Inside Pioneer Coffee in North Bend on a Friday afternoon, a little girl no older than 10, walks by a booth where Clark Roberts and his wife Karrie are seated. Her eyes are fixed on Clark’s golden retriever-yellow lab mix Aurelia — and that’s when Karrie intervenes.
She asks the girl if she knows what Aurelia, Clark’s seeing eye dog, does and if she wants to per her. She tells her that she first needs to first ask Clark and properly introduce herself. Before showing her how, Karrie explains the important job Aurelia preforms.
Later on, the couple talk to the girl’s mother, who coincidentally reveals that a friend’s son is experiencing sight loss. Karrie asks the woman if they’re considering a guide dog and slides her their card, telling her to call with any questions.
Before the woman walks away, Karrie reiterates the message her husband has been proving every day over the last three decades — blindness isn’t going to limit his enjoyment of life.
It’s that simple yet powerful message that is at the heart of Clark and Karrie’s nonprofit, Ultimate Vision. Together the couple, who often refer to themselves as the blond and the blind, encourage people of all ages to spread compassion, kindness and, most importantly, the message that life doesn’t stop when adversity strikes.
For Clark, his adversity came when he was just 18 years old, when it was discovered he had retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease that left him blind by age 24.
Since that day, he has been determined not to let his disability subtract from his enjoyment of life, finding reasons to laugh and be grateful. For the last three decades, he has been working as a motivational speaker and author trying to encourage others to do the same.
“If they see someone like me out living life, it gives them encouragement that they can interact with their life,” he said. “Just because you have obstacles, it’s not worth throwing away your life. Life is a gift.”
Clark is fond of saying adversity coming into someone’s life “is a when, not an if.” In every situation, he said, a person needs to not let that challenge limit them.
“Everyone has something they’re interacting with,” he said. “It’s understanding that it’s OK. Everyone is created by God and they all have a purpose.”
Six years ago, Clark and Karrie founded the nonprofit Ultimate Vision with the goal of delivering that message to everyone from elementary students all the way to working adults.
This month, the couple found themselves back inside a classroom for one of the first times in three years, somehow enthralling a group of roughly 25 children — 7- and 8-year-olds in Carla Netu’s second grade class at North Bend Elementary for over an hour.
Together, Clark and Karrie read their picture book, “A Guide Dog named Arby,” aloud to the students, and then allowed students to ask any questions about Clark, his vision loss and his guide dog. When the lesson was over, nearly every student raised their hand when asked if they’d like to see Clark and Karrie come back.
Karrie is unsure if it’s the presence of a guide dog or the fact that Clark can’t see, but she said this happens often because everyone seems to find it easy to connect with Clark.
And while it may seem to an onlooker like the relationship is short lived and superficial, it is anything but.
Clark and Karrie said they care deeply for each student that they interact with and build relationships, not only with the students, but with the teachers — often returning to the student’s classrooms multiple times each year. They routinely hear from students about the impact Clark’s advice has had on their lives, they said, including one student who remembered Clark speaking to his classroom over 25 years ago and shared that it changed how he faced his adversity.
Just this month, at the Snoqualmie Ridge Block Party, the couple said they were approached by several students who remembered Clark speaking to them.
That includes a middle-schooler, who was beginning to develop multiple sclerosis. She told them she developed the confidence to face her anxiety and other health issues by getting a trained service dog and not let her health issues limit her life, after Clark spoke to her in a classroom three years ago.
“It brings us such joy to see recognition in these kids. It validates our purpose,” Karrie said. “We get to reach out and build that out and build that relationship. We don’t know what their life is like at that moment, but we have that opportunity to share kindness.”
Ultimate Vision will be hosting its first ever in-person fundraiser gala, “Seeing and Sharing the Heart of Kindness,” on Oct. 16 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Issaquah. For tickets, visit Clarkroberts.org.