Blanco Taxidermist Jerry Ayer went to the San Antonio Lighthouse of the Blind September 19 with the thought in mind that he might be able to teach some of the children about dangerous animals. He, himself, came away with an education. “When someone suggested presenting to the Lighthouse I instantly thought to myself ‘wow they can touch these animals and for the first time maybe get a picture of what a dangerous animal may look like’,” Ayer said. The San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind is a private non-profit that is incorporated into the State. They serve the blind and visually impaired, providing rehabilitation services and jobs in their manufacturing plant, as well as events and educational opportunities for the blind community. The idea for presenting to San Antonio Lighthouse came about when Ayer was searching for a way to honor his late mother-in- law, a former special needs teacher at Alamo Heights. “She dedicated her whole life to special needs kids, “ Ayer said. “ I was thinking of ways that I could honor her memory and thought there must be something I can do that she would appreciate.” Ayer first thought of presenting to special needs classes at Alamo Heights. They had interest, but suggested that he call the SA Lighthouse as well. “My wife called them and they were very open to the idea,” Ayer said. “I told them what I wanted to do and that I do presentations often at different schools, but obviously this one would be very different.” Ayer presents to about a dozen schools a year with age levels varying from elementary to college. He uses his time to talk about conservation, animal characteristics, and his work as a taxidermist. Usually Ayer has the rule that students cannot touch the animals he brings with him on educational presentations – the oil from human hands can start to turn the coats yellow quickly. This presentation for the Lighthouse’s Blind Children’s Education Program would be the exception. The presentation had to be cleared with the Lighthouse’s board members, and after a few weeks of kicking around ideas and scheduling, Ayer was given the green light. “I learned as I prepared and was kind of intimidated because this was unlike anything I had ever done,” Ayer said. He usually spends the majority of the presentation speaking, but due to some of the audience’s physical impairments he shortened his speech and let the kids touch the animals, which on this trip consisted of an aardvark, mandrill, reproduction orangutan, cobra, rattlesnake, river otter, sloth, and Bengal tiger, and ask questions. “I didn’t speak more than twenty minutes, but while they were touching the animals it turned into hours of talking and answering questions,” Ayer said. Although the questions were similar to those that everyone asks Ayer - like where the animals come from and aspects of being a taxidermist -Ayer said he felt like he couldn’t keep his eyes dry. “It was just heartfelt joy, being able to see these kids for the first time in their life experience what a dangerous animal looks like through touch. It was something I have never experienced before.” A few weeks prior to Ayer’s presentation the children had taken a trip to the zoo, leaving parents feeling unfulfilled because the kids could only listen to audio. The presentation seemed to come at the perfect time to allow the kids to understand what they heard about, and Ayer felt part of the reward of the presentation was watching the parents of the impaired children enjoying themselves as well. “When it was all said and done and I looked through pictures it was really amazing to see these big smiles on the faces of the parents as well,” Ayer said. “For them to enjoy something with their child in such a special way blew me away.” The presentation ended up lasting near three and a half hours and Ayer is already planning his next one for the Lighthouse as well as thinking about other places that may enjoy a similar presentation. “Before we finished our visit last time they wanted to schedule again for the future and suggested we go to the Austin Lighthouse,” Ayer said. “It’s opened up a lot of doors for us with ideas.” Along with coming out of the experience with ideas, Ayer also came out with a lesson. He said that being “impaired” isn’t nearly as impairing as he thought. “I went there with the intention of teaching and was about to convey my thoughts, but I learned so much more,” He said. “Those people can do anything in life that I can.” Ayer has been a taxidermist in Blanco for 17 seasons, and created the Blanco Panther Mascots at the Middle School and High School. Eventually, he has the goal of establishing a wildlife museum that would be able to serve the community in Blanco.

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