High School junior Brittany Richardson is no stranger to hard work.
At the top of her class in academics, sports and music, Richardson has put a lot of effort into her hobbies as well as her studies. Though visually impaired since birth due to congenital glaucoma and aniridia, Richardson has risen to the top of her class to become the first recipient of the Stevie Wonder Student Star Award (SSA).
Richardson struggled with athletics for most of her life despite wanting to become involved, largely due in part to being placed in classes below her ability. After attempting soccer and track, Richardson was turned on to Junior Blind, an organization dedicated to assisting visually disabled teenagers.
The award, presented by Stevie Wonder himself, who sits on the board of advisers for Junior Blind, came as a surprise to Richardson, who received it at Junior Blind’s 2013 Holiday Carnival.
“I didn’t know why they picked me out of everyone,” said Richardson. “Stevie is a very kindhearted man. When you meet him, you get a warm feeling and he felt very genuine.”
Junior Blind’s mission is to help visually impaired youth and adults by offering camps and excursions to introduce students to other visually impaired teens. Students go on field trips called Vision: Excursions in Learning to various parks and monuments across the country and experience it in various ways, whether tactile, auditory or narrative.
To receive the SSA, a student involved with Junior Blind must excel in academics, music and sports. Lisett Chavarela, director of marketing at Junior Blind, said she believes that Richardson exhibits the qualities that best represent the organization.
“She’s kind of a stellar student,” said Chavarela. “She volunteers for our goal ball program and has gotten them to win in the high school nationals, and when we have goal ball practice on campus she’ll come and help the little kids.”
Goal ball is a sport created specifically for the visually impaired. Teams of three defend one end of a field, generally a hard surface, marked with tactile pieces of duct tape and string as another team attempts to score using a ball that makes a distinct sound as it whizzes through the air.
For the Junior Blind high school team, Richardson led the goal ball players to second place in national competition.
Richardson is also a self-taught musician, having experience with the keyboard, drums and guitar. Her abilities come from trial and error rather than formal lessons.
“I’ve never been into the whole lesson thing. I just kind of do things my way,” said Richardson. “I make my own songs up. I take my own cues.”
The SSA award is shaped like a star with Richardson’s name and achievements written in brail. After graduation, Richardson hopes to pursue a degree in psychology with a minor in creative writing, though working with Junior Blind would be a welcome opportunity.
“I would love to assist Junior Blind, maybe even become employed there,” said Richardson, who volunteers at the camp during the summer. “Anything they need me to do I’d definitely be up for it.”
For more information regarding Junior Blind and how to volunteer, visit www.juniorblind.org.