Timothy Nijon cuts a big figure in the modest apartment he shares with his mom and two sisters.
It’s the eve of Thanksgiving, and the 14-year-old boy fills a small front room of their Liberty City apartment with his voice and his jovial energy, rattling off what he’s been learning lately. His sisters, Zoe Nyon, 8, and Hazel Nijon, 15, listen to their brother radiate good vibes as they sit at a small table. A poster of the 10 Commandments is pinned to the back of the front door.
He says one of his counselors is teaching him about self-advocacy while looking for a job, and how to block out distractions when working in an office environment. He says he’s learning how to be confident and professional while preparing for a more independent life. He’s done some mock interviews, and he’ll be at work on a résumé before long. He describes his lessons for being “in transition” to adulthood.
He also learned how to make one of his favorite foods.
“Now, I know how to make tacos,” he said, grinning.
Timothy went blind when he was 5, after a benign tumor put pressure on the part of his brain that controls vision. It’s a rare condition, craniopharyngioma, that also affects the pituitary gland and stunts growth. The onset of his condition forced Timothy and his mother into a new routine. His mother, Hetty Nyon, had to limit her work as a Dutch translator so she could care for her son as he adjusted — learning to read Braille, to learn his environment, to experience the world a different way.
He needs frequent check-ups to make sure the tumor is not growing. Whenever Timothy has a headache, it’s a trip to the emergency room, just in case. It’s been challenging for the family.
“It’s hard. I’m not going to lie to you,” Nyon said. “Nobody in my family is blind. … I didn’t see this coming.”
Yet Nyon, who is raising her son and two daughters alone, draws much of her strength from her son’s can-do attitude.
Spend five minutes with him, and his positivity becomes infectious. He relishes going to school to be with his friends and dive into subjects such as science, math and P.E. He’s an early-riser — 5 a.m., because he wants to make sure he doesn’t miss the bus to Hialeah Middle School. If he can help it, he’s not missing a day of school. He talks about typical adolescent male interests: music and eating. He loves hip-hop and gospel music; he sings in his church choir sometimes. Though he’s a big fan of tacos, his favorite is pizza. His mother, who would rather be hearing about veggies, gives him a look.
Timothy also speaks lovingly of the time he spends at Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. His counselor, Betty Chavarria, said Timothy has an unflappable spirit that she sees in his dedication to learning the skills he needs to be independent and help out around the house. Inspired by his drive, Chavarria nominated Nijon for the Miami Herald Wish Book.
“He does knows his limitation, but he doesn’t let that stop him,” she said.
Nyon dreams of living in a place with a backyard, where she could spend more time outside with her kids, preferably tending to some plants.
“I’d love to get out of here and go somewhere where we could have our own garden,” she said.
For the apartment they live in now, the family could use new twin mattresses and bedding for their bunk beds and a couch. Timothy would like an iPad so he can listen to audio books, do school work and learn how to use the technology’s accessibility features to aid him. He dreams of being a police dispatcher, a line of work available to him with the use of modified equipment.
A growing boy, Timothy could also use new clothes and sneakers. His shoe size is 5ƒ. He wears children’s sizes in clothing: XL pants and large T-shirts. He also loves games like Uno and bingo, and he wishes to have a Lego City set.
At Miami Lighthouse, Timothy gets to go on field trips to a variety of places: Florida International University, a bowling alley, and even the Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum. Timothy was photographed in a South Florida Sun Sentinel article in June when he joined 19 other teens from Miami Lighthouse on the trip.
“We had to wear white gloves because they didn’t want the cars to get dirty,” he says. He smiled as he recounted running his hands on the exterior and interior of the classic cars, “seeing” the cars with his hands. He even got to sit in the driver’s seat and grasp the wheel, a moment captured by a Sun Sentinel photographer.
The photo shows Timothy with that signature grin, the one that brightens the days of those around him — his friends, teachers, Lighthouse counselors, fellow churchgoers, his sisters and his mother. That smile is what makes even the hardest days better for his mom.
“Just to see a smile on his face, it makes me glad,” Nyon says.