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Second Sense - Beyond Vision Loss

Making Us Tick: Volunteers Who Make it Happen

April 2, 2018 | 3 Comments

by Kathy Austin, CVA


Kathy posing with a group of our dedicated volunteers
Second Sense is a small organization – we are a staff of eight people, but each year we serve over 500 individuals with vision loss. How do we do it? One huge reason is the generous gift of time and effort from our dedicated volunteers.

As we celebrate National Volunteer Appreciation Week this April, we’d like to share with you a little about these terrific people who help our staff and clients at Second Sense. Here are just a few of our volunteers who help make our place tick!

Headshot of Mike

Mike: A volunteer every organization wishes they had

Mike is a former elementary school principal and came to us in November of 2016 through AARP’s RSVP senior volunteer program. He runs our front desk on Tuesday mornings, a busy day at Second Sense, welcoming our students to the typing lab, answering phones, scheduling appointments and helping clients to their classes. Mike’s first impression of Second Sense was its warm and welcoming atmosphere and the variety of services we provide.

He tells his family and friends that he works in the most positive environment he has ever experienced. “Clients are real risk takers with lots of guts who are willing to take chances. When things don’t go right, they ‘roll with the punches’ and remain positive in spite of their setback.”

Mike is one of those volunteers every organization wishes they had! The other lucky organizations he gives his time to include the Howard Brown Health Center in patient services, Lurie’s Children’s Hospital as a patient and family greeter and Lakeview Food Pantry packing food stuffs for home deliveries. In his spare time, Mike likes to travel, bike the lakefront (when the weather is good), attend plays with friends and of course, spend time with his grandkids!

Photo of Janet Lynch Forde

Janet: A volunteer working behind the scenes

Janet is a volunteer you won’t see here at Second Sense. She volunteers all the way from Arizona! Janet is a college librarian at Benedictine University in Mesa and calls her volunteer role at Second Sense “social media scanner.” With her access to all the library databases, she is responsible for the great content we pass along to you on Facebook, Twitter, Making Sense and email list serves. At her job at Benedictine, she does everything for this small 500 student college—from filling the copier to teaching students how to use the databases to working with faculty to plan the library’s growth.

Janet says she has learned a lot as she searches for interesting tidbits. When she first began volunteering in 2014, she found it helpful to pass along important information to her clients who had macular degeneration or cataracts. “I am much more aware of all the things that can go wrong with vision and also with all the progress that has been made in correcting the causes of vision loss.”

In her spare time, Janet likes to hike on easy trails and is thinking about getting a bicycle. She is also a Benedictine Oblate, which gives her life balance using prayer for structure each day.

Photo of Jim

Jim: A volunteer who can relate

Jim has been a Second Sense volunteer for nine years. Before he came to us, he was a floor manager at the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He handles the front desk on Wednesdays and is our muscle man when it comes to moving furniture for the different events we have at Second Sense. Jim also has retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and empathizes with our clients. Jim says the most important thing we do at Second Sense is to help people accept the fact that life is not over after vision loss. “People can still do most of what they used to be able to do, but just do it a little differently.” Jim sees the progress our clients make and remembers one client in particular.

Pat was quiet and reserved when she first came to Second Sense for technology training. Jim met her on the street one day after leaving Second Sense. Pat was hailing a cab to go to Macy’s. Jim asked her if she’d like to walk because it was only a couple of blocks away. “We did and we talked along the way.” That was a few years ago. “Now, Pat comes to our RP group, and last month, brought a friend who is also struggling with vision loss.” Jim says he can see Pat is now more outgoing and confident.

Jim is a talkative, fun-loving guy, with a great sense of humor. He’s also a huge Chicago Bears fan, so there’s lots of football talk during the season!

Photo of Mary

Mary: A volunteer who instills confidence in her students

Mary is a former assistive technology teacher. She volunteers on Tuesday mornings tutoring our students on keyboarding. Mary was looking for a place where she could feel productive and put her knowledge and skills to good use. “I think we all have a built-in need to feel productive, to accomplish something worthwhile.”

Volunteering for the past year and a half at Second Sense has taught Mary to face the reality of life that people have different abilities. “Working with the students has helped me better understand this reality.” Mary says that sometimes a student just needs encouragement and confirmation that their skills are good enough to get the job they want.

Mary also works part time at the University of Illinois Medical Center as a call center operator. In her spare time, she loves to read audio books and often has more than one book going in different areas of her home providing her with continued entertainment.

Photo of Rachel

Rachel: A volunteer who makes everyone feel special and welcome

Rachel is one of our new volunteers who has only been with us for four months. She attended Oakton Community College and Judson University and found us by way of Volunteer Match. The front desk position she expertly manages on Tuesday afternoons is something she has never done before and a new challenge for her. Rachel has an infectious, bubbly personality that makes everyone coming to Second Sense feel special and welcome. “I feel like I belong here and that my energy fits in with the energy at Second Sense.”

In her spare time, Rachel loves to watch and listen to movie reviews as she finds the analysis of how camera angles, music score and timing of the plot all affect the perspective of the movie viewer. She also uses her artistic ability drawing animals and finds this a good coping mechanism to deal with stress.

We salute all of our volunteers at Second Sense and thank them for all their invaluable service. Happy Volunteer Appreciation Week – April 23-27!

Kathy is the Community Engagement Specialist at Second Sense. As part of this role, Kathy manages our volunteer program. In 2017, she led the way for Second Sense to become one of the first two organization in Chicago to earn the designation as a Service Enterprise.

3 comments on “Making Us Tick: Volunteers Who Make it Happen”

  1. BethFinke says:

    I had a chance to meet some of these wonderful volunteers last week when I was at Second Sense taking an intensive Screen Reader course. Must say, you are exactly right: they are positive, helpful and lovely people. Thanks to all of you —

  2. Cheryl Megurdichian says:

    We are so pleased you had such a positive experience at Second Sense. Our volunteers are the first person most of our guests meet and play such an important role. We are lucky to have such a dedicated bunch!

  3. Jake says:

    Unfortunately I haven’t met any of these people in person, but I would like to say a big thank you to Mike for those 2 reminder calls about my tutoring sessions with Marv. I was out both times, but very much appreciate the reminders. As for my tutoring sessions, they were extremely helpful.

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