Happy Summer! This month, we have said goodbye to one of our Volunteer Program Assistants, Imke Heering, who has returned home to Germany to begin her undergraduate studies. While we said goodbye to Imke, we do have the opportunity to welcome a summer intern, Debbie Steen, who comes to LBFE from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. In her own words, I will allow Debbie to introduce herself to you. (And stay tuned for more because we have two new folks joining us in Boston this month!)
My name is Debbie Steen. I am totally blind, which means that I am unable to see anything, including light and dark, colors, shapes or shadows. I am going to school at UMass Boston, where I am studying Human Services. I hope to graduate in either May or the winter of 2018, depending upon when I finish my courses. Some of my hobbies are cooking, listening to music, singing karaoke, talking on the phone with friends, or using social media, such as Facebook, Skype and Twitter. I also love playing with assistive technology, such as using Jaws (Job access with Speech) and voiceover, which is for the Mac and iPhone. These forms of assistive technologies are extremely important, as it allows for blind and visually impaired individuals to utilize every day devices, which the sighted world can use.
I live in Wilmington, Massachusetts. I lived there all my life. Wilmington is the place that I call home. The town is a nice quiet town to raise a family in, and there is not a lot of crime in the neighborhoods. Wilmington used to be a pig farm before becoming residential. I love it there; however transportation is very limited, so it is very useful to have ride-sharing services such as the Ride, which is run by the MBTA, as well as Uber and Lyft because there is no means of public transportation in Wilmington.
I heard about Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. The Commission for the Blind started an internship program, for college students looking for employment for the summer before going back to school about ten years ago. I have been a proud member of this program since the beginning. I had gone to a community college, and gotten the chance to participate in the program until I graduated. Since I started the internship program, they’ve since expanded the blind and low vision individuals from high school students as well as middle age individuals who have lost their sight later in life, and who want to either seek employment, or just do some volunteer work.
I started my internship at LBFE this month, and I am really enjoying it. My favorite part of the internship is where we get to go out in the community homes to provide companionship to the elders and disabled individuals. Everyone who we visit has been very welcoming and always want us to come back every week. This internship so far has been a very good experience for me. I was unsure how I would help the elderly population, but talking with the staff and volunteers at LBFE has been very helpful in reassuring me that I can help them, even if it is visiting community homes, and talking to them, or playing a game with them. It makes me sad how overlooked the elderly population is, and this experience has taught me how to provide a positive environment no matter what is going on. I always come in and happily say a simple “hello” and that sets the tone for when we begin an activity. The atmosphere at the community homes are very casual and relaxing. I also am getting a chance to practice my listening skills, which will be very useful to me, because I want to go into drug and alcohol counseling. This internship, apart from previous internships has been very unique, because while I am in the office for a good amount of my internship, the majority of the time is spent at a complex in the Boston area for a few hours. I get to interact with all who come in the community rooms and play games, listen to music, or do a coloring activity. There were times in my other internships where I would get to go out in the community, but not in the way I’m getting to do at LBFE, because most of the times at my other internships, when I would have the opportunity to go out were informative and educational. Here at LBFE, when we go out, it is all in fun, and it helps me to decompress when we are getting to do a fun activity. Everyone at LBFE is so positive, and I think that helps the residents when we come in, because no matter what they have going on in their day, it breaks it up, and they get to spend time with their neighbors, which is something they would not normally have the chance to do. It is also helpful because I can participate in the activities through playing games such as bingo and Uno using Braille. We just ordered Braille Bingo, Braille Uno, and even coloring books with raised lines, so I can feel where I am supposed to color. I was very surprised that they had coloring books with raised lines. This way, I can engage in the activity along with them.
This internship has been very interesting, because the staff have been very creative in how to accommodate me with how I can participate in the activities with them. This is also rewarding for me, because it has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone, and do something I have never done before. I have never worked with the elderly population, and though it is a simple act of visiting a community home, I am seeing the positive impact my visit is having on them. I am looking forward to the next seven weeks to see what else I can learn from working with LBFE, and I am also enjoying teaching the staff, volunteers, and the elders how I operate a piece of technology, and I hope to be able to do that. LBFE has a technology café where we get to teach elders a piece of technology. The staff and volunteers were very interested in how I operate my computer and my phone, so if I have that opportunity to teach elders, I think it will be very beneficial for them, especially if they’re facing the difficult challenge of losing their vision.