Volunteers do errands for those with impaired vision

By Jason Harris - Staff Writer
Colchester - posted Thu., Feb. 14, 2013
A BESB consumer gets ready to make dinner after grocery shopping with her volunteer neighbor. - Contributed Photo

Lori J. St. Amand is the volunteer programs specialist for the Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB), which falls under the Department of Rehabilitation Services in the state. She says the most rewarding part of her job is when she makes a successful match between a volunteer and a consumer, which is what the organization calls those who use their services. Volunteers do things like running errands, reading and sorting mail, and providing rides for those with impaired vision.

"The hours for volunteers are very flexible," St. Amand said. "It's one of the strengths of the program." Unlike some volunteer opportunities that focus on set hours or a definite amount of time, people can volunteer with BESB whenever they are available. "If someone has more time than their consumer might need, then they can come back to me and I can match them with a second consumer," St. Amand said.

For many of the people who use the services, it is the difference between being able to stay at home during inclement weather or having to go to a warming facility, St. Amand said. "There is independence that comes from having someone that you can call," she said. If someone is unable to get out for groceries, their volunteer can do the shopping for them.

Mona H. has been volunteering with the BESB since January 2012. "I had the chance to help an older woman with shopping, errands and sorting mail, and to help another woman take her children on weekend outings," she said, adding that St. Amand was extremely helpful during training and in matching her with clients based on her availability and interests. "After I was given my clients' contact information, it was up to me to get in touch with them, and together we would figure out how often to meet, where they wanted to go, and so on," she said.

"As a student, I appreciated the flexibility this allowed," said Mona H. "Overall, this was a great experience and I enthusiastically recommend BESB to anyone looking for a volunteer opportunity."

A common theme St. Amand has seen with her more than 300 volunteers throughout the state is that they want to stay busy.

“I definitely get people who are very task-oriented, then I have a lot of folks who develop a relationship with someone,” she said. “People volunteer because they would like to meet someone new, learn something different, get a different point of view on life.”

St. Amand said the most important thing for a person who volunteers and maybe doesn’t succeed the first time is that they should try again. It may not have worked out because it just wasn’t the right fit, whether it was the organization’s structure or the actual work they had to do, she said. Or the timing may not have been right, she added.

“It’s good to ask where would I fit in best and ask someone who knows volunteerism to make a referral for you [or] to make a recommendation for you,” St. Amand said.

To find out more about volunteering with BESB, contact St. Amand at the Bureau of Education Services for the Blind volunteer program, at 860-602-4000, or visit the website www.ct.gov/besb.

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