Kai Owens, a fifth-grade student at Brooklet Elementary School, is seeking donations of softly textured items that he hopes will bring comfort to children who are blind or visually impaired.
Kai understands firsthand the importance of the sense of touch for those with low vision. Last April, Kai was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that gradually causes the loss of vision. Kai has lost his peripheral vision because of RP and is slowly losing his central vision.
The Owens family — Kai, brother and Southeast Bulloch High School student Cash, and parents Kim and Chris — have a strong faith and take one day at a time since the devastating diagnosis.
Often, Kai is the one to comfort and encourage his family during down times.
Several months back, he said: “We really are a blessed family. It’s just my vision. It’s not going to change me or my personality.
“Each night,” he added, “I pray to be on God’s path — not just to be healed, but to be on His path.”
Part of that path might also include bringing comfort to those beyond his family.
Kim Owens, Kai’s mother, recalled: “One night when Kai snuggled into his softly textured bed, feeling warm and safe, he said, ‘I feel bad that some kids don’t have a comfortable place to sleep at night.’”
Mom and son talked more about the needs and fears of low-vision children, and Kai decided he wanted to take action.
They named their project “Kai’s Comforts,” which accepts donations of new, softly textured bedding items such as comforters, flannel sheets, blankets, pillow pets (no stuffed animals), and fuzzy pillows.
Locally, the donations can be taken to 180 Fitness in College Plaza and Contours Express in Brooklet and will be distributed to Bulloch County children. The Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta and the Savannah Center for Blind and Low Vision are also accepting these donations.
One of Kai’s first gifts was given to a special friend of Kai’s, 21-month-old Parker Brown. Parker, the son of Matt and Felisha Brown, has Norrie disease, a genetic disorder that leads to blindness in males at birth or soon after. Parker was born blind and diagnosed with the disease at 5 weeks of age.
The Owenses met the Browns after a mutual friend introduced them.
Felisha Brown recalled that the friend asked if she could share her number with Kim Owens after Kai’s diagnosis.
“At the time, I felt like I could barely help myself, but I was happy to try and help someone else if I could,” Brown said. “Maybe that was the reason God gave me this situation and my sweet little angel, to help others and, of course, to give Parker the loving home that he deserves.”
The two moms connected and have been a huge support to one another ever since.
“My husband and I have had to learn to live in our son’s world, with the help of Babies Can’t Wait and Georgia PINES,” Brown said. “We had to learn about everything differently, so I have tried to help Kim and her family do the same.”
Babies Can’t Wait, administered by the Georgia Department of Public Health, is a statewide program that helps infants and toddlers with special needs and their families. Georgia PINES, which stands for Parent Infant Network for Educational Services, is funded by the state Department of Education and Georgia Sensory Assistance Project, and serves families of children from birth to 5 years old with low vision.
In turn, the Owenses have given back to the Browns in many ways — including recently with the gift of a singing stuffed dog and a Ziggy Pasta texture toy, both purchased at a store for the visually impaired.
Through their sons’ visual impairments, the Browns and Owenses are connected in ways that only their families can truly understand. Both families know that they are blessed to have each other.
“It’s such an inspiration to see that even with everything that is going on, Kai’s primary focus is helping others,” Brown said. “He’s such a thoughtful and faithful young man that hasn’t let losing his vision bring him down. I hope that my sweet angel, Parker, is just like him when he grows up.”