Giving Back

Cindy WentzBy Brian Klotz

Like many people, Cindy Wentz entered college unsure of what her career path would be. A New Jersey native, she moved to Massachusetts to attend Brandeis University, initially as a Psychology major before switching to Sociology. After graduation, Cindy worked at a bank, but was still unclear on her ultimate career goal until she decided to go back to school, obtaining a Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling from Boston University.

“I remember in high school I always thought I wanted to work with people,” she says, at first thinking she would become a teacher like much of her family, before deciding it wasn’t for her.

Both Cindy’s desire to help people with disabilities and her tireless work ethic can perhaps be traced back to the discrimination she faced trying to gain employment in her younger years.

“In high school, when everyone else was getting their summer jobs, I had such a hard time,” she explains. Having been blind since birth, Cindy recalls how many employers rejected her because of her disability – and would say so outright. Continue reading

Advertisements

Wednesdays With Dean: A Volunteer’s Story

Dean posing for a photo, wearing a suit and sunglasses and holding a canePost by Stephanie Ross – Public Relations Assistant Account Executive for Eric Mower & Associates, VP Communications for the Boston Alumnae Chapter of Delta Gamma, freelance writer

[Stephanie is a one-on-one volunteer through the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Volunteer Program, which matches volunteers with individuals in their community who are blind or visually impaired.]

“Hello!” the deep voice echoes as I climb up the four stories to his Brookline apartment.

“Helloooo,” I say, mocking the voice.

Suddenly, a friendly laughter warms the cold stairwell.

This is how it starts every week.

While it’s only been a few months, my bond with Dean is profound. Two years ago, I left everything familiar in Texas and moved to Boston. I came with zero regrets, however something was missing. As a member of Delta Gamma at the University of North Texas, I was immersed in endless volunteer opportunities for the Service for Sight program. But being away from all of that – my sorority sisters, my family, etc. – I felt empty. I was stuck in the loop of working 9-5 and going home just to do it all over again.

Until I met Dean. Continue reading

Serving with Liberty: A Day at the MFA

Liberty Mutual volunteers pose with MABVI staffers Kyle Robidoux and Jen Buchanan outside the MFA

Liberty Mutual volunteers pose with MABVI staffers Kyle Robidoux and Jen Buchanan outside the Museum of Fine Arts

Post by Grant Johnson, Senior Financial Analyst for Liberty Mutual in Boston

Being new to Liberty Mutual, this year was my inaugural experience with the “Serve with Liberty” employee community service program. When I took a look at the available options, I knew I didn’t want to cop out and simply pick an event that was as close to where I lived as possible. Sure, the convenience of picking such a place sounded appealing, but volunteering at its core shouldn’t be about what’s convenient to you; the reason you’re contributing your time is to benefit and convenience the lives of those who actually need it. Because of that mindset, I wanted to select something that I felt would have both an immediate and lasting impact on those I, along with the other volunteers, would be dedicating the day to. That’s when I came across an event called “Feeling for Form.” Continue reading

Listening & Responding: Creating an Effective Volunteer Program

Jen Buchanan, Kyle Robidoux, and Jen's Guiding Eyes dog Keating

Jen Buchanan, Kyle Robidoux, and Jen’s Guiding Eyes dog Keating

Post by Kyle Robidoux, MABVI Director of Volunteer and Support Group Services, and Jen Buchanan, MABVI Eastern Massachusetts Volunteer Coordinator

Like most things, social service programs and their consumers’ needs change and evolve over time. As such, organizations and programs must be nimble and open-minded to ensure that they are meeting the needs of consumers.

Since 1959, the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) has been running a One-to-One Volunteer Program that matches sighted volunteers with individuals who are blind or visually impaired (B/VI). The program currently works with over 180 volunteers and 115 consumers.

Historically, MABVI volunteers have helped with daily activities and tasks such as reading (mail or for pleasure), grocery shopping, and other clerical and administrative-type tasks. There continues to be a strong need for help with these types of tasks, but over the past few years our office has begun to field requests for more varied activities. Continue reading

Meet Jen Buchanan

Jen and Keating posing on the grass in front of the ocean at Fort Sewall in Marblehead

Jen and Keating pose by the ocean at Fort Sewall in Marblehead

Jen Buchanan, the new Volunteer Coordinator working out of the Brookline office of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI), knows how important finding the right services and support can be for those losing their vision, because she’s been through it herself.

“When I first was losing some sight,” she says, “I didn’t know where to go.” When she learned about a local MABVI low vision support group in her hometown of Peabody, she decided to go. “It was really the first place I had journeyed to independently with my cane. I was early and I sat outside of the room, where I met Joanne, a member of the group. She was so welcoming and had so much experience to share that I knew I was in the right place. I absolutely love each and every one of the group members. They all have something unique to share and are eager to do so.” Continue reading

Doing Good: A Volunteer’s Story

Post by Ilana Bergelson

Ilana and Kate posing together at the gym

Ilana (right) and Kate (left) at the gym.

