CLB Volunteer Stories

CLB Volunteers at the 7th Annual Light the Way

Why did you first begin volunteering with CLB?

Being a college student in the Downtown, DC area, it’s difficult to find job opportunities or internships available, especially some that aren’t geared towards those with years of experience in a particular field. After weeks of searching, I came across Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind.  It was everything I wanted: ideal distance from my school, flexible working schedule, and required very general skills. But, the thing that really made me want to volunteer here was knowing that I would actually be helping people. It’s rewarding to know that the company you are working for is contributing to the betterment of society. The mission of CLB really inspires me. It is such a great, self-fulfilling feeling knowing that I am contributing to making someone’s life a little easier.

Kristen Torres (volunteer since February 2019)

My mother was legally blind the last few years of her life and it’s difficult to be without sight.  But mainly, I volunteer to read because it’s such an easy way to help others.  I just need to show up, read and being nice. But in the end, I have a great client, we get along fabulously and she wants me to read the same literature I’d read at home if I allowed myself that luxury.

Deb McKenzie (volunteer for 3 years)

Having worked at a younger age with blind and visually impaired individuals, I was quite familiar with the demands and requirements of contributing to the aid and possible comfort of said individuals or clients. Although the experiences from my past where a lifetime ago, the physical and emotional satisfaction of working with the blind melded with my being. Since I am a newly retired person, the urge to renew this smoldering passion was awakened and I reached out to CLB.

Peter Peart (volunteer since March 2019)

I’m Alice Epstein and I’ve been volunteering for 10 years. I have a son who is blind, and lives out of state. He is independent, mobile and lives alone. When I visit him I help him with paperwork and other things that he needs assistance. At other times he would pay someone to help.  When I retired I decided that I could volunteer and provide help and friendship to others. Over the years a true friendship has developed with the people I have been helping. Sometimes just being a good listener is a great gift.

Alice Epstein (volunteer for over 10 years)

I, Karen Marie Woodbury started volunteering with Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind October 2018.  I previously, read for the blind at the Martin Luther King Library and was so happy to know about the existence of a radio station available for the blind to listen to. Assisting others has been a part of my life and I often sought out opportunities to assist those with hearing and sight disabilities. I am currently, studying Joel Synder’s audio description book for future training.

Karen Woodbury (volunteer since October 2018)

What has been your most valuable/memorable CLB volunteer experience(s) to date?

I started volunteering with CLB because I saw the request for volunteers on Volunteer Match and it sounded like a worthwhile cause. Also, volunteers had given it a very high rating in terms of a volunteer experience. 

Nancy LaVerda

In February 2017, I found my way to CLB and was matched with a blind man named Carlos in Silver Spring, Md. I liked Carlos right away. He’s easygoing, funny, and, like so many of the blind people I’ve met, he has an amazing ability to handle challenging situations. I typically see Carlos in person about three times per month, but we also talk on the phone another two or three times each month. Sometimes Carlos calls me for assistance, but sometimes he just wants to talk.

In the fall of 2017, I decided that I had time to provide some help to another blind individual. I asked CLB if there was anyone living closer to me, in D.C., with whom I could be matched. Shortly thereafter I was matched with a man named Ali in Adams Morgan. For the first few months, our relationship was entirely over the phone. The assistance Ali needed was in reading and writing emails. Ali trusted me to log into his email on my home computer, and then I’d read and type up his emails for him. Ali was a lot of fun to speak with on the phone. He has a deep intellect and always shares interesting anecdotes with me. More recently, Ali and I have begun meeting in person. I go to his apartment and help him organize his paperwork. As we go through some old papers he has, Ali enjoys sharing stories from his past, and I love listening to him.  

Brian Yourish (volunteer since March 2017)

I can’t say that I’ve only had one memorable experience here. The clients that I talk to on the phone always make my day. You can hear in their voice how genuinely grateful they are for the services that CLB provides. They sound excited about the future and getting paired with someone. But, the office environment is the same way: they are genuinely happy to be working here. The staff tries their very hardest to accommodate the needs of everyone. I have never been a part of a job community that made someone like myself, so young and inexperienced, feel important. I am interacting and involved in mostly everything that happens here, which is rare for semi-large organizations like this

Kristen Torres (volunteer since February 2019)

There’s been one event that I remember every day as does my client.  One evening I was supposed to read at 7PM but thought I might run a few minutes late.  When I got to the house, there were no lights on or her husband’s car.  I thought she was running late from work.  I sat in my parked car for 15 minutes, then texted Laura. She said she still wanted to read. Then another 10 minutes passed and she texted me and wanted to know when I’d be arriving.  I said I’ve already been here.  She said she was home too.  So the funny and interesting learning lesson for the sighted reader, is you can’t assume a blind person isn’t at home if the lights aren’t on.  Her husband was out of town so no car.  I’d like to think I’m a caring person; but now I’m more informed. Laura and I laugh about this all the time, especially when I knock on her door when I see no lights on in her kitchen, assume she’s home but she isn’t.  Again, a good lesson for the sighted reader.

Deb McKenzie (volunteer for 3 years)

My experiences so far have been quite richly rewarding.  As I develop individual rapport and trusts with my clients (two), I am glad to report that we all feel at ease with each other. It is satisfying to hear the client say how grateful they are for having me giving my time and attention to them as individuals. Having the trust of CLB to work hand in hand with the client and being able to coordinate directly with the client makes the whole process simple and unencumbered.

