Virginia Jacko

Miami Lighthouse (FL)

Ali Mandsaurwala was initially hesitant about sending his sight-impaired daughter Naaya to pre-kindergarten at Miami Lighthouse Academy. But when he learned that Naaya would be in classes with both sighted and visually-impaired children, he changed his mind. “Parents of children with disabilities are skeptical to see how the world will receive them in a regular environment,” he says. “So to have her in a place like [Miami] Lighthouse is a sense of relief, and gave me hope that everything’s going to be okay.”

 The Mandsaurwala family’s experiences illustrate the powerful impact of the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a nationally recognized and trusted leader in education, training, research and vision enhancement to foster independence for people of all ages. The Miami Lighthouse Academy is a first-of-its-kind fully inclusive educational model that combines equal numbers of visually impaired and sighted students. Launched in 2018 as a pre-kindergarten pilot, the model proved so effective that it is now expanding through second grade.

For Miami Lighthouse President and CEO Virginia Jacko, the mission is personal. She lost her sight later in life, and Miami Lighthouse helped her adjust and adapt to her changing circumstances. Since taking the leadership reins in 2005, Jacko has increased program participation fiftyfold and expanded its physical space nearly five times over. For the past 13 years, Miami Lighthouse has had a four-star rating on Charity Navigator, ranking among the top 1% of nonprofits nationwide based on its strong financial base and broad transparency.

Jacko says that the generous support from the Kenan Charitable Trust has had a remarkable multiplier effect. “I was able to go to other donors and say, ‘here’s what Kenan has done, will you match that?’ And they have! Kenan recognized that Miami Lighthouse is a jewel, and helped us to become a well-polished diamond.”