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Switch in State Funding Option Leads Memphis Center for the Visually Impaired to Close

The Clovernook Center has provided services for the visually impaired for 25 years.

A Memphis organization that has provided services and programs for the blind for more than two decades will close at the end of the month due to a change in state funding.

The Tennessee Division of Rehabilitation Services notified the Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in January it would not renew its current contract.

Instead, the division encouraged the organization to transition to a so-called “fee-for-service” model where the state pays a vendor an “established rate for each service provided.”

“This model allows [the vocational rehabilitation program] to focus our efforts on ensuring funds are being appropriately allocated to direct services,” Danielle Cotton, a public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Human Services, said in an email.

Clovernook spokesperson Tammy Hatcher says the center could not financially survive under a fee-for-service arrangement and was unable to negotiate another option with the state.

For 25 years the nonprofit has helped blind and visually impaired people live independent lives by offering services such as mobility and skills training, job placement programming and support groups.

Jordan “JB” Bryant is disappointed with the state’s actions. The 29-year-old turned to Clovernook when he lost his vision as an adult.

“I thought my future was going to look a lot like being stuck on government assistance and having somebody else have to take care of me my entire life,” Bryant says.

But he says the center helped him adapt to a new way of navigating the world and taught him skills to run his own business.

Programs for people with compromised vision, Bryant says, were already in need of additional funding so Clovernook’s closing will leave a void. He worries the specialization and quality of services is going to suffer and that some may have to travel even further to access assistance.

“There’s already visually impaired and blind people in the area that’s not getting the help they need,” he says.

He adds that although he no longer attends Clovernook, he believes his closest option would be more than an hour away in Jackson, TN for any possible future needs.

Cotton with the Department of Human Services says the state’s vocational rehabilitation program has developed a plan to transfer all of Clovernook’s clients to other providers.

“The VR program has assured that the same services provided by Clovernook continue to be available for VR customers using VR staff and local qualified community rehabilitation providers and encourage any VR customer who has concerns about the quality or location of services to discuss those concerns with their VR counselor,” Cotton said.

The Clovernook organization also has a location in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Katie is a part-time WKNO contributor. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org