Separate from working with the individual clients, I recently volunteered to help out with the a 4 day FAB (Mar. 26-29, 2019) in Takoma, DC.

This 4 day experience was intense and fulfilling. The process renewed by past experiences of being around clients who were adjusting to blindness and furthered my knowledge as to the technological advances tied in with the aid of the blind and visually impaired. It was a great reminder of the emotional and psychological adjustment for individuals transitioning during this trying period. There are many characteristics needed when working with any handicapped individual, but in the transitioning environment presented in the FAB, patience holds the key.

Having had the enriching experience of this FAB and a sense of personal renewal, I will more than likely offer my time in assisting at future FAB sessions while continuing to work with my individual clients.

Peter Peart (volunteer since March 2019)

I met my first CLB client in June 2012.  I had just lost my father (who struggled with AMD) and I had recently retired. Both were life events that sent me in search of a meaningful volunteer experience.  My first client lived by herself, only assisted by a social worker and aides. Both of her two sons were estranged, so she rarely had family visits and most of her friends were gone.  She was very bitter and frustrated: with her family situation, living arrangements, loss of friends, as well as AMD/low vision (she was legally blind).  Most of our visits were spent talking through her frustrations. As she became more comfortable with me, we developed a friendship.  I was able to print out larger text for her contact lists, as well as program her ‘auto dial’ feature phone, so she had more independence and perhaps felt more in control.  She was a very proud and independent person, who up until that time had been trying to memorize all the critical numbers.  Over 5 years, I observed her transition to assisted living, her decline in health, and finally, her death. She asked me towards the end if she was dying and I didn’t know how to respond.  But I think she knew the answer anyway.  I arrived just as she had passed away.  Although she was a difficult client for me, she taught me many lessons about life, as well as about dying. I will always remember my first CLB client.

Jeanette Hosseini

The most valuable experience has been learning how difficult it is to be a blind person in the world. I enjoy helping Fannie Jackson with her errands and medical appointments. I also enjoyed volunteering at the blind women’s empowerment luncheon. It was wonderful to hear the different speakers discuss issues related to blindness.

Nancy LaVerda

One of my memorable assignments was the Women’s Empowerment Conference held at Shiloh Baptist Church. I sat at a table with 10 women and guided them to the restroom including retrieving their food and beverage orders. It was an honor to be in the company of successful, women who refused to allow their disability to hinder them from living a full life. I visit my current and most memorable, client at least 2-3 times per Saturday for 4 hours.  Her name is Ollibelle Green. I assist her with decluttering paperwork and organizing what she needs to keep and discard. I also, update her calendar for doctor appointments and her days off work. Ollibelle and I are a perfect fit. She knows what she wants and needs and has no problem informing me and she keeps me laughing. Once she makes up her mind about something there is no stopping her. I read the paperwork to her and she tells me to either trash or shred it. She has trusted me with stories about her family and close friends; even the pain she suffers from the sudden death of her brother in NJ. I provided her with literature to assist with the grieving process. We are like sisters/family to each other, now  I never leave her house without hugging her.

Karen Woodbury (volunteer since October 2018)

What have you learned about yourself while volunteering for CLB?

While volunteering for CLB, I have realized the type of environment I would like to work for in the future. Everyone here has a very positive attitude and is always smiling. I talk to my friends who have internships elsewhere and they are always complaining about how stressed they are. I can’t relate in the slightest bit. I am stress-free and work at my own pace. While being here, I have seen improvement in skills that I can use in the future, such as being detail-oriented, organized, and learning how to use Microsoft Excel. It honestly amazes me how happy I am every time I volunteer here. It’s such a professional environment where lots of work gets done, yet it doesn’t feel like “work” at all.

Kristen Torres (volunteer since February 2019)

I get as much education while reading as does the client. It’s a win win situation. Plus, when I was recently very ill, that client called often to check on me.  

Deb McKenzie (volunteer for 3 years)

In terms of what I learned about myself, I learned how little I knew about blindness and what it’s like to be a blind person in the world.

Nancy LaVerda

Volunteering for CLB has furthered my gratitude for the ability to use my sight.  Some of my relatives entrusted me to be their Power of Attorney (assisting them with every aspect of their life).  Having a client whose home that I enter and who must learn how to trust someone they do not know is a “big deal”.   I am grateful for the people who trust me enough to handle their affairs and know that they are in “good hands” if I am assisting them. CLB assist the blind and low vision in so many areas, that it is difficult to determine where they should go in the future.  Maybe if they partnered with Metro to periodically, communicate significant information that patrons should not to do or not to do for blind riders.

Karen Woodbury (volunteer since October 2018)

Where do you want CLB to go in the future?

In May, I will be leaving DC and going back to my hometown in New York. I will be very sad leaving CLB. They have such a great program that provides so much assistance and helps so many people that it should be more well-known and talked about. I hope to one day see CLB expanding to different states other than the DMV area.

Kristen Torres (volunteer since February 2019)

Having more sighted people help out in small ways for people who can’t see in their own community.  It is so easy to volunteer once a week in your own neighborhood.  

Deb McKenzie (volunteer for 3 years)

I think CLB is right on track with their programs so I don’t have any suggestions about what to do differently or what programs to add.

Nancy LaVerda