In case you missed it, StyleBlueprint recently hosted a $5,000 Charity Giveaway, sponsored by Papa John’s. Readers voted on their favorite local charity, and the grand prize winner was Visually Impaired Preschool Services, or VIPS. This incredible organization is the hub of a huge network of services for visually impaired children, and it’s one of only four of its kind in the nation. This is not just a school for young children, it offers evaluations, in-home services and, most importantly, support for the parents and caregivers of the affected children. When you think about the fact that 85% of what children learn is through their vision, VIPS offers life skills and life-changing opportunities for visually impaired children and their families.
Today we would like to feature a woman from VIPS who, as the Director of Education, has helped guide this organization into the forefront of educational game-changers in this field. While she claims to be a “pretty basic person,” she is anything but. Her quiet resolve, guidance and leadership have created a setting where visually impaired children can feel at home and accepted as they learn and grow. Meet today’s FACE of Louisville, Kathy Mullen.
Tell us what VIPS is and what services it provides.
At Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS), our mission is to empower families by providing educational excellence to young children with visual impairments in order to build a strong foundation for reaching their highest potential. VIPS provides early intervention services to Kentucky and Indiana’s youngest children with blindness and low vision. Services include evaluations, in-home visits and access to resources that help parents and caregivers better understand and support their child with visual impairment. In addition, VIPS serves children in community-based preschools and childcare centers and welcomes children of all abilities to Kids Town Preschool on our VIPS Louisville campus. We teach parents and caregivers the fine art of advocating for their children as well.
What makes VIPS unique?
Research continues to demonstrate the relationship between good, early intervention and future academic success. We know that 85% of what an individual learns comes through the visual pathway, and that 90% of brain development occurs before age 6. So, it is imperative that services begin for a child and family as soon as possible after receiving a diagnosis of vision loss. We are the only agency providing frequent and ongoing services for children with vision loss, ages birth to 5 years, across Kentucky and Indiana. We stay current on best practices for serving this age group and are sought-after trainers at local, state and national conferences. Our Kids Town Preschool at VIPS is one of a handful serving this unique population of children, and we welcome visitors from across the globe to our center. Frequently, families with a young child in need of services will relocate from another region of Kentucky or another state to access our VIPS team of educators.
What are your plans for the $5,000 in charity giveaway money that you recently won?
VIPS created this graphic, which we promoted during the charity giveaway voting period, to show people how great of an impact $5,000 would make on our organization.
Your background is in education, formerly working for First Steps. How has that experience translated into your current job as Director of Education at VIPS?
VIPS continues to serve children and families through First Steps, Kentucky’s Early Intervention System. Our services follow the child after their discharge from First Steps at age 3. The First Steps model supports collaborations through team members, such as speech, occupational and physical therapists. VIPS is recognized for their collaboration with public school systems, other nonprofits across Kentucky and Indiana who serve children with special needs and the medical community. As a former First Steps Technical Assistant for Kentucky, I am aware of how the system works. I am also familiar with some of the unique characteristics of communities across the commonwealth.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is dealing with people who do not seem to value individuals with special needs and who do not recognize that access to an appropriate education is a right, not a privilege or luxury. There are laws in place to protect students and families. There really is no guessing when it comes to what should be provided to any child. I feel a very important part of my job is helping families learn to advocate for their children from the very beginning.
What is most rewarding?
I love the honor to work with families. I am humbled when a family is brought to tears by the services provided by VIPS. I have had parents tell me VIPS was the only agency that ever returned their call and then listened to them. That is very rewarding. The hugs from the children — and moms! — go a long way, too!
What is VIPS’ goal for five years from now?
When VIPS was birthed in 1985, eight children and their families were served in the first year. During our last fiscal year, VIPS served 526 families! In January 2017, VIPS launched a very aggressive strategic plan. Our “Vision 20/20” is to serve 1,000 children and families during the 2020 fiscal year. It is not that we want to serve that many children; demographics show that there will be that many children in need of our services by that time.
If you were not in your current job, what would you secretly love to do?
I was born to be an educator. Once in your blood, it is next to impossible to deny the need to teach. I have taught college courses in the past, and although the adjunct role is very challenging, I think I would like to teach future educators. I would also like to work with families of adults with disabilities. That will take some more education of my own, but I’m up for it! When I retire, you will find me working in a coffee shop, enjoying the delicious aroma and abundant conversation!
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I want to take cooking lessons some day! One of my favorite ways to relax is by baking for others, especially my peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I’d like to add to my repertoire – maybe even get a little fancy!
What are three words that describe you?
What advice do you treasure?
When I was a brand-new teacher, I had the opportunity to work with a remarkable lady who was retired military, had earned a Ph.D. and was an elder in her church. She was also a wife and mother. One day, she told a young working mother (me!), that I could be successful as a spouse, mother and educator as long as I kept grounded in my faith. I remind myself of that often when my life feels too busy and frantic. Taking time to pray and have a chat with God helps me every time!
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my _________.
My calendar. Yes, I still use a paper-and-pencil calendar!
Favorite thing to do in Louisville?
One of my favorite things to do anywhere is to start my day with a walk. Making my way through the neighborhood before the sun comes up is a great way to start a day of gratitude.
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
What are three of your favorite things right now — besides faith, family and friends?
Do grandchildren count as family? I was just blessed with my third grandchild over the holidays. Baby George and his two sisters, Charlotte and Rose, would be my top three for sure! I would also say the opal ring my husband gave me for our 25th wedding anniversary. I love our home as well. It’s my safe place that keeps me warm inside and out and offers me the security I need to keep on going! I love when others come to visit as well.
To be inspired by other great women in Louisville, check out our other FACES of Louisville here.