Tuesday, January 03, 2017

TOP STORY >> Sightless paradegoer

By DEBORAH HORN Leader staff writer

It was a pretty good walk — about five-and-a-half miles along Colorado Street in Pasadena, Calif. — but it took Sharon Giovinazzo about 15 years to get there.

As part of this year’s Tournament of Roses Parade, Giovinazzo, the president and CEO of Lions World Services for the Blind in Little Rock, was invited to participate.

Only one problem— Giovinazzo is blind, but without hesitation, she accepted the invitation and flew to Pasadena last week to march in the 128-year-old California tradition. 


She says, “As early as I can remember, a New Year’s tradition was to watch the Tournament of Roses Parade. At the age of 31, I lost my sight. So for the last 16 years, I would not turn on the TV to watch it, because it would make me sad. There were many things that saddened me about losing my sight — parades and fireworks were two of those things.”

Despite an early morning call — Rose Parade participants needed to be on scene by 3 a.m. Monday, she says, “It was very exciting…I was honored to be asked.”

She also helped decorate the float, and at 8:02 a.m. a stealth bomber plane did a flyover to officially launch the parade, she said.

About 1 million people lined the route, Giovinazzo said, the entire experience was awesome.

Giovinazzo says, “The theme of the parade, ‘Echoes of Success,’ rang throughout the parade, but to Lions that is something that echoes throughout the world every day as the largest humanitarian organization in the world, with more than 1.4 million members, changing lives everyday.”


Giovinazzo was 31 and an LPN (licensed practical nurse) when she began experiencing difficulty with her vision, and within a few weeks, she was totally blind. Unknown to her, the cause was multiple sclerosis.

She didn’t allow blindness or self-pity to rule her life, and she relearned how to live life, including seemingly simple tasks...walking with a cane, riding the bus or locating items around her home.

“You fold, or you play the hand you’re dealt,” she says.

So she got a job packing gloves, 100 to a box, for the Transportation Security Administration.

“It’s not easy to pick yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with life. But you have to, you just can’t sit there and feel sorry for yourself. You have to get beyond that spot, not letting destiny be set for you,” she says about her guiding philosophy.

“Everyone is dealing with something, and it took losing my sight to learn that,” she says.


Still, it wasn’t enough to learn to cope and get a job, Giovinazzo decided to earn a bachelor’s degree, then two master’s degrees.

While completing her studies, she worked on public policy in Washington for the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) and then moved to work in Raleigh, N.C., for the Raleigh Lions Clinic for the Blind.

Her husband, Joseph Giovinazzo, now deceased, made the moves with her.

Last year, she moved to Little Rock, after accepting her current position with World Services for the Blind.


Lions from all over the country play a pivotal role in creating independence in Little Rock for people who are blind and visually impaired everyday.

“World Services for the Blind was highlighted as one of their service projects. Lions have assisted World Services for the Blind in their mission since 1947 to serve more than 13,000 people from all 50 states and from 58 countries to gain the skills needed to live independently and have careers in their fields of choosing,” she says.

The nonprofit organization, founded in 1947, works with blind and visually impaired people in the United States and around the world to achieve independence. Its programs offer life skills and career training and youth programs.

Giovinazzo says, “There’s nothing special about me, but what I do is special.”

For more information about the World Services for the Blind, to go: wsblind.org.