This week, Monday May 8 until Sunday 14 May is National Volunteer Week 2017. It is a great time to celebrate and acknowledge the generous contribution of our over 250 volunteers. We are shining the spotlight on two hardworking and dedicated individuals, Coralie Myers and Jan Howell. Both of these ladies were rewarded for their incredible efforts volunteering at VisAbility last year, presented with 30-year awards. We are honoured to have such long serving volunteers who have seen VisAbility grow and flourish into the organisation it is today. Earlier in the week, we caught up with Coralie, and you can read our interview here. Today, we have a chat with Jan to discuss her wonderful award and her three decade donation of time to VisAbility.
Hi Jan, what made you want to start volunteering at VisAbility?
In the late 1970’s I found myself as a single mother to two young children. I was relying on benefits from the government. It was then that I decided to volunteer so I could give back in some way. At the time I was living at Quinn’s Rocks which was then quite isolated (before Mindarie) and nothing like it is now, so I was limited. I did have it in mind however, to help the vision impaired community in some way.
Marrying again, I moved to Beverly which was even further away from the city. By the early 1980’s my children were both at school and I again considered what I could do to give back. My new husband had previously worked for a blind farmer in Tambellup in the South West, and his stories of this farmer’s achievements made me even more determined to help the vision impaired.
A phone call in 1986 to VisAbility (formerly the Association for The Blind) in Victoria Park, opened up a whole new world for me.
That’s an amazing story – you were so determined to give back! What department do you volunteer in Jan, what is your role at VisAbility?
After the phone call, I found out that I could learn Braille by correspondence. Yes! This was fantastic news! This would lead me to becoming a Braille Transcriber. After six months of learning, I finally received my proficiency certificate. That was a truly memorable day.
When I told my Father what I was embarking on, he told me that when we travelled to Australia in 1950 (I was just 3-years-old at the time), we travelled on the same ship “Esperance Bay” as Arnold Cook, with his guide dog Dreena. It was the start of Guide Dogs in Australia, and after whom the original Arnold Cook Library was named.
Wow! That is very cool. Have you always volunteered in this department?
Yes. Distance has always been a factor in what I was able to contribute, so the Braille Library has been the perfect department for me to volunteer in.
You mentioned earlier that you wanted to volunteer to give back, have you always had this drive?
It is always wonderful to be able to help others less fortunate and I continue to volunteer locally to me as well. I help out at Meals-On-Wheels and as Secretary of the Beverley Hospital Auxiliary, the committee of which runs our local Opportunity Shop with the help of other volunteers. Volunteering is very rewarding in so many ways!
That’s wonderful to hear. What is your favourite part of volunteering? Do you plan to continue volunteering at VisAbility for many years to come?
My favourite part is the knowledge that each of us working together can make a huge difference. I will most certainly continue Brailling for VisAbility as long as I possibly can.
Do you have any special memories over the years volunteering at VisAbility?
My memories have mostly been good ones with many changes over the years. Starting out with the old Perkins Brailler, clunking away until your hands ached was perhaps not so great (especially when you made a mistake on the very last line and had to start all over again!). I also remember the pressure of having 6 university students all wanting text books, with one time it being a German textbook. It was bad enough typing in standard 1 Braille, but not understanding a word you are writing can be daunting!
The introduction of the computer in 1991 was another learning curve. And in 1995, we changed from single sided to double-sided braille. This was followed by a new Braille code (UEBC) in 2007. Everything now has been made so much simpler, one just has to email each volume in completion.
So much has changed! Is there anything that VisAbility has given you over the years?
Even though being in the country makes my situation a rather solitary one, I have been able to develop friendships over those many years. Firstly by phone, and later from catching-up. Transcribing Braille has given me enormous pleasure over the years. It has been a privilege to contribute my time to this cause.
We are so thankful for your dedicated service, Jan! Last, but not least, what does independence mean to you?
Independence should be the right of every human being. Whatever we can do to make that possible for everyone is definitely important.
Thank you for your time today Jan!
This concludes our interviews with our dedicated volunteers! We hope you have enjoyed them. Please, if you know a generous volunteer, take some time this week to say thank you. We would love to hear your stories! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.