PLAINS TWP. – When she's not working at Tobyhanna Army Depot, Caitlin Best might be found serving her community as a volunteer firefighter or relaxing by watching movies, spending time with friends or learning to play bass guitar.
And she's doing it all while she's barely able to see.
Because she's a role model for independent living among the blind or visually impaired, the 26-year-old Pittston Township resident was one of three award recipients at the Association for the Blind's annual dinner Wednesday night at The Woodlands Inn & Resort. Also honored were Rabbi Larry Kaplan and InterMountain Medical Group.
Best was born with Retinopathy of Prematurity – a potentially blinding eye disorder that primarily affects premature infants. Still, she graduated from Pittston Area High School Misericordia University, having majored in Information technology.
But after a series of operations for the removal of cataracts, retinal detachments and glaucoma, Best unfortunately lost most of her sight. She lost most of the vision in her left eye and can distinguish shapes and colors with her right eye.
"There are times when I obviously get depressed, but I try not to get upset, that only makes things worse," Best said Wednesday. "I try to be optimistic."
Having a sense of humor helps. Best's is apparent, and not only in her conversation.
On her left wrist, she sports a tattoo, her "third eye," she calls it. It's actually the logo for her favorite Japanese band – Chemical Pictures.
Wanting to remain independent, Best contacted the Association for the Blind for support and guidance after her vision worsened. And she got the help she needed.
"I got my first guide dog in 2011. I flew to California to do three weeks training with her. It was tiring, but it was definitely a great experience," Best said of the session days that began at 6 a.m. and ended around 9 at night.
Teka, a black Labrador, gives Best the freedom she desires.
And Teka is also a great friend.
Best is grateful to the Association for the Blind for all the support she's received, so much so that she decided to give something back.
"I started to really get into advocating for the blind, speaking about guide dogs," Best said.
Best also contributes through her job – helping disabled workers through the Equal Employment Opportunity Office at the army depot.
Because of her accomplishments, Best on Wednesday received the Arline Philips Achievement Award, named for the founder of the Association for the Blind and presented to a blind or visually impaired person whose lifestyle reflects a level of independence that sets an example for others.
Rabbi Kaplan received the Distinguished Community Service award, which identifies a community leader whose life, values and generosity in the service of others are of such renown and stature that they merit special attention and gratitude.
A Philadelphia native, Kaplan served two congregations in Hartford and Miami before moving his family to Northeast Pennsylvania and becoming rabbi at Temple Israel in Wilkes-Barre in 1998. Parents to eight children, Kaplan and his wife, Gerri, opened their hearts and their home to more than 70 foster children over the years.
Kaplan serves as the Jewish Chaplain at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, teaches religion and Bible at Misericordia University and King's College, is a graduate of Leadership Wilkes-Barre's Executive Session, is treasurer of the Wyoming Valley Interfaith Council, and has served on the Board of Directors of Family Service Association, Ecumenical Enterprises and Children's Service Center.
He also serves on the several area boards.
InterMountain Medical Group was the Community Partnership Award recipient. The award is presented annually to an individual, business or organization for their personal dedication to the need and welfare of others and whose outstanding commitment significantly enhances the good work of the Association for the Blind.
InterMountain represents more than 50 area physicians at 33 locations. Their more than 200 professional staff continuously strives to provide health care services with respect, dignity and compassion, according to the association.
Physicians and staff serve on many community boards including the Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA, The Riverfront Parks Committee and the Association for the Blind.
Group members' direct involvement and leadership were instrumental in the successful relocation of the Blind Association to its new facility on Wyoming Avenue in Exeter.