Click here how Virginia Jacko became the President and CEO of Miami Lighthouse. Video produced by the Plaza Health Network Foundation as part of their 9th Annual Women of Distinction & Caring Luncheon.
As President and CEO of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, Virginia Jacko is committed to ensuring the blind and visually impaired, low vision seniors and financially disadvantaged schoolchildren without resources for eye care, regardless of age, socio-economic status or ethnicity, have equitable access to education, blindness prevention programs, and vision rehabilitation training. She applies her acumen in financial and program development, governmental and donor relations, accreditation and compliance arenas as President and CEO of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Inc., President of the Florida Heiken Children's Vision Program, LLC, and President of the New Miami Lighthouse Learning Center for Children, Inc. Her leadership expertise was enhanced by obtaining a certificate of completion in “Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management” from the Harvard Business School Executive Education Program. During her term as CEO Miami Lighthouse has gained recognition as a national Center of Excellence through professional publications and academic presentations.
While maintaining Miami Lighthouse’s focus on delivering outstanding educational and rehabilitation training for program participants enrollment increased in traditional vision rehabilitation programs. She introduced new initiatives with the goal of reaching underserved populations such as low vision seniors and schoolchildren statewide who fail their school vision screening but have no access to eye health care.
She expanded low vision services by adding a Certified Low Vision Occupational Therapist, a Certified Low Vision Occupational Therapy Assistant, and a Licensed Dispensing Optician to work in collaboration with the Miami Lighthouse consulting low vision optometrist. To date 4,000 patients have received a vision functional assessment. With this team in place, in 2017 she applied for and received a Florida Blue Foundation “Advance Innovation and Promote Solutions in the Health Care System” Grant to implement, evaluate and disseminate an innovative comprehensive community program for underserved populations to improve quality of life for low-income seniors by increasing access to low vision services. This was achieved by offering “Living with Low Vision” seminars in the community thus educating seniors with age-related eye disease about the options available for treatment and assistive devises to help them lead a fuller, more satisfying life and reached 15,200 seniors through community outreach at Senior Centers. In 2020 this grant was renewed for four years and will enable Miami Lighthouse to provide low-vision programs for seniors (55+) in vulnerable, low-income neighborhoods in Allapattah, Brownsville, Liberty City, and Overtown, potentially impacting 3,200 low-income, minority seniors. This initiative resulted in publication of a peer-reviewed, archival journal article “Bringing Low Vision Assessments and Interventions to Underserved Seniors Affected by Age-Related Eye Disease," British Journal of Visual Impairment, December 2019, Volume 38, Number 1, pp. 15-23. In addition, Miami Lighthouse participated in research in the development of low vision devices such as the OrCam and provided the occupational therapy copyrighted protocol for Florida’s first artificial retinal implant patient of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute: “Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired Case Study: Vision Rehabilitation for the First Florida Resident to Receive the Argus II ‘Bionic Eye,’ ” Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, May-June, 2016,Volume 110, Number 3, pp. 177-181.
She initiated a merger in 2007 with the Dade County Optometric Association Heiken Fund to create Florida Heiken Children's Vision Program, LLC, a blindness prevention program, initially providing eye health services only to schoolchildren in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. In 2010 by participating in a competitive bidding process with the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Heiken Children's Vision Program received funding to expand state-wide to provide eye health equity for low-income schoolchildren. Since 1992 the Heiken Program has provided 152,753 financially disadvantaged schoolchildren (75% ethnic minorities) throughout Florida a comprehensive eye examination, dispensed 114,900 prescription eyeglasses, and referred more than 4,300 children for medical follow up to prevent blindness. During the 2019-2020 school year the ethnicity of children served by the Heiken program was 48% Hispanic, 26% black, 10% Caucasian, 1% Asian, and 15% unknown ethnic origin. Services are provided on four mobile eye clinics and by a network of 1,100 participating optometrists. The Heiken Program was recognized as a model to be replicated by other states in an article she co-authored entitled, “The Florida Heiken Children's Vision Program,” Optometry: Journal of the American Optometric Association, Volume 83, Issue 1, January 2012, pages 43-46.
