A small agency, big on service — Neuse News

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“Thanks to the outstanding support from our Lions friends, we celebrated 50 years of service to the blind in April 2021,” Axelberg says. The public observance was held in April 2022.

Staff members say LIB’s welcoming and inclusive work environment allows for professional growth. “This is a great place to work, or I wouldn’t have been here for more than 40 years,” says Axelberg’s assistant Teresa Harper. She worked at the agency as a seamstress and then as a receptionist, earning an associate’s degree in business education before moving up to become assistant to the executive director. “Here they believe in you and give you a chance to pursue greater opportunities within the agency.”

Morris says the agency helped him regain his independence after he lost his eyesight. Today he is training for a director position in quality control. “As someone who is visually impaired, getting my independence back and becoming more self-confident were so important. LIB has done that for me.”

Oscar Lopez, employed by the agency since 2010, currently operates a Velcro machine. He says the camaraderie and mutual respect among LIB employees make a difference. “We believe in the organization and the good it does in the community,” he says. “It is good to have companies like this — we need more!”

Axelberg characterizes her 11 years at LIB as a labor of love. “From the start, LIB’s purpose was very inviting to me on a personal level. I’ve loved the 11 years I’ve worked here and only wish it were longer.”

Hired as an accountant in 2012, she worked with then-Executive Director Ray Amyette until his passing on May 1, 2019. She then served as co-executive director with Marc Camnitz until his retirement in 2021. Axelberg was named executive director on May 1, 2021. “It seemed like a sign to me,” she says, “coming two years to the day since Ray passed.”

As executive director, supporting LIB employees, securing new production opportunities, and maintaining a quality work environment are Axelberg’s priorities. However, the agency has faced challenges, such as getting through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were down to 60% of our work force due to the need to protect the health of our employees,” she shares. “But we worked diligently and came out of it with six months’ inventory in textiles and more than that on the military embroidery side.”

The agency returned almost fully staffed in June 2021, following CDC recommendations such as social distancing on its production floor, and temperature and symptom checks every day.

“We were able to pay both our employees who worked and those who were not able to work during COVID,” she says, calling a Paycheck Protection Program loan a huge help.

Going forward, Axelberg wants to hire as many people who are blind as possible with the production capability LIB currently has, and to create additional opportunities so LIB can hire even more people with disabilities.

“We are seeking opportunities in products and services,” she says. “Long-term, we want to double production in our military embroidery department, get additional products in textiles, and continue to grow our commercial business.”

She points to a recent initiative experimenting with a laser engraver currently used for U.S. Air Force tags. The agency hopes to build a commercial business using the equipment.

“We have a rich legacy and a bright future,” Axelberg says. “The Lions Clubs in Kinston went outside the box in the late 1960s, and the end result is this NIB associated agency that has provided employment to people who are blind and have other disabilities over the past 52 years. Not only has LIB become a staple in Kinston; we are the only agency serving people who are blind east of Raleigh, North Carolina.”

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