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Blessed are the givers

by HANNAH NEFF/Staff Writer
| December 8, 2021 1:00 AM

Smiles, carols and cards filled the room as a group of happy givers prepared to bless the community.

Six visually impaired students, guided by volunteers, spent their Saturday crafting Christmas cards, putting together goodie bags and practicing Christmas carols at North Idaho College, preparing for their show that afternoon at Evans Brothers Coffee Roasters in Coeur d'Alene.

“I feel like we all had a lot of fun,” said student Jessalyn Wright, 14. “I know I definitely had fun making the cards and the packages, and practicing the songs.”

Six-year-old Aubriella Gibson said she was a little scared singing in front of everyone at first but had fun. She said her favorite part was giving the gifts after the performance.

The event was put together by Jordana Engebretsen, a teacher for the visually impaired.

“The main thing is for them to understand that they are not alone,” Engebretsen said.

She also says she wants the students to have the opportunity to give so they can understand it’s more of a blessing to share with others.

“I know in my own life, if I give I get more reward than receiving,” Engebretsen said. “That’s what I want the kids to feel.”

Engebretsen has been blind for more than 20 years, and contracts her teaching services through TechVision.

Every few months, she hosts the students for a “My Environment” activity. It’s a chance for them to socialize and enjoy doing things on their own.

“It’s really important that they know other people that are like them and that they enjoy things in a different way, but they can enjoy it together,” said Tina Johnson, a volunteer and teacher for the visually impaired.

Johnson said she got a lot of joy out of watching the kids do activities on their own that other people will unintentionally help them with because they think the kids need assistance when they don’t.

Carla Carnegie, of Willow Song Music Therapy in Otis Orchards, Wash., came out to help the students perform at the coffee shop. Carnegie worked with student Alex Owens, 13, since he was 7.

The crowd, including Rhonda McCann of Post Falls, cheered as the kids sang their Christmas carols, including solo performances.

“It was amazing,” McCann said. “I just think they’re amazing kids.”

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From left, volunteer Tejah Jones supervises 15-year-old Emma Erckenbrack, a visually impaired student, creating Christmas cards to give out to the community at North Idaho College on Saturday. HANNAH NEFF/Press

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Volunteer Rose Johnson supervises 14-year-old Jessalyn Wright, a visually impaired student, with creating Christmas cards to hand out to the community at North Idaho College on Saturday. HANNAH NEFF/Press

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Six-year-old Aubriella Gibson sings Christmas carols while reading the lyrics in Braille, supervised by Tina Johnson, a teacher for the visually impaired, at North Idaho College on Saturday. The group of six visually impaired students practiced carols to perform at Evans Brothers Coffee Roasters in Coeur d'Alene. HANNAH NEFF/Press

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Fifteen-year-old Emma Erckenbrack smiles as she plays along during a gift exchange game at the Christmas get together for visually impaired students at North Idaho College on Saturday. HANNAH NEFF/Press

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Nine-year-old Ezra Wright passes gifts during a gift exchange game at the Christmas gathering for visually impaired students at North Idaho College on Saturday. HANNAH NEFF/Press

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From left, Emma Erckenbrack, 15, and Aubriella Gibson, 6, show their smiles during a gift exchange game at a Christmas gathering for visually impaired students at North Idaho College on Saturday. HANNAH NEFF/Press

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Gene Engebretsen holds the microphone for his wife Jordana, a teacher for the visually impaired, at her event for visually impaired students at Evans Brothers Coffee Roasters in Coeur d'Alene on Saturday. The students sang Christmas carols and handed out cards and gifts to audience in the coffee shop. HANNAH NEFF/Press

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Carla Carnegie, on guitar, a teacher at Willow Song Music Therapy Services, leads visually impaired students singing Christmas carols at Evans Brothers Coffee Roasters in Coeur d'Alene on Saturday. HANNAH NEFF/Press

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Thirteen-year-old Alex Owens, a visually impaired students, sings a Christmas solo for audience at Evans Brothers Coffee Roasters on Saturday. A group of six visually impaired students, assisted by volunteers, caroled and passed out Christmas cards and gifts to all in the coffee shop in Coeur d'Alene. HANNAH NEFF/Press

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