In response to requests for inclusive early childhood education and the demand for a center-based program from area parents of children with visual impairments served in our home-based early intervention Blind Babies Program, in 2016 she founded the on-campus early intervention pre-kindergarten for children with visual impairments and sighted children ages one to five. The pre-kindergarten is a precedent-setting model. It is a first-of-its kind, fully inclusive pre-k in the nation offered by a vision rehabilitation institution with all classes composed of 50% visually impaired and 50% sighted students. It is also the first vision rehabilitation program utilizing the evidence-based, international HighScope Curriculum. This innovative pre-k program was featured in “Seeing Without Sight. Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired Adopts the HighScope Curriculum” The Active Learner, HighScope’s Journal for Early Educators, Spring 2019 by Betsy Evans. The goal of the pre-k program is to demonstrate increased school readiness in children with and without visual impairments through center-based, high quality early childhood inclusion programming in collaboration with the Early Learning Coalition, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and The Children’s Trust. To assess the efficacy of this inclusion program, she authored a successful proposal to The Children’s Trust to fund a subcontract with the University of Miami for a three-year longitudinal study of the early education inclusion model. Subsequently, she served as principal investigator and author of an article documenting University of Miami research outcomes, “Innovative Inclusion Program for Early Learners Offered by the Miami Lighthouse Learning Center for Children™,” that will appear in the peer-reviewed Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, March-April 2021, Volume 115, Number 2.
Kindergarten was added in fall 2019 and first grade for blind and visually impaired children in fall 2020 under contract with Miami-Dade County Public Schools with a curriculum design that includes meeting the individual needs of students in a print/braille-rich environment, supported by advanced technology. Expansion to second grade planned for fall 2021. Children’s programs are housed in the Miami Lighthouse Learning Center for Children, which she founded in 2015, and in 2020 The New Miami Lighthouse Learning Center was incorporated with a $9 million classroom expansion.
Other new programs are music production and sound engineering and Adult Basic Education, offered in collaboration with Miami-Dade County Public Schools Adult Education providing GED preparation and English as a Second Language instruction.
She is a national expert in website and distance learning accessibility for people with vision impairment, having been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, TIME, NPR, Forbes and the Chronicle of Higher Education and introduced accessible technology consulting led by two computer scientists who, like her, are totally blind. U.S. Presidential candidates contacted Miami Lighthouse to help make their websites accessible, and some of the work Miami Lighthouse has been doing as thought leaders in the industry has gained national attention from media giants like TIME and Politico.
One important measurement of her successful executive management is recognized by Charity Navigator. During her tenure Miami Lighthouse moved from a 2-star to 4-star charity, and has received their highest 4-star designation 13 consecutive times, signifying that Miami Lighthouse is among the nation’s top 1% most effective among the 9,000 nonprofits evaluated annually. It is among the elite 67 charities that have attained perfect scores for Financial Health as well as Accountability & Transparency resulting in an overall score of 100.
She has received numerous local, national and international awards. Her most recent international recognitions include the distinguished Henry Viscardi Achievement Award, which is for exemplary leaders in the global disability community, and the highly selective Lions International 2018 100th Anniversary President’s Leadership Award. She has also been recognized as a Distinguished Alumni by the College of Health and Human Sciences of Purdue University.
Please refer to the links below for complete lists of Awards, Publications and Community Service.
Click here to view CEO Jacko's and Miami Lighthouse's Awards
Click here to view CEO Jacko's Publications, Webinars and Presentations
Click here to view CEO Jacko's Professional and Community Service
Mr. Richard Fernandez joined Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Inc. in September 2014.
Mr. Fernandez has served as a Vice President of Finance and Senior Corporate Accountant for several major Florida-based corporations, including Banyan Health Systems, a major non-profit comprehensive behavioral healthcare provider, where he directed and oversaw the agency's financial planning and administration, including its accounting system. Most recently he served as President of Diligent Accounting Services, a full service accounting firm.
In addition to holding Certification as a Public Accountant for the State of Florida, Mr. Fernandez holds a Bachelor of Accounting and Master of Science in Taxation from Florida International University.
Mr. Fernandez is married to Angeline and has two sons, Daniel and David. Mr. Fernandez and his family reside in Miami Shores, Florida.
Carol Brady-Simmons has been with Miami Lighthouse for more than 28 years and brings vibrant energy and creativity to the many projects she undertakes. She has served in many capacities during her tenure at the Lighthouse, including Chair of Orientation and Mobility; Interim Director of Adult Services, Director of Children's Services and the Low Vision Program and now is our Chief Program Officer.
Ms. Simmons received her Associate of Arts in Elementary Education from Miami-Dade College, a Bachelor of Science in Visual Disabilities, Orientation and Mobility, a Bachelor of Science in Leisure Services and Studies, and a minor in Gerontology from Florida State University.
