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United Way of Lancaster County


Eye Drop 2024: 100+ rappel down Holiday Inn Lancaster for VisionCorps

Margie Alloway begins her descent down the side of the Holiday Inn Lancaster at VisionCorps’ “Eye Drop” on Friday, June 7, 2024. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Margie Alloway continues her descent. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

“It was fabulous,” Margie Alloway said.

Alloway was standing at the foot of the Holiday Inn Lancaster. Moments before, she had rappelled down the west facade of the 10-story building, one of more than 100 participants in the 2024 Eye Drop.

The annual event raises money for Lancaster-based VisionCorps. The nonprofit assists blind and vision-impaired individuals in Lancaster and four other southcentral Pennsylvania counties: Adams, Chester, Lebanon and York. All services are provided for free.

This year’s Eye Drop was the largest ever, spokeswoman Carol Gifford said. The fundraising goal was $200,000; as of midmorning, the total stood at $188,000.

Natanya “Lady Liberty” Sortland and her friend, Nicole Sakowitz celebrate after their descent.

Alloway was there as part of Team Chester County. Its leader is Natanya Sortland, aka “Lady Liberty.”

A decade ago, Sortland suffered a brain hemorrhage, then was struck in the head when her woodshed roof collapsed. The two incidents left her legally blind. She said she had been unable to find help until VisionCorps opened its office in Exton.

“It was a godsend,” she said. Her therapist came in with the attitude that vision impairment is just a problem to be solved; together, they worked through the challenges.

That’s why she dresses as Lady Liberty, Sortland said: “Vision Corps gave me my life and liberty back. … I’m not afraid anymore.”

Sortland did her first Eye Drop four years ago, becoming the first Chester County participant — and that year, the only one. The team has grown each year since, largely through her influence; this year, it set a fundraising goal of $15,000 and met it, raising $15,269.

Nicole Sakowitz, left, and Natanya Sortland rappel down the side of the Holiday Inn Lancaster. (Photo: Tom McDonald)
From left, Margie Alloway, Natanya Sortland and Nicole Sakowitz cheer their fellow rappellers. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Her friend Nicole Sakowitz joined her for the first time this year, the two of them heading down the side of the hotel in tandem.

Going over the edge was “death-defyingly frightening,” Sakowitz said, but “It ended up being exhilarating.”

Jesse Miller and his dog, Rebel.

That initial fear “is just the speed bump you have to get over,” Sortland told her.

Jesse Miller of Lancaster is a five-time rappeler and the 2024 Eye Drop’s top fundraiser, at nearly $11,000 as of Friday. Blind in one eye since age 12, he lost the vision in his good eye in 2018 due to a stroke, and is now completely blind.

“The Vision Corps family took me in,” he said, teaching him how to cook, clean and look after himself without sight. He has a job through the organization, cutting cusion pads for military helmets. “It’s an awesome feeling to be able to help our soldiers,” he said.

He loves the Eye Drop and the way everyone comes together to support it. He was “scared out of my wits” on his first descent, but it gets easier every year.

“I always joke with everyone that I don’t look down,” he said.

Members of the Drishti Foundation join Natanya Sortland and Nicole Sakowitz for a photo. Drishti is a youth-founded and youth-led organization that raises money to help the visually impaired. From left: Shravya Srirangam, Abhr Vadiguri, Anuradhe Srirangam, Viraaj Jairath, Sid Prabhudesai, Natanya Sortland, Nicole Sakowitz, Srikala Raparla and Padma Srirangam. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)