COLUMBIA — Jane Williams walks more slowly than she used to, steadily planting one foot in front of the other to avoid the little traps she encounters — a trash can that has shifted, or a chair out of place.
As she ventures into a new world without her vision, her hands have become her guides, and she depends on others as never before to navigate her day.
But Williams, the executive director of Love INC.'s Columbia chapter, will not let loss of vision keep her from serving the community. She is determined that the organization she co-founded in May 2008 continues to match community resources with those who need help.
Love in the Name of Christ, or Love INC., is a national network with 150 affiliates in 30 states. In Columbia, Love INC. works with churches to provide clothing, furniture, transportation and transitional employment connections.
For some, it might mean help with job applications or rides to work. To others, it could mean linens and appliances to outfit a home.
In 2012, the organization provided 1,249 pieces of furniture (with an estimated value of $47,953) to individuals and families.
"We really try to address the more complex issues of poverty," Williams said. "Everyone, no matter their social situation, can be in their own ghetto that they cannot get out of on their own. We really just need and help each other."
Although Williams has maintained her position as program director, her daily routine has shifted as she learns to adjust to a life without sight.
Williams, who is 60, has suffered retina issues since birth. She was born premature and believes she was over-oxygenated in her incubator. It may have saved her life but not without damage to her eyes. After years of good days and bad days, her left eye destabilized in 2010.
"That was my good eye," she said. "Surgery was unsuccessful, I lost sight and was unable to drive."
Three more years and three more surgeries left her blind in both eyes.
"At first, there was such grief," she said. "Allowing yourself time to grieve and taking it at a pace you can handle is important."
Longtime friend, Randy Hodill, walked with Williams through the process of losing her vision. He watched her cope with a declining ability to fulfill the work she feels called to do, and yet he saw saw no change in her determination.
"Jane used to do the work of three people," Hodill said. "Now, she has to do the work of two, but nothing about her personality has changed. She has the same passion."
With the help of another friend, Linda McGary, Williams can still use the computer to write grants and update newsletters. When the Love INC. basement flooded in March, it was Williams who spent hours calling people to have it repaired.
"If Jane ever asks you to do anything, you cannot tell her no," McGary said. "You want to be a part of it. You want to see how God is going to work through her."
Asking for help
One of the most challenging aspects of becoming blind later in life is learning how to ask for help to accomplish all the things Williams once did herself.
"[Asking] is so hard, but I need help with everything," she said. "And people do love to help."
In the past two years, she said she has learned a lot about needing others. Whether it's a ride to work or help to cut her steak at dinner, she feels as if she is the most pampered blind person around.
She has also discovered that people who handle her situation the best may be those who have been served by Love INC. in some way.
"The people who need our help — our clients — are the people who are the most tender with me," Williams said.
"It has given me so much more insight into their lives. Anyone with a disability is supposed to be a focal point for service."
She does believe that her disability has given her the opportunity to better relate with the people she serves.
"I'm not bothered by things that might bother other people," she said. "Quirky clothes, for instance. I just have an ease with anybody. I'm listening to their heart."
Those who spend a lot of time with Williams have taken notice.
"Jane can see inside people," McGary said. "She's able to see things others can't. We all have to go blind to see people better."
Although Williams said she tries to maintain a positive attitude, there are things she misses without sight. Her favorite pastime was reading, particularly the Bible.
"Throughout our whole friendship, Jane has loved to read," longtime friend Pamela Ingram said. "We would always read books and then discuss them."
Williams also said she misses seeing faces.
"Jane has lost an incredible amount in the past two years," Ingram said. "She has suffered a tremendous loss of personal independence."
Williams sometimes grieves what is yet to come, such as never being able to see her future grandchildren. Her faith in the Lord's provision is what sees her through from one day to the next, she said.
"God gives you grace for the moment," she said.
She reminds herself of that promise during her more difficult days. Instead of distressing about the troubles that the future could bring, she focuses on the positives of the present.
She has another phrase that keeps her going: "Stay fascinated."
Whether it's about her daily clients, Love INC.'s weekly prayer meeting or simply the kindness of her husband and friends, that has become her mantra.
"Jane perseveres without her vision," Hodill said. "She feels as if God has called her to this work. This cause is close to her heart."
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.