Having participated in a volunteer program called Service of Sight through Delta Gamma at the University of Chicago, I wanted to carry on the same type of community service following graduation. One moment when I knew I wanted to volunteer with the visually impaired was seeing the blind runners and their guides during the Boston Marathon. Their perseverance was amazing, and even though I was happy to volunteer in whatever way necessary, I secretly hoped I could be a running guide too. I heard about the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) through the Delta Gamma alumni group, and with an upcoming training session and a location nearby, I knew I had to join. Continue reading

Worcester Vision Rehabilitation Center to participate in Greater Worcester Gives

A female client meets with Dr. Toomey-Gitto for a low vision exam. MABVI offers low vision exams at its Worcester office, as well as several other locations.

A female client meets with Dr. Toomey-Gitto for a low vision exam. MABVI offers low vision exams at its Worcester office, as well as several other locations.

Post by Steph Solis

On May 6, the Worcester office will participate in a 24-hour online giving day, called Worcester Gives. The campaign, organized by the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, encourages the community to support local nonprofits including the Worcester Vision Rehabilitation Center.

MABVI’s Worcester Vision Rehabilitation Center celebrates over 50 years providing services to blind and visually impaired individuals in Greater Worcester. Last year alone the office worked with more than 300 blind and visually impaired clients through low vision exams, volunteer services, support groups and more. At the Worcester Vision Rehabilitation Center, clients learn to adjust to their vision loss so that they can maintain their independence and enjoy their lives.

“When people see what can be accomplished with an adaptation or by learning a new skill, it can be uplifting and empowering,” said Mary Haroyan, coordinator of volunteer services at the Worcester Vision Rehabilitation Center.

MABVI offers low vision exams at the Worcester Vision Rehabilitation Center, run by Dr. Caroline Toomey-Gitto. Low vision specialists can assess their vision and offer adaptive devices to help them maximize the use of their remaining vision. Last year Dr. Toomey-Gitto gave specialized low vision exams to 164 patients. Clients have also undergone low vision exams through MABVI’s affiliate providers, including Dr. Jane Orenstein in Whitinsville and Dr. Jen Salvo in Wellsley.

Clients have also received vision rehabilitation training from an occupational therapist who visited their homes. One hundred thirty nine patients who underwent low vision exams followed up with an occupational therapy appointment.

Throughout Worcester County, MABVI holds low vision support groups to bring blind and visually impaired individuals together. Our Worcester, Northborough and Leominster Low Vision Support Groups served 34 clients as they experienced vision loss.

“You will never know what a blessing the lighted hand-held magnifier has been to me, especially at church and at the grocery store,” one client writes. “I’m thankful for their visits to our home and their helpful advice in a number of areas—they’ve helped immensely with problems I was unaware could be readily resolved and my mood always improved with the visits.”

Numerous clients have benefited from the 1:1 volunteer services, including children’s book author C.J. Posk. Clients can meet with volunteers who help with grocery shopping, drive them to medical appointments, read mail and labels, write checks and more.

The low vision support groups at Worcester, Northborough and Leominster provide a forum for blind and visually impaired people to come together. We have served 34 individuals at the support groups as they experienced vision loss.

Clients and their volunteers can also enjoy leisure time with events like candlepin bowling, which has been around for than 40 years.

With programs like these, we work to forge a strong community and transform lives. We hope you will consider supporting MABVI through Greater Worcester Gives next on May 6.

New Year’s Resolution to Volunteer?

Six MABVI volunteers are gathered at the MABVI office in Brookline.

MABVI volunteers

Have a New Year’s resolution to give back? Ever considered volunteering for a blind or visually impaired person? Hear what our MABVI volunteers have to say about volunteering:

“At first, I just got the pleasure of giving back,” one volunteer said. “I hadn’t done much volunteer work before. I was busy building a life, and a career, and having a family. Then I started helping June, helping with her correspondence, sometimes with her checkbook, filling out forms. Neighbor helping neighbor. It’s simple things, but it gives me a feeling of community and connectedness that I really value. I look forward to the time we spend together. She’s my friend.”

Watch a video of a volunteer

People volunteer for many different reasons. “I had a family member with a disability (not blindness, though), and I understand some of the difficulties blind and other ‘differently abled’ people face,” said volunteer Erica. “I wanted to volunteer with an individual – rather than, say, serve in a policy role or on a committee in an organization – because of the direct impact I could have on someone’s life. When I started volunteering, I was going through a difficult time, so I wanted to ‘get out of myself’ and become involved in a different world, one in which I could help others.”

Volunteers often form long-lasting friendships with the individuals they work with. “It has given me and my wife an opportunity to form a very good family relation with the person I work with as a volunteer. I have also benefitted by being exposed to an individual with a superior mind,” says volunteer Stan.

“I have become friends with the blind woman with whom I volunteer,” Erica says. “We have many interests in common.”

As much as volunteers help the person with answering mail or grocery shopping – every day tasks of daily life – MABVI volunteers say they benefit from the experience as well. “I have learned to see things (albeit to a limited extent) from her perspective, which is often through the sense of touch,” Erica says. “I touch my clothing, my jewelry, my face, and perceive them in a new and fuller way.”

For more information on how you can become a volunteer, visit our website.

