The lights in Lionel Cornell’s Cypress Cove at HealthPark Florida apartment often flickers on at 3 a.m. The retired Fort Myers school psychologist slowly scoots into his workshop (a converted second bedroom), grabs a colored pencil and begins to tediously color a pre-sketched drawing.
It’s difficult, time-consuming work for Lionel, considering that his vision’s color perception is failing. He’s one of over 10 million people in the United States age 55 and older whose eyesight is affected from age related Macular Degeneration (AMD). “It’s mostly black and white,” explains Lionel about what he sees while viewing a completed colored sketch.
His sight limitations make coloring more difficult, and his relentless nighttime work at his Life Care community home all the more compelling. When completed, each colored sketch is carefully placed in a glass frame and becomes part of a series of sketches he’s preparing as gifts for Cypress Cove’s annual holiday toy drive benefit to The Heights Foundation and Gladiolus Learning and Development Center.
He plans to donate 100 of the framed colored sketches, hoping that each of his creations provide some Southwest Florida children with a glimmer of happiness. “I wonder about the colors I’ve used and whether they look okay,” he says. “And then I step back, smile, and think about the happiness they will produce for some child.”
Giving to those in need has been part of Lionel’s life-long philosophy. His father, a political cartoonist for the Baltimore Sun until arthritis crippled his ability to work, taught him that giving fosters two-way happiness. He taught Lionel that at a very young age by having him give his prized baseball mitt to a needy neighborhood boy. The boy burst into tears of joy after receiving the mitt, Lionel recalls.
And that was the start. “It felt good even though I wasn’t excited about giving up my mitt,” Lionel says. Today gifting by the effervescent, good natured Cypress Cove resident is second nature. Last year, he donated several dozen framed colorized sketches. But he’s most likely proudest of his intricate 40 miniature dollhouses- whose details would challenge any person, let alone a senior with Macular Degeneration.
Initially, AMD turned Lionel’s emotional world upside down, especially since it occurred at a time when his wife, Dot, was transitioning through the early stage of Alzheimer’s. Encouraged by a friend though, he sharpened his remaining skills and moved forward. “People are so upbeat here at Cypress Cove,” he would say then. “It was an experience that really helped me maintain a positive viewpoint and stop feeling sorry for myself.”
He heeded the message and became leader of the campus choir. And with his wife’s blessing, he set up a workshop in their second bedroom for building miniatures and coloring his sketches. “I discovered that by looking sideways I had enough vision to build these things. I hold my breath a lot (working on his projects),” chuckles Lionel.
Still for him, the end truly justifies the means – joy for some deserving child.