I took on a special interest with the blind and visually impaired after having been through a few serious eye infections (one required a CT scan) and learning that the occasional abnormalities in my vision are ophthalmic migraines. I heard about the Lighthouse from a friend, and I found it to be the perfect opportunity to help. Having volunteered in hospitals in the past, I found the Lighthouse to be far more rewarding in every aspect. Hospital work was full of impersonal duties, from picking up empty charts to organizing forms, and because of this I couldn't wait to end my shift and go home. At the Lighthouse, everything is centered on bettering the lives of the visually impaired, and its volunteer program is no exception. One of my favorite activities is helping clients express themselves in the arts and crafts class, although I am not particularly artistic. Through the use of high contrast backgrounds and other aids, they have created amazing pieces of art that far surpass my abilities. The unconventional approaches they take as a result of their different visual perspective and the amount of creative output they have never cease to amaze me. As DebraLee rolls another coil of clay and Donna 'Cardboard' Gilbert cuts out shapes from her favorite medium, I can see that much more than art is being made—friendships form as clients and volunteers come together to share advice and stories. Being an avid cyclist, I joined Tandems Across the Bay, the Lighthouse-sponsored group that rides tandem bicycles with the visually impaired across the San Francisco area. Cameron, my tandem riding partner, enjoys crossing the Golden Gate Bridge with the wind blowing in our faces and fog around us. Our favorite part of the rides is a long, twisty downhill after crossing the bridge; we both feel that same rush as we speed down the trail, leaning into the turns. Being able to share this experience with those who would not otherwise have the chance is immensely fulfilling. Spending time at the Lighthouse is always a pleasure and I have yet to see an unfriendly face. The friendships I have made and satisfying experiences I have had will last a lifetime.
I have been working with my client, Virginia for over a year now. We meet once a week in her home, and my job is to do reading and writing for her. I use large black markers she provides to make big letters on paper which she can more easily see with Macular Degeneration. I also read articles from periodicals to her, notes and cards people have written, and various sorts of other correspondence she needs to have read. I have taken her to several events, including the Commission on Aging, to which I am our town's rep. We have had a wonderful time together. We have lots of giggles and laughs, accomplish much in our hour and a half together, and work toward organizing her obligations in a functional way so that she can address them with greater independence. We've supportively tossed ideas around a lot. She's become my good friend, and I, hers. It has been a great relationship and a deeply rewarding friendship. I look forward to our time together each week. We really listen to each other in ways that count.
I have been a volunteer at the LightHouse since 2002. Prior to my time here, I had been volunteering for several other organizations, however no other place can compare to the experience I've had at the LightHouse. This has truly been my most rewarding experience as a volunteer. One unexpected surprise I found during my time as a broadcaster was the amount of confidence it gave me in my own personal life. At the time, I was a college student and extremely nervous and shy about reading aloud in front of an audience. Being a reader helped tremendously with my own reading and speaking skills, so much so that my family, friends and teachers at school even noticed a change. Talking on the radio also helped me learn to use different tones of emotion and helped me in expressing my thoughts more clearly. Here I was thinking that my goal was to try to help give back to the blind and visually impaired community, yet in return I received (and continue to receive) more from the experience than I could have ever imagined. This experience has given me the wonderful gift of confidence and insight that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life. The LightHouse not only provides solutions for people living with vision loss, but it gives those of us who are volunteers the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and others.