Affiliated Blind of Louisiana, Inc. was founded in 1983 as a private, non-profit organization dedicated to providing special services and training to Louisiana’s visually-impaired, blind and deaf-blind populations. At this time, Louisiana did not have a rehabilitation training center for the blind. These much needed services were only available out of the state. Mr. John Lemaire, blind himself, was the founder of ABL Inc. He and many other visually impaired, blind, and deaf-blind members along with family and friends envisioned the creation of a rehabilitation training center for the blind in Louisiana.
In 1989, Mr. Lemaire and others founded Affiliated Blind of Louisiana Enterprises, Inc. ABL Enterprises was created as a fund-raising entity to help fulfill the dreams of the training center. In less than three years, ABL Enterprises raised over $1 million through bingo operations.
Potential sites for the training center were explored and in 1990, ABL purchased the Most Holy Sacrament Convent on West St. Mary Boulevard in Lafayette. The cost was $750,000. The convent contained 70,000 square feet of floor space in seven buildings and four acres of property. The original buildings were constructed in 1923. Upon assessment, it was determined nearly $3.5 million was needed to bring the buildings up to code and to make them functional as a training center.
In 1992, with the help of Senator Bennett Johnston and Congressman Jimmy Hayes, ABL was successful in obtaining a HUD special purpose grant for renovation and adaptive reuse of the convent. Additional renovation assistance came from the Louisiana Rehabilitation Services and from ABL. The total project cost exceeded $4 million. There are many items of note concerning the renovations, but one of significance is that the center is one of the first of major renovation projects in Louisiana to meet all of the requirements of the American Disabilities Act.
With renovation funds in place, ABL next turned its efforts to securing operational funds for the training center. A three-year establishment grant totaling over $3 million was obtained from the Louisiana Rehabilitation Services. This grant was used to purchase furniture and equipment and for initial staffing for administration and programming. Smaller training grants were also received from the Louisiana Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Hospitals.
In 1993, ABL put an experienced management team in place to join its founder and executive director, John Lemaire. Within a year of his employment, management processes had been implemented, renovations had been completed, training programming had been developed, training and residential staff had been hired, and the center became operational.
In 2001, upon the death of John Lemaire, Lynn J. Blanchard became the executive director of the Affiliated Blind of Louisiana Training Center. Its Board of Directors numbers five, a majority of whom are legally blind. The organization has seven chapters statewide, along with over eighty ABL employees throughout its various operations. Affiliated Blind of Louisiana supports the progress of premiere services for the visually impaired, blind, and deaf-blind of Louisiana.