Giving Back

JOHNSTOWN – Rachel Sproule is back at the Fulton County Public Health Department, this time giving as much as receiving.

The 19-year-old, partially-sighted Gloversville resident is working as a summertime intern at the county health agency on Route 29. She is putting her New York State Commission for the Blind academic scholarship to good use, she said.

“It’s stuff that needs to be done,” said Rachel, a wide smile spreading across her face.

At the public health office, the 2013 Gloversville High School graduate explained her intern duties include labeling and helping with the county’s emergency preparedness project. She said she is learning about the same community outreach that benefited her as a young girl.

“Rachel has been an inspiration and a wonderful addition to our Fulton County health team,” county Public Health Director Irina Gelman said.

Someone very familiar to Rachel is also at her side this time. Rachel’s internship is being overseen, in part, by her former service coordinator, Charlotte Locatelli. She was the public health service provider for Rachel back in 1996, when she and her family desperately needed the department’s Early Intervention Program.

“It’s thrilling to see how successful she’s been,” Locatelli said.

She has from 25 to 30 people in her EI program caseload at any given time, mostly referrals from families and doctors and usually with little diagnostic information available.

As a young child, Rachel Sproule needed the services she is now surrounded by at the hub of the county public health office.

“Rachel left the hospital with high alerts about her vision,” her mother, Pam Sproule, recounted.

Pam Sproule explained that her daughter’s 2012 testing from the New York State Commission for the Blind qualified Rachel for her academic scholarship. After earning a Regents diploma, she began studies at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. Lexington Center’s Family Services Department assists Rachel as needed.

“I want to write a book on my life,” Rachel said. “I want to be an inspirational speaker.”

Rachel is receiving help through a Work Experience Training program. The program builds the student’s resume and provides work experience for future employment.

But Rachel, whose only vision is about six feet in front of her face, had to start somewhere. County public health officials put her and her family onto physical and occupational therapy, as well as instruction for the visually-impaired.

“Early intervention is very important,” Pam Sproule said.

She said she was told Rachel is the first intern the New York State Commission for the Blind has ever utilized from Fulton County.

The Early Intervention Program is a statewide program that provides many different types of early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. According to the county website, EI services can help families support and promote their child’s development, include their child in their family and community life, and learn the best ways to care for their child.

Pam Sproule said Rachel was born prematurely, and such babies statistically are more likely to need early intervention by public health officials. She said that in those early days, a family can sometimes feel lost.

“It’s impossible to navigate alone,” she said.

The more help they receive from outside agencies, the better, she said.

In the case of Rachel, Locatelli said her early intervention services were delivered directly to the Sproule home.

Locatelli said human beings cannot be underestimated “because they surprise you in so many ways.”

She calls Rachel a true “resource for other families.”

Rachel said she remembers certain tests on her vision involving various types of stimuli when she was as young as 3, as health officials diagnosed her problems.

“What’s really important is what they can see,” said her mother.

Today, the sky’s apparently the limit for Rachel, who Pam Sproule says remains an “employable individual” in society.

“I’m very interested in advertising,” Rachel said. “I like looking at creative ways people can put their products out.”

She says she would love to “work as much as possible,” and she loves talking about promoting bands. She likes North Carolina indie rock band Rookie of the Year.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.