013 Statler Center went on the road to El Paso Texas and trained 11 blind students for contact center. Six of the students were immediately hired by Hewlett Packard for a homeland security contract and one student was hired at Austin Lighthouse.

September 2013 Finalized merger with RAP.
2-1-1 received AIRS Re-Certification.
2-1-1 launches “Healthy Mom, Healthy baby campaign”.

September 2013 2nd Annual Dining in the Dark fundraiser held at Hyatt Regency.
250 in attendance almost tripled from prior year, $18K profit

February 2014 Contact Center launches 1st large National Industries for the Blind contract with Lutron Lighting, a large national lighting firm.

May 2014 May 13-15, seven representatives from OCS staff and Board travel to Washington to receive sustainable funding training from Benevon.

September 2014 3rd Annual Dining in the Dark, 375 people, $43K profit

December 2014 Section-14c certificate surrendered, Sheltered Work Activities Program closed.

September 2015 4th Annual Dining in the Dark, 440 attendees, $93K profit

June 2016 Launched Business Development Partnership with CABVI

September 2016 5th Annual Dining in the Dark, 475 attendees, $122K profit

September 2017 Transitioned the operations of the Olmsted’s Center-based Pre-school Program to Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center

September 2017 6th Annual Dining in the Dark, 500 attendees, $126K profit

January 2018 Received $975K DASNY Grant for renovation of 1st floor of 1170 Main Street to integrate programing.

September 2018 7th Annual Dining in the Dark, 525 attendees, $147K profit

October 2018 Commenced DASNY Construction Renovations – 1st floor

March 2019 Manufacturing Department began packing 1.2M boxes of gloves for our new commercial contract with Wegmans Food Markets. We are providing gloves for the food service workers in all 100 stores!

June 2019 1st shipment of gloves to Johnston Paper, for distribution to Wegmans.
September 2019 8th Annual Dining in the Dark, 600 attendees, $152K profit

October 2019 Construction nearing completion; began relocation of 4th floor into new space.

November 2019 Board of Directors voted to approve a resolution to change the agency name to “VIA Visually Impaired Advancement” and the d/b/a VIA. The name will be launched in a full re-branding campaign in 2020.

January 2020 All staff has relocated from 4th floor and the Statler Center into new space on 1st floor.

March 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor’s Executive Order required closure of all on-site business except for services deemed to be “Essential Services” by the EO. Due to the PPE related products we produce and distribute in manufacturing, the 211 Health & Human Service Helpline in the Contact Center, and the VA Switchboards operations… those services remained fully operational. Staff from non-essential services were re-deployed to assist in the other areas.