Originally created 02/27/06

Woman sees ways to serve



AIKEN - Liz Lewis carries a heavy caseload, responsible for helping 100 individuals in the state get the most from high school in preparation for the adult world.

It doesn't matter to her that she's legally blind.

Leaving for the lunch hour from her job as a transition counselor for the South Carolina Commission for the Blind, she grabs her bag and confidently dashes for the door.

Though she sees the world in contrasts rather than distinct shapes, her limited vision hasn't left her timid.

Her family saw to that.

"That's what made me tough. The doctor that I had was awesome. He told my parents and my brothers that they needed to treat me normal," Ms. Lewis said.

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis claimed Ms. Lewis's sight as a young child. She attended a school for the blind for several years, when mainstream schools couldn't provide for her needs. But on weekends at home in East Tawas, Mich., on the shore of Lake Huron, her four brothers reminded her there wasn't anything "special" about her.

She received the assistance of the Michigan Commission for the Blind to get her through college, and now she's helping blind teenagers receive the tools and services they need to grow into productive independence.

In the years between college and taking a position 10 years ago with the South Carolina Commission for the Blind, Ms. Lewis taught braille and communications skills to blind adults at Roosevelt Warm Springs (Ga.) Institute for Rehabilitation, performed drug and alcohol counselling at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga., and counseled kidney dialysis patients and their families in Aiken.

The mother to a 15-year-old son, Rhys, points to a higher power to explain why she chose a life helping others.

"I always had a mind for service," she said. "Sometimes I think God just lays things on my heart."

In addition to providing the links to assistance her "consumers" can use, Ms. Lewis knows she serves as a role model to blind youths who might be apprehensive about how they'll make it in a sighted world.

"I just try to present myself being comfortable with (my own) blindness.

"I just fill out my paperwork with my nose to the table, just to let (them) see, whether you like it or not, you're not the only one who has trouble.

"I just love the kids. It's just so neat to hear their goals and their dreams of what they want to do," she said.

Of her own disability, she shrugs, "You get used to whatever the Lord hands you."

Reach J.C. Lexow at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or jc.lexow@augustachronicle.com.

LIZ MILLER LEWIS

Occupation: Transition counselor for the South Carolina Commission for the Blind

Family: Son, Rhys, 15; parents Allan and Betty Miller of Aiken and Michigan