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A Gift Like No Other



Ten students from the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ASBVI) team up to provide a great personalized gift idea, not only for Christmas but also as gifts for birthdays, retirements, graduations, and more. Team members include:

  • Koral Banks

  • Bradley Davis

  • Alex Juarez

  • Evann Noblett

  • Markese Parker

  • Erik Van Newkirk

  • Caden Noles

  • Calab Turner

  • Ashton Carol

  • Ryan McElroy

They work together to craft stained, wooden pens with silver or gold tips. The pens are made from a variety of wood options such as cherry, oak, and cedar. They can even be customized with personalized engravings like names or special messages.


“The pens start off as a simple block of wood. The students use a tool called a lathe to shape the wood into a pen. The lathe has been adapted, so it is completely safe for all students to use,” said Amanda Harrison, ASBVI Special Education and Learning Center Supervisor. “We have a student with only light perception that uses his hearing to help him utilize the lathe. It’s amazing! Other groups of students work on sanding the pen, going through 3 steps to varnish the pens, and putting the pens together.”


Everyone works a different station to form and stain the pieces of the pens before putting them together. The whole process takes five people about five days to make one pen.


Making these pens is a skill that they practice, and it is not without challenges. Erik Van Newkirk said some of his big challenges are “seeing if I missed any spots when varnishing pens, staying focused, and trying to concentrate better.”


Some students are paid through a work study program, and of course, the students earn money when their pens are sold at The Blue Umbrella. The students work together, and sometimes they spend their earnings together. Once they took a trip to Branson, stayed in a hotel, ate at restaurants, and went to Silver Dollar City. They look forward to another trip when the pandemic precautions are lifted.


Having a job isn’t just about fun trips for these students. They each have big dreams they are working toward:

  • Koral: “helping kids”.

  • Erik: “finding a job that is good for me and that I like.”

  • Bradley: “being a teacher and making money.”

  • Caden: “working as a DJ.”

  • Ashton: “working at Disney.”

  • Calab: “being an auto mechanic.”

The students are aware of their challenges, but they believe they can work like anyone else. Caden Noles said, “I don’t have sight, but I can do things with practice. I am a normal human being just like other people, and my lack of sight does not make a difference.” Alex Juarez added, “Just because I have a visual impairment doesn’t mean I cannot work at a job.”



Their teacher, TJ Hunt, wants everyone to see past his students’ challenges and recognize their capability.


“They are all individuals and need individual attention in varying ways. Each one of them works hard and does their task at hand. This is an incredible group of students who do an excellent job with these pens. I cannot wait to see where they will go in the future.”



Stop by the shop this holiday season to get a finely crafted pen for that special someone on your list (or maybe yourself). You’re not likely to find more unique, meaningful, or inspirational gifts than you’ll find at The Blue Umbrella.

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Zack G.