Sep 26, 2022

SeeShore Fest Fundraiser Success

Beacon Stories

DIY Campaign Success Stories

Heather Napolitano started her DIY fundraiser, SeeShore Fest, seven years ago. The event has now raised over $109,000 to fund research finding treatments and cures for blinding diseases.

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44-year-old Heather Napolitano distinctly remembers the first time she noticed the vision in her left eye was beginning to diminish. It was 2013, and her regular eye doctor in Baltimore, Maryland, at the time, couldn’t figure out what was going on with her eyes, so she was referred to another eye specialist. This turned into a prolonged search for Heather’s diagnosis.

SeeShore Fest participants punching their arms in the air.

SeeShore Fest participants punching their arms in the air wearing their ‘Smile & Wave’ t-shirts.

“At that time, I thought you were blind, or you weren’t,” recalls Heather. “I didn’t realize blindness was a spectrum then, and I didn’t know who to turn to for help.”

A year into seeking the cause of Heather’s vision loss, a friend suggested she reach out to the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Heather got connected with her local Foundation Chapter at the time, learned more about blinding diseases, and met others like her by participating in the Philadelphia VisionWalk and other local events.

Amid waiting for answers, Heather continued working at her sales and marketing job at Red Bull until 2014, when her vision began to deteriorate further. In 2015, Heather had to give up driving, so she and her family moved to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where her parents live, so that they could help out.

“At first, losing my vision was extremely stressful, and leaving my job was so hard,” says Heather. “But once I learned to use the vision I do have remaining, I stopped being as scared, and now I’m more hopeful. It took me a while to get here, but I hear so many success stories of those being treated that I just have to keep fighting.”

A young SeeShore Fest participant playing the punch board.

After the Napolitano’s family move, Heather wanted to stay busy and felt inspired to help raise awareness for those with vision loss like herself. So, Heather decided to create a Raising Our Sights do-it-yourself (DIY) fundraiser to benefit the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Heather knew the manager at The Starboard in Dewey Beach, Delaware, from her previous work, so she started by asking if she could host a fundraiser there. The manager quickly gave her a date, and she immediately began brainstorming how to fundraise.

One of those days, Heather was watching The Price Is Right, and a game came on called “Punch-A-Bunch.” Heather thought this could be a great opportunity to raise funds, so her husband, Dom, built a board for their event with 60 punches. Heather decided that every “punch” would cost $20, and the prize behind it was valued at $25 or more. And all the prizes were donations Heather received from asking local businesses.

The first year, Heather’s DIY fundraiser, called SeeShore Fest, was a huge hit, with the punch board being the highlight of the day. So, in the following years, Heather filled several punch boards with prizes throughout the SeeShore Fest. Now, Heather generates four punch boards, raising $4,800 on the boards alone.

In 2021, Heather decided to create an even bigger punch board, with punches costing $40 a piece and the prizes valued even higher. Heather also raises funds at the SeeShore Fest by selling custom t-shirts, raffle tickets, and sponsorships.

Heather Napolitano and her family at the 2022 SeeShore Fest.

Heather Napolitano and her husband Dom and two children, Daxton and Laityn, at the 2022 SeeShore Fest.

In the spring of 2022, Heather was finally given a diagnosis of autoimmune retinopathy after connecting with doctors at Scheie Eye Institute and the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who worked tirelessly to test and get a definitive answer for her.

Additionally, Heather recently connected with Salus University’s Erin Kenny, OD, FAAO, Chief of the Feinbloom Low Vision Center, whose assistance and recommendation of low vision resources have been life-changing. Dr. Kenny also works with the Foundation’s Professional Outreach Team to provide resources for her inherited retinal disease (IRD) patients. So, the 2022 SeeShore Fest also benefited Salus University’s Feinbloom Low Vision Center.

The 2022 SeeShore Fest, which was its seventh annual, took place on August 27, 2022, and with over 1,000 attendees throughout the day, they raised over $26,000, putting the fundraiser total since inception over $109,000.

“I’ve met so many people in my community over the years from the SeeShore Fest,” says Heather. “Vision loss is such a difficult disability because no one else can see it, which is why I think raising awareness through events like this is so important.”

Ultimately, Heather says that the SeeShore Fest success wouldn’t be possible without the support of her family, including her two children, Daxton and Laityn, and the community.

“When planning a DIY fundraiser, location is key,” says Heather. “And make sure it’s fun for you and you enjoy doing it. It’s really about building awareness for others with vision loss too, so they don’t feel so alone.”