Meet Kyle!

kyle

Meet Kyle Robidoux, the new Director of Volunteer and Support Group Services at the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Prior to joining MABVI, Kyle worked for fourteen years in advocacy and community organizing, most recently as the Director of Community Planning and Leadership Development at the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. Kyle says he’s “looking forward to trying to figure out what the 21st century looks like for the volunteer and peer support group programs.”

Kyle says of the MABVI volunteer program, “we currently do have a waiting list of consumers waiting for to be matched with a volunteer, so the immediate need is to recruit more volunteers to deplete that waiting list and to ensure that there’s a quick and efficient turn around for folks looking for a volunteer.” Interested in volunteering for a blind or visually impaired person or know someone who is? Learn more.

MABVI coordinates and runs 34 support groups throughout the state of Massachusetts. “Our support groups are opportunities for people who are experiencing low or no vision to come to a meeting, a very supportive environment, that is led by a peer who is experiencing some sort of vison loss or who is blind,” Kyle says. “They’re a sort of mix of social and supportive environment, as well as an opportunity to share concrete resources, programs and opportunities for folks who are experiencing vision loss.”

Kyle’s past professional career as a community organizer lends itself to his new role. He says he aims to build the sense of a community within volunteers, and further strengthen support group programming. “I think the peer-led model is organizing 101: you’re working with folks who are directly experiencing some kind of issue. In this instance it’s vison loss, and having folks run meetings and facilitate meetings who are experiencing that is a very powerful thing, and something that as organizers we want to do in every setting.”

Prior to starting at MABVI, Kyle had very little interaction with the blindness community, he says. “I am legally blind, and have a kind of degenerative eye disease, but even with that I have had very little interaction, if any, with the blindness community prior to starting here.”

Since coming here, “I’ve learned a hundredfold more than what I ever knew,” he says. “I’ve interacted with more people who are experiencing vision loss than I ever have, I am more aware about the subtleties of folks who are experiencing blindness. I am much more aware of the workplace, and the great work that people do while experiencing vision loss. I am much more aware of the resources, both available to me on a personal level, but also resources and programs available to people that we work with. I am learning very quickly that the blindness community is a very strong community and a very supportive one, very rich in services and partnerships as well.”

Kyle says that in addition to providing low vision services, MABVI aims to raise consciousness and the awareness of who blind individuals are, what they’re able to do. “[We want] to let people know what it’s like to interact with blind folks, and how much ability there is regardless of vision loss. And to raise that consciousness of what folks who are experiencing vision loss are going through, but also the unlimited capacity and ability to do what we all want to do, and to continue to live full and rich lives.”

Julia & Juliette: A volunteer and a VI dancer’s bond

Hi! I’m Julia Wiener and I love MABVI!

I’ve been volunteering for a year now, ever since a Teen Community Service fair at the Chestnut Hill Mall. I remember looking around at all the different programs, and signing up for just about everything. However, I have a very busy schedule with school, sports and extracurricular activities that take up a great deal of my day. As each organization responded, I was disappointed to realize that I didn’t have time for anything. I soon realized how flexible MABVI is. Any couple of hours that were convenient for me, worked with them!

Before being matched up, I remember thinking, “Okay, I’ll just be helping someone out once a week.” This is true, but my expectations were very much exceeded. I really enjoyed helping my match and found myself making more and more time for MABVI volunteering.

I was set up with a woman named Juliette. I still meet her at the library, once a week for two hours. I help her check her e-mail, grade papers and write quizzes for the ESL class she teaches, and with any other small tasks with which she needs assistance. This has shown me how tasks that seem simple to me, such as checking my e-mail, can be very difficult for some people. I no longer take for granted my eyesight, and I’m so happy for the opportunity to share it.

As an individual, Juliette really impresses me. She is a visually impaired belly dance choreographer, which is so cool! She organizes performances and I help her put things up on Facebook and on belly dance group calendars. She’s even used her dance troupe for fundraisers. Her disability doesn’t stop her from anything! She’s so nice and easy to talk to. When I first met her, I was actually surprised. Juliette doesn’t have a cane, and I likely wouldn’t have recognized her as visually impaired.

Julia (left) volunteers for Juliette.

Julia (left) volunteers for Juliette.

Juliette once told me about her visual impairment; she lost a lot of her eyesight from ages 10 to 20. I can’t even imagine how terrifying that is, to see less and less over time, especially when you’re trying to grow up and go through high school and college. She’s explained that when she looks at me, everything is blurry. She can focus in on my eyes, but the rest of my face hazes out. I find Juliette so strong and interesting. Sometimes we just get sidetracked and start talking about the most random things! She’s really fun to be around.

I still meet with Juliette every week and look forward to spending time with her and at MABVI throughout the next year until I head off to college. Being set up with a match led me to what I’m doing this summer: volunteering at Perkins and MABHab in addition to MABVI. Some of the people I work with at MABHab are mentally disabled so we work on things like cooking and drawing pictures. Last week we had a fashion show which was very cute. I have met some of the sweetest and most incredible people through these volunteer opportunities, all thanks to MABVI!

Post written by Julia, MABVI Volunteer.