Cameron Sisser joined Miami Lighthouse in 2010 and brings extensive experience in network development, alliance building, relationship management, political outreach, and event planning. He previously served as Legislative Assistant to Senator Gwen Margolis and Senator Dan Gelber where he researched, tracked and wrote legislation, press releases, newsletters and policy briefs while interacting daily with community leaders and constituents.
Born in Miami, Cameron attended Ransom Everglades High School which prepared him for The George Washington University in Washington DC, where he graduated in 2005 with a bachelor of arts in political science. Cameron graduated with a Master's in Public Administration from Florida International University in 2011. Cameron also received a Certificate in Fund Raising Management from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in 2019.
Brenda Williamson joined the Miami Lighthouse in June 2007. She is a creative, entrepreneurial development professional with a proven track record in strengthening the capacity of major not-for-profit organizations. She was previously director of development at the National Audubon Society, Daily Bread Food Bank, Inc., and Legal Services of Greater Miami. In addition Ms. Williamson served as part of a small start-up-team of professionals hired to plan the opening of the Miami-Dade Cultural Center and the Center for the Fine Arts later to be named Miami Art Museum.
Ms. Williamson received her Bachelor of Arts in History from Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee.
Isabel Chica joined Miami Lighthouse for the Blind in 2003 as it launched its Blind Babies Program and has worked since supporting the program's growth and development as well as managing other children's program including the STAR Summer Program.
Her previous teaching experience in Miami-Dade County Public Schools in conjunction with her years at Miami Lighthouse makes her the perfect candidate to provide leadership for our agency's new Lighthouse Learning Center for Children™. In addition to her professional experience in the field, Ms. Chica is the parent of three high achieving boys, two of whom are visually impaired. This allows her to have a unique understanding of a family's needs for support and advocacy.
Ms. Chica received her Bachelors of Science in Education from Barry University and a Master's degree in Reading Education from Florida International University. She holds a Director's Credential with a VPK endorsement from the Department of Children and Families.
Jeff Rabalais brings to the Lighthouse academic training in architecture and extensive experience in facilities management, space planning, project management, events and food service.
The skills and knowledge he has obtained throughout his career allow him to manage a broad range of services that span client transportation, building maintenance, janitorial needs, in-house catering, disaster preparation and building compliance to maintain a safe, clean, secure environment for our clients, employees and visitors.
Mr. Rabalais obtained his Bachelor of Architecture Degree from the University of Louisiana.
Miami Lighthouse is AER accredited distinguishing that an agency or school operates at the highest level of quality and is positioned to generate the outcomes needed by the clients.
Miami Lighthouse received the prestigious 2020 award for "Best in Nonprofit" campaign by PRWeek referred to as the "Oscars of the PR industry".
Miami Lighthouse ranks among the elite 1% of U.S. nonprofits having earned 13 consecutive 4-star ratings from Charity Navigator, the nation's premier independent nonprofit evaluator. Receiving such a distinction reflects our sound fiscal management, responsible use of donor dollars, and financial strength.
Miami Lighthouse has earned the Gold participation level through the GuideStar Exchange which is a testament to Miami Lighthouse's commitment to data transparency.
Early Intervention Blind Babies Program Named the Children's Trust 2016 Program of the Year. This most prestigious award recognizes this Early Intervention Program, in particular, for including parents as teachers.
Miami Lighthouse Learning Center for Children™ is a Florida gold seal and nationally Accredited Professional Preschool Learning Environment (APPLE)
Miami Lighthouse was recognized at the 2015 Florida Blue Foundation Sapphire Awards luncheon as an organization that has demonstrated excellence and innovation in community health.
Miami Lighthouse received the prestigious 2015 Beacon Award in Education at the 13th Annual Beacon Council Awards.
Miami Lighthouse is a two-time Charity Partner (2013 and 2014) of the Marlins Foundation and a 2017 Major League Baseball All-Star Game Legacy Partner. Our Florida Heiken Children's Vision Program has received over $300,000 in charitable donations through these partnerships.
Miami Lighthouse received the prestigious 2008 Concern Award from Health Foundation of South Florida.
Miami Lighthouse received a Silver medal at the 2016 Miami Today Gold Medal Awards Ceremony.
Miami Lighthouse named "Best of Miami" Charity 2017 by the New Times.
Miami Lighthouse received United Homecare's 2012 Thelma Gibson Community Service Award at the 18th Annual Claude Pepper Memorial Awards Ceremony.
Miami Lighthouse received the prestigious South Florida Business Journal 2011 Excellence in Health Care Award in the Community Outreach category.
Miami Lighthouse honored by being named the recipient of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce 2010 Non-Profit Business Diamond Award.