Simon Bonenfant

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13 NKJV)

From a very young age, Simon Bonenfant said it was his grandfather who poured into him, especially in matters of faith. But around age 14, Simon started hearing sermons which for him, put the Bible in a practical context, leading him to independent Bible study and living out his own faith journey, with Philippians 4:13 as his encouragement.

Now 19 years old and a freshman at Chestnut Hill College, Simon has proven that he indeed can do a lot despite or even because of any challenges.

Born at just one pound, three ounces and with retinopathy of prematurity, Simon said doctors thought it was a miracle that blindness was his only permanent medical condition. And his faith helps him to literally look at the bright side. “I’ve never seen a sunset, which I would like to see, but I’m grateful not to have gone blind later in life,” he said.

Simon also credits his Aunt Lucy, legally blind and now in her eighties for modeling an independent life through her disability. As a legal secretary, in an era long before accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Simon said his aunt created a unique organization system which not only benefitted her, but made her the office go-to for information.

“She showed me that although things may be harder, there is always a way,” Simon said.

He first learned about the NFB while a young student at St. Lucy’s School for Children with Visual Impairments. The Keystone Chapter has been a longtime supporter of the school, and it was member Jim Antonacci, who explained to the young students what the organization stood for and how it could help them. The Chapter’s consistent presence as mentors and role models for the students for more than ten years made an impact on Simon, and eventually, although only twelve years old at the time, he joined the Keystone Chapter. ““I liked everything about it [NFB],” he said, “I liked the advocacy work and wanted to get more involved,” he added.

The following year, Simon attended his first Washington Seminar, and has participated in it every year since. And after a few national and state conventions under his belt, he started pursuing leadership positions within the organization. He was appointed to the Keystone board of directors and for the last two years has been the chapter’s secretary. In 2020, Simon was elected to the affiliate board, assuming the seat reserved for a member of the Student’s Division. At the 2021 NFB of Pennsylvania convention, Simon was reelected as president of the Student’s Division for a second term. Under Simon’s leadership, the division had its most successful fundraiser ever – raising over $700 through a Virtual Piano Bar.

But Simon believes his accomplishments, gifts and talents should also benefit others. “I want people to be inspired and even empowered by what I do. We all have gifts, and they are not to be wasted or to just have for ourselves. I take it very seriously to help others through my experiences,” he said.

In addition to leadership roles, Simon hopes to use his love of music to encourage and uplift others. He has sung with various choirs, as well as performed solo, including repeat performances in the keystone Chapter’s Believe You Can Talent show. ““I think of music as an integral part of my faith and want to use it to encourage others,” he said.

Simon is also passionate about helping the sighted world authentically interact with the blind and visually impaired community. For the last three years, he has worked with Philly Touch Tours which trains staff at museums and other cultural institutions, helping them to provide an enjoyable and accessible experience for visitors with visual impairments.

As a communications major, Simon hopes his studies will enhance his current work with Blind Abilities where he is a monthly host. His career goal is to become an assistive technology trainer. “I really love the tech world and want to help people feel confident using whatever tech works for them,” Simon said.

In his role as president of the Students Division, Simon said he is looking forward to rebuilding the group and that with the support of a new slate of officers, he is already seeing a more robust engagement from members. “I want to get a pulse on what people want and then get to work on it,” he said.

Acting is another ministry and means of creative expression for Simon. He has been a member of Acting without Boundaries (AWB) for fifteen years. The group is composed of about 25 actors ranging in age from 13 to mid-thirties, however there is no age limit. All physical abilities are represented, not just those with visual impairments. AWB has performed such musicals as Oliver, Pippin, and is currently working on Meet Me in St. Louis for Spring 2022. Simon’s mother, Maria Ceferatti, is the group’s musical director.

Born and raised in the Philadelphia area, Simon lives with his parents and Ren, their chihuahua mix.

Contact Simon at:
sbonenfant2@gmail.com
610-449-0358

Written by Lisa Bryant