He lost his sight to a rare eye condition. Now this woodworker is giving back to the CNIB

·3 min read
At the urging of Mackenzie Hickey, right, Rodney Barney donated a few furniture pieces to the CNIB. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
At the urging of Mackenzie Hickey, right, Rodney Barney donated a few furniture pieces to the CNIB. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

L'anse au Loup fisherman Rodney Barney was only a young man when he lost his sight due to a rare disease that, three decades later, has connected him with a young boy from Corner Brook.

A diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa changed Barney's life, but did not stop him from pursuing his career as a fisherman, nor his other pursuits — including a knack for woodworking that has drawn acclaim well beyond his home on Labrador's southern coast.

A few homemade patio sets now at the CNIB offices in St. John's will be put up for sale during the upcoming Wheels for Wishes fundraiser, which aims to help for children across the province.

Since 2019, Wheels for Wishes has raised more than $200,000 through its annual auto show. It is aiming for another $50,000 in this year to get a "buddy dog" for a young man on the island's west coast.

This year, organizers are getting a little help for the July 16 event, thanks to a personal donation.

The intended recipient of this year's dog is a seven-year-old Corner Brook boy named Nathan, who also lost his sight due to retinitis pigmentosa.

"It makes me feel good that it's going to help somebody who has the same disease I have," Barney said.

"I never noticed the problem that I got until I was 20 years old, and he's just a kid. It's nice to know that it's going somewhere it's going to be well used."

Submitted/Elizabeth May-Barney
Submitted/Elizabeth May-Barney

A hobby that grew

Woodworking started out as just a winter hobby. About 15 years ago, someone wanted to buy a glider patio chair that he had built.

Barney cuts everything himself with a chop saw and a table saw. He makes up his own guides for the pattern he needs, and does multiple sets at one time.

WATCH | Rodney Barney made a personal contribution to the CNIB's annual fundraiser for children:

The only special equipment he uses for the chairs is a talking measuring tape that he got from the CNIB.

Barney prefers to work by himself because he has his own method of doing things that is, obviously, different from what a sighted person would do.

"I can see about five to 10 per cent of what you can see," he said.

No hesitation

Earlier this month, at the urging of his son's girlfriend, Mackenzie Hickey, he decided to load up a few pieces and drive them to St. John's, where he donated them to the CNIB.

As a supporter of the CNIB, Barney didn't hesitate to offer up his finished furniture.

WATCH | See Land & Sea's profile of legally blind fisherman Rodney Barney:

The donation also meant that he finally met fundraiser organizer Leon House in person.

"It's funny because it's almost like we've known each other for a long time," House said. "The relationship is so smooth and so easy."

House said the Wheels for Wishes fundraiser has had a real impact.

"When we get people that reach out from all across Newfoundland and Labrador and want to help us, it tells us we're doing the right things," House said.

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