By Jean-Paul Salamanca, Newsday | May 6, 2022

Original article on Newsday’s website

This Mother’s Day, a mom and daughter from Port Washington who have each worked to increase awareness of people with vision and hearing loss are raising money for physical and mental wellness programs that also will help them.

Ilissa Sternlicht, 50, of Port Washington, told Newsday she fell in love with American Sign Language (ASL) at an early age because of its visual appeal. Neither she nor her daughter, Holly, has either impairment. Sternlicht is now an interpreter at the Helen Keller National Center in Port Washington, and said learning that the population of people with vision and hearing loss is small and faces unique challenges in gaining work skills inspired a desire to help.

“We’re taught in life to give what we can to whatever choice of charity you want, and I think that being able to let others who can have the ability but have barriers in their way to do it is something that we should help them have that chance to do,” Sternlicht said.

The Sternlichts will raise money through the annual Helen Keller Services Run-Walk fundraiser that culminates on Sunday.

Proceeds from the event — which is in its second year and again will be held virtually — will go toward Helen Keller Services’ Health & Wellness Program. It benefits those 18 and older who are blind, have low vision, are deaf and/or have intellectual disabilities. The Sternlichts will participate with their team of 20 people via FaceTime, and are expecting to raise $2,000.

Sue Ruzenski, CEO of Helen Keller Services, which also has offices in Sands Point and Brooklyn, said the program offers wholistic activities that bring participants closer.

“Since the pandemic, I think everyone’s consciousness has raised around the idea of physical well-being,” Ruzenski said. “This is about making sure people who are blind, have low vision or are DeafBlind have an opportunity to participate in these types of activities,” Ruzenski said. “These health and wellness programs bring people together, and it’s not just for social connections, though it’s a big part of it.” 

Holly Sternlicht, 15, a sophomore at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, said her mother inspired her to get involved with the community. In March, the teen started an afterschool club that teaches American Sign Language to students while also engaging them in activities like obstacle courses and sensory exercises to teach them how people who are hearing-, vision-impaired or both live every day.

Holly Sternlicht said she hopes the club, which school officials said has 25 members and 65 who recently signed up, can help her peers learn more about those with visual and hearing impairments.

“I’m lucky to be able-bodied and be able to reach all my potential without having to worry about other factors, and I think that every person should get that opportunity,” she said. 


  • The Health & Wellness Program from Helen Keller Services benefits those 18 and older who are blind, have low vision, have hearing loss and/or have intellectual disabilities.
  • Program activities, both in-person and virtually, are offered in Islandia, Hempstead, Sands Point and Brooklyn.
  • The program provides accessible physical health activities and mental health initiatives, including, but not limited to: dance movement therapy, yoga and/or Pilates instruction, nutrition education, creative arts therapy, gardening activities, aromatherapy, and workshops on various topics related to health and wellness, including a quarterly mental health and self-advocacy component.

Original article on Newsday’s website

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