What might have been a poorly kept secret didn’t matter for 15-year-old Jessica Hodges.
A crowded room of Sequim Valley Lions members at the Islander Pizza and Pasta Shack on Thursday, Aug. 23, gave her an iPad with several accessories for her freshman year at Sequim High School.
Jessica, blind since birth from a condition causing underdeveloped optic nerves, was ecstatic.
“I hoped and kind of suspected that’s what it was,” she said with a large smile.
With the device comes a keyboard, technology support, carrying case, extra money for applications, and most importantly a Braille reader, a device that displays Braille for Jessica to read what’s displayed on the screen.
The Braille reader, Jessica said, will be especially helpful for her when writing.
“If I had an idea for a poem, I can go through it, put the cursor right there and fix mistakes,” Jessica said.
George Dooley, zone chairman and member of the Sequim Lions, presented the iPad to Jessica and said the Lions exist to help sight- and hearing-impaired people.
The club used funds from its crab feed, pancake breakfasts, and accepted donations.
In appreciation of the donation, Jessica sang “The Lord’s Prayer” and read her poem “What if I’m a what if.” See a video of Jessica singing on the Sequim Gazette’s website.
After the presentation, Jessica, her mom Heidi Budnek, Jacque Schaafsma, Jessica’s assistive technology specialist last year, and Denise Mackenstadt, Jessica’s technology instructor, discussed how much the donation means.
Schaafsma first met and worked with Jessica in occupational therapy in kindergarten through second grade. They became reacquainted last year as Schaafsma helped Jessica with using technology and she set a goal last year to get Jessica an iPad to take home rather than using the school’s equipment. She wrote the letter to the Lions for help.
“As I worked with Jessica last year I was amazed at the incredible young woman Jessica had grown to be, with so many gifts and talents,” Schaafsma said.
Jessica could use school devices like an iPod Touch, but she was limited to how much she could customize it.
The device makes everyday things like e-mailing teachers and writing assignments much easier.
Mackenstadt said Jessica once told her she would never write e-mails.
“I said that?” Jessica asked.
Mackenstadt said reading by Braille is not the same as hearing it read and that Jessica will be able to read PowerPoint presentations and work in group settings more.
Schaafsma said teachers can see her progress on the iPad and help her better now.
“It makes it easier and more fun,” Jessica said. “If I’m done with a test, then I can take out a book and read.”
Jessica was expecting to give a presentation to the Lions about her accomplishments.
In Sequim High, she’s taking honors courses in science, English, social studies and choir, which she says is particularly unusual for a freshman. Jessica says her musical taste makes her unique for a teen because she likes Celtic, classical, Broadway and Christian music.
She’s also an avid reader, which is why the Braille reader attachment is key to her success in the classroom.
“I’m in awe and I’m very proud of her,” Budnek said. “She’s the one who has done all the work. In all areas she’s applied herself and in everything she does.”
Jessica intends to go to college to become a librarian or teach language arts.
“I’ll become an author regardless,” she said.
One of her goals is to learn French or Gaelic. She also has five younger brothers.
To cap the evening, Schaafsma said to Jessica, “You teach me as much as I teach you.”