CNIB celebrates century of change with $1.125-million gift

Vicky Baker and Brit Smith
[Photo: Vicky Baker, Early Intervention Specialist, CNIB & granddaughter of Colonel Edwin Baker, CNIB Founder and Brit Smith, philanthropist & CNIB supporter share stories at the CNIB Kingston office.]

When Kingston's Brit Smith, 97, fought in the Second World War, he had no idea it would spark a lifelong connection with CNIB, an organization that was founded in 1918 to support Canadians (at that time, mainly veterans) with sight loss, and lead to a $1.125-million gift from his company, Homestead Land Holdings Ltd. 
Aside from his connection to CNIB founder Colonel Edwin A. Baker, his father's client and family friend, Smith learned how challenging sight loss could be from some of his fellow soldiers.
"During the war, I was stationed near a British hospital with wounded air crew members who had been blinded and badly disfigured, mostly in raids over Germany," says Smith. "Naturally, my sympathies were aroused deeply."
When he was seriously injured on the battlefields of Normandy, he got to know many comrades who'd lost their sight in action.
"I was in the hospital for six months after I was wounded in the war," says Smith. "I remember we would go down to the local pub with some of the pilots who had lost their sight to help give them some exposure on how to manage now that they couldn't see anymore."
As a CNIB supporter for decades, Smith is still enabling community members who are blind or partially sighted to develop skills, build confidence and find opportunities to fully participate in life. His recent gift of $1.125 million will help CNIB make an even bigger impact in its second century.
"Over the years, CNIB has been a vital force in helping people with visual disabilities and I recognize this as a logical place to exercise some philanthropy," says Smith.
Thanks to his generosity through his family Foundation and Homestead Land Holdings, CNIB will have an opportunity to undertake much-needed revitalization of the recreational and learning hall at CNIB's Lake Joseph Centre (Lake Joe), an accessible and inclusive camp for people of all ages with sight loss in Muskoka. The funds will also support the renovations and redevelopment of CNIB locations in Kingston and Ottawa. CNIB Kingston's location will undergo a significant modernization to make it more accessible and inclusive which will provide a new teaching and technology hub that everyone with sight loss can come to for skill development.
"In honour of this most significant gift, CNIB Kingston's building will be named the 'Homestead Community Centre' and the recreational and learning hall at Lake Joe will become "Homestead Land Holdings Recreation Centre' after renovations," says Eyre Purkin Bien, Manager, Major Gifts, CNIB Ontario and Campaign Lead, CNIB Lake Joseph Centre.
In addition, this gift will help with start-up funding for new and renewed programs across Eastern Ontario that are designed to break down barriers for individuals who are blind or partially sighted, guide kids with sight loss through the school system, educate the public about employing people with visual disabilities and provide emotional support for seniors who are adjusting to a loss of sight.
"Perhaps my current gift is fairly generous, but I am 97. As Confucius said, 'I can’t take it with me'," says Smith. "Fate has been kind to me with a long life, a wonderful wife, family, friends, and I have inherited a sense of responsibility to assist others who may have a greater need for my loose change than I do."
Since 1918, CNIB has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are blind or partially sighted. In the next century, the organization wants to do even more to change what it is to be blind today.