“It’s not what you go through in life that counts, it’s how you go through it.”
Kirk Hunger doesn’t remember exactly where he first heard that quote; but it’s been his motivation for years.
Although Kirk has had a prosthetic eye since he was two years old, he got along just fine thank you. As an adult he had a very successful career in sales – even becoming the third highest salesman nationwide at a major lawncare provider. But in 2010 after a misdiagnosis and a botched procedure in his remaining eye, Kirk was forced to give up his career, but certainly not willingly. After a lengthy recovery he was eager to return to work, but he would need accommodations.
Unfortunately, the company was not very accommodating. He was given short-term disability and then terminated.
“Too bad I didn’t know then what I know now about my legal rights.”
Kirk went on to attend the Colorado Center for the Blind, an intensive nine month educational and skills training program run by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). All of the instructors at the center are federationist and it was there that Kirk met Scott LaBarre, president of the NFB Colorado affiliate.
“Scott taught me a lot about the Federation and what they fought for.”
While in Colorado, Kirk went to NFB chapter meetings, attended his first national convention as well as the state convention. He learned about advocacy and how to empower others.
Not a shy one at all, Kirk was soon speaking in front of the local transit system against proposed cuts that would directly impede students transportation to the center and around the city. Although The transit system proceeded with the cuts, Kirk’s affable and straight shooter style drew the attention of locals there who asked him to consider running for the town’s mayor.
“I might have considered it but I was only in town for nine months.”
He also became a mentor of sorts, coaching younger students with professional development and independence.
“Some students had everything done for them before coming to the Center. But NFB is big on teaching people to do for themselves and I’m all in agreement with that.”
In 2012, Kirk met longtime federationist Jim Antonacci, then president of the NFB Pennsylvania affiliate. The two talked about the fact that at that time there was no NFB chapter in Kirk’s Allentown area. So, armed with a list of names that Jim provided, Kirk got to work. Kirk, Jim, and a small band of soon to be federationists met at Kirk’s church and unanimously voted to establish the Greater Lehigh Valley Chapter with Kirk as its first president – a position he still holds today.
It was also through Jim that Kirk learned about the Business Enterprise Program (BEP). Knowing of Kirk’s “go getter” attitude, Jim thought the program seemed a perfect fit.
So Kirk relentlessly pursued his Blind and Visual Services counselor to get him in the program. In the same year of 2012, he finally went to Johnstown, Pennsylvania for several months of in-depth training. By the following year he was managing several vending machines, reaching a peak of just under 40 machines for which he was directly buying and stocking product.
Kirk currently runs a grab and go in a government building in Philadelphia and supervises five loyal staff members. As many as 4500 people are in and out of that building and Kirk sees a vast majority of them. Jareth, Kirk’s adorable standard poodle guide dog is an unpaid yet highly valued staff member of the store, often providing stress relief to Kirk’s customers. Kirk loves his new career and is a firm believer in the BEP program and its pathway to entrepreneurship and independence.
As president of his chapter, Kirk’s mission is to raise awareness of the NFB in his area especially considering the strong presence of another organization that also supports the blind community. And although he gladly collaborates with other groups, he and his chapter members have successfully demonstrated the NFB distinction.
“We’re much more than just a social organization.”
Kirk is a member of the Federation’s Guide Dog and the newly formed Blind Merchant’s Divisions. He is also a dedicated Sunday School teacher, known for being quite animated in his lessons.
Still in their same Allentown home, Kirk and his wife Eileen have been married for over thirty years and have three children and six grandchildren. Kirk loves both woodworking and woodturning and recently made his first piece of furniture – a stool.
When he looks back on his accomplishments, Kirk has another favorite quote: “It’s gotta be God.”
Contact Kirk at:
Written by Lisa Andrews