— NCBVI (@ncbvi) November 23, 2015
Donald Sirkin, a Seattle businessman who built an insurance company from the ground up, had never donated to or used the services of LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
So why, when he died, did he leave the San Fransisco nonprofit $125,000,000, nearly all of his remaining estate? It is somewhat of a mystery even to Bryan Bashin, the director of LightHouse.
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Bashin received an email one morning that read "A businessman has passed away. I think you might want to talk to us." Although, being the director of a nonprofit, he receives countless emails about donations and events, "this one felt different."
After meeting with the people who contacted him -- a group of lawyers assigned to Sirkin's estate -- Bashin learned that the nonprofit to which he has dedicated his professional life was about to receive not only over 15 times its annual budget, but also what he believes is "the largest single gift ever given to a blindness organization."
%shareLinks-quote="It's one of those experiences where time stands still, where you know that every little bit of what you're experiencing will be engraved in your memory. This is the moment that everything is going to change." type="quote" author="Bryan Bashin" authordesc="director of LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired" isquoteoftheday="false"%
Sirkin's generous and mysterious donation is also close to Bashin's heart for personal reasons: Only recently has he begun to embrace his identity as a blind person.
"In the blind community we say we're in the closet, and it is just like being in the closet in the gay community," said Bashin. "You try to pass and you try to be somebody that you're not."
%shareLinks-quote="I felt ashamed. I felt confirmed in my suspicion that blindness would be a diminishment of my potential." type="quote" author="Bryan Bashin" authordesc="director of LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired" isquoteoftheday="false"%
Despite Bashin's comfort with his own identity, he recognizes the national struggle that the blind community faces, which he hopes the Sirkin bequest will perhaps help ease. He hopes to potentially establish a new headquarters in San Fransisco for LightHouse with "expanded facilities, including a dormitory where blind people can stay while they receive training in blind tech, cane navigation, and other necessary skills."
%shareLinks-quote="The unemployment rate among working-age blind people is 50 percent -- ten times the national average." type="spreadWord"%
Bashin began to look more deeply into Sirkin's past to find out more about the mysterious benefactor who was making all of this possible.
Despite his magnanimity, Sirkin was estranged from his children. He left his daughter a relatively small sum of money, $250,000, especially when compared to the enormous sum he left LightHouse, an organization he had never been part of. His mystery deepened.
He was a generous but reclusive man, Bashin discovered, who, based on the gadgets and tools in his decrepit home, had lost his sight. Bashin recognized the objects he found, like "giant light boxes, magnifiers, enormous plasma TVs," as things he might have used when he tried to hide his own blindness.
Although Bashin wishes he could have helped Sirkin the way Sirkin is helping him, he looks forward to a bright future for LightHouse, and the visually impaired everywhere.
Watch this story of sweet, sentimental donation this little girl gave to her grandpa's memory:
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