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Monday, February 16, 2009

Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic

A Great Way to Volunteer

By Silvia Uribe

Would you like to help others, but you haven't found the way to do it? If that's the case, you're not alone. Not too long ago I was carefully looking- since I don't have a lot of free time to give - for an organization that would return the biggest "bang for my buck," so to speak. I didn't have to go too far. Right here in Goleta, I found Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D), a vibrant organization that served almost 1,000 students of all ages last year, and is aiming to serve many more.

A few days ago, I called Tim Owens, executive director of RFB&D, and asked him for an interview. He was fast with his response and immediately gave me a phone interview later that same day. Not only that, he said he would have the education and outreach coordinator, Kristin Reed, join us! What else could I ask for? Although I was already familiar with the organization, they really gave me RFB&D's history and perspective.

Silvia Uribe

Kristin Reed and Tim Owens of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic

Recording for the Blind (their original name), was started in 1948 by Ann T. MacDonald, a member of the New York Public Library's Women's Auxiliary who wanted to help blind soldiers returning from World War II gain access to college through their GI Bill benefits. MacDonald and other Library Auxiliary members began reading college textbooks for these GIs. The demand was so great that the library's attic was converted into a recording studio, and Recording for the Blind was born. In the early 1990s, the name was expanded to Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic to accommodate the needs of students with learning and physical disabilities. Today, 75 percent of all students served have dyslexia. I didn't know that dyslexia affects 14-17 percent of the general population.

RFB&D's Santa Barbara Chapter has 200 volunteers every week, who contribute more than 14,000 hours in that same period of time, yielding over 185 textbook recordings annually. The organization serves almost 1,000 students - both individually and through schools - with the "Learning Through Listening" program. Their headquarters, in Princeton, New Jersey, has a lending library of more than 47,000 books, and nationally, RFB&D serves 238,000 students.

By Courtesy Photo

Last year, my daughter and I were included in those 200 volunteers. For a couple of hours every Tuesday, in the late afternoon, we would get to the office, look for a book that we wanted to read, and Ron, a very dedicated evening staff member, would get us in a booth, and set the computer for us to start recording. If you have a specific profession or expertise in any particular field, they will suggest you do those readings. However, it is entirely up to you which book you'll read.

You can choose to do the recording on your own, or to have someone else monitor your reading and handle the computer. My daughter and I chose to do it together. One week I would read while she monitored me, and the next week I would monitor her. Our experience was not only rewarding, but it was also a great "bonding and fun experience" as she explains it.

Volunteers at RFB&D, Owens and Reed tell me, come from all walks of life. Doctors, attorneys, writers, accountants, office assistants, students, full-time mothers, celebrities, and grandparents all have a place at RFB&D. There is no doubt that you'll find a book that will spark your interest. Personally, I didn't expect to find such a variety of topics, particularly for text books, which is one of RFB&D's distinguishing factors.

By Courtesy Photo

Volunteer, recording.

The best part about volunteering for this organization is knowing that RFB&D's audio textbooks significantly improve reading rates, reading accuracy, and comprehension, as demonstrated by studies from Johns Hopkins and Rutgers universities. As a result, students' confidence and self-esteem grow and their academic performance improves. Their chances for a successful education and future life are enhanced dramatically. "There are many students at risk of dropping out of school, getting into drugs, or into trouble with the law, and even of committing suicide due to their disabilities," said Owens. "We help change that."

If you want a little taste of the experience I have had, here's good news. RFB&D hosts an annual Record-a-Thon and this year it will be April 20 25. Last year, almost 300 guest readers participated, donating one hour of their time. For more information contact:

Recording For the Blind & Dyslexic

Santa Barbara Unit
(805) 681-0531

As a volunteer for RFB&D, you, yes you, can change lives for the better!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

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