Hundreds of people banded together for Santa Barbara’s first VisionWalk at Santa Barbara City College on Saturday to support people living with retinal degenerative diseases.
Proceeds from the 5K VisionWalk go to the Foundation Fighting Blindness to fund research into preventions, treatments and cures for retinal degenerative diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration. The event, hosted by 50 communities across the country, began in 2006 and have since raised over $16 million.
Kylee Stepner of Foundation Fighting Blindness said the walk aimed to generate financial and emotional support for sufferers of retinal degenerative diseases.
“It is free to participate — the money comes solely from donations,” Stepner said. “We want this to be a community-focused outreach and fundraising event. The money that we raise is granted to researchers and doctors all over the country and this definitely provides a huge impact for their research.”
Foundation Fighting Blindness Board of Directors Secretary Yvonne Chester lives with retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that affects her peripheral vision. Chester said her son Jonathan, a second-year UCSB student, and his classmate Conor O’Sullivan, both VisionWalk Co-Chairs, are responsible for the event’s success.
“One day [Jonathan] said to me, ‘Me and my friend are going to put on a walk,’” Chester said. “I had no idea he would actually do it, but he did. A lot of the people that you see here are out here because of Conor and [Jonathan].”
Chester said she was not even aware of her disease until her later years as her sight gradually deteriorated. She said retinitis pigmentosa is a constant part of her life and requires her to continually accommodate for vision loss.
“I was a corporate attorney for many years,” Chester said. “I had no idea that there was anything wrong. I went in for a routine appointment and all of a sudden the doctor says, ‘You have retinitis pigmentosa.’ One of the things about this disease is that you are always dealing with loss, so you are always giving things up, like driving.”
Lily Wash, a student from Roosevelt Elementary School in Santa Barbara, also lives with retinitis pigmentosa and said she encouraged members of her community to participate in the walk and contribute to the cause.
“We sent out e-mails to a bunch of family and friends and a lot of people replied and donated,” Wash said. “We started two weeks ago, and when I left the house this morning we had raised about $3,000, but there is probably more now.”
According to the VisionWalk website, the event surpassed its financial goals of $20,000 and has raised $25,316 as of press time.