Jefferson Award Winner: Karen Perzentka - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Jefferson Award Winner: Karen Perzentka

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A local woman who has been blind since birth hasn't let that stop her from making a difference in her community.

Karen Perzentka is breaking down barriers in volunteering, and that's why she's January's Jefferson Award Winner.

"I was born prematurely and they put too much oxygen in the incubator, to keep me alive of course, and it burned the retina," says Karen.

Despite that, she was determined to live life to its fullest.

Karen learned to read braille at an early age and met the man she was going to marry in 7th grade.

"He was awful, he was a little troublemaker. "

Her husband, Richard, is also legally blind.

They've been married 46 years and have two grown children.

But they've faced some big challenges along the way.

"I lost our first baby, who was full term," says Karen. "I had breast cancer and had a mastectomy in 2007 and people were more upset about it than I was. I thought, 'It's just a breast for God's sake, who needs it anyway! I'm not child bearing age."

It's that attitude and drive that brings us to Karen's exceptional work as a volunteer and the mark she's made on Madison.

"I was the first female president of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind in the 1990's. I was on the first group that wrote guidelines for the paratransit system here in Madison."

Then she landed at Attic Angel, a senior living community in Madison with a legacy that dates back more than a century.

As chair of the Attic Angel Association, she leads a group of more than 500 volunteers with a mission of caring for both children and the elderly.

During her ten years volunteering there, Karen's developed incredible relationships with the residents.

"There's something about her that draws me to her and I enjoy every minute that I have with her," says resident Cybil Robinson.

"I consider it just to be a wonderful opportunity, I thank God every day that I have opportunities," says Karen. "You can let those challenges bring you down or you can use them as a stepping stone to be a stronger person."

The Attic Angel Association is celebrating it's 125th anniversary this year.

Karen was also instrumental in the grand opening of an 8.5 million expansion at Attic Angel Place.

For more information on the senior living community, click here.

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