Spotlight on Michael Benson
Founder of Visual Experience Foundation
Benson burning a memory deep inside his consciousness as he places a stone on Schindler’s grave.
I became acquainted with Michael Benson in one of my Sight Support groups. He is the CEO and founder of Visual Experience Foundation (VEF). Losing your vision? Fill out an application to his foundation! You might just get selected to go on a “Sight Visit.” But he promises there’s much more to what meets the eye than what a person sees.
I can’t wait to share today’s post with you!
Hi Michael, please tell my readers a little about your background.
I was born in December of 1961 and was said then to be the youngest baby in the world to have had Glaucoma surgery. Being born with Congenital Glaucoma, I grew up with doctor visits, surgeries, and fear one day I would be blind. Overcoming the fear of an unknown future and how this drove my decisions and behavior is the experience, strength and hope I share with others on this journey. Today I am filled with gratitude for the vision I have. I live and believe gratitude is an action word.
1. What inspired you to begin VEF and what does your organization do?
On the surface, VEF takes those losing sight on a make-a-wish type destination visit so they can see something they have always wanted to see while they can still see. However, it’s the backdrop for so much more that takes place. The core focus is that we put a new pair of “glasses” on each person we engage.
They then decide for themselves to wear them after our “Sight Visit” or not. No, they aren’t physical glasses. They are glasses that look inward. This involves honest conversation regarding what’s really going on inside someone who is diagnosed with unstoppable vision loss.
Let’s not leave parents out as there is a whole mess of things that they are going through inside. Our sight visits are a safe place to get it out. During an amazing visual experience when we teach our “burn it” technique is where our real fellowship takes place. Sharing the truth about the anxiety and fear one goes through is met with an alternative way to see things– physically and spiritually.
When I teach our candidates the “burn it” technique, I’m sharing a calling given to me. I focus on the strength and hope of overcoming fears and “living in the day” and not a lonely, dark made-up future in our heads. This is especially important because it addresses the part of a diagnosis I experienced in losing vision that was never addressed growing up as a child being told that I was slowly going blind.
2. How did you establish VEF?
My foundation came about as a result of a decision to follow what I can only describe as a divine prompting in April of 2014. I made a promise to God to carry it out. In June, our foundation took our first young man with RP to see Niagara Falls. ABC News covered the event, which brought us followers. After our first site visit, we registered for non-profit status–and are still establishing VEF. It started as something I had to do. For the first time, I shared how I had burned visual memories deeply since my youth.
I could recall in amazing detail doing what I now call ‘burning it.’
I also share how I overcame many fears about losing my vision and how fear stole precious sight moments.
We have a board of directors who discusses each candidate. who consider several factors when selecting a candidate. This includes how much vision a persona has left and the speed to which a candidate is losing his or her vision. We interview those who submit our form and put them on a list of approved candidates. We may choose someone who applied two years ago or it could be a new referral. It’s not a first come, first serve process. Financial status and age may also also be a factor. However, we do understand that the middle class pays for everything and the strain of insurance co-pays and travel for doctors drains their ability to do some of the things we can provide. We also consider the emotional strain that one is going through.
We pray about this decision.I tell everyone to submit a request because he or she just might get chosen.
3. How is Vision Experience Foundation funded?
Currently VEF is all voluntary. We have raised money from event to event through personal donations or small fundraising events in which everything has gone into either promoting or the event itself. As we become more established, we hope to attract more donors who want to support this effort.
4. How do you find the people you help?
They find us. We have already received more requests then we can possibly fund. We are still learning about the non-profit world.
For us, this is a ministry and the word is out that we exist in the eye community. We are continually being asked to participate in blogs and speaking engagements. The other noteworthy aspect is that we’ve received a tremendous amount of news coverage.
After out first “Sight Visit” ABC World News followed us into the Grand Canyon, which aired worldwide. We had a Sight Visit in which we brought a woman from England to see NYC while she still had vision and FOX News covered us visiting St Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC. We have been blessed with the media wanting to tell our story. Amazingly, this visit took place on Good Friday and the church gave special permission for Fox to film inside the church.
My personal belief that if God puts something on your heart to do and you say “ok” and take action, then He will open the doors that are to be opened in His time. That is evident in what’s happening with VEF. It’s been and is an amazing journey.
Don’t miss the second part of the interview with Michael Benson as he shares more about the Visual Experience Foundation ministry he is building.
Do you know anyone who is making a difference in society by carrying out a passion born out of an adverse situation? Share in the comments below.
You have just read “Spotlight on Michael Benson: Founder of Visual Experience Foundation,” Copyright January 27, 2017. Feel free to ask Michael any question you might have about Visual Experience Foundation.