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Volunteers provide help for blind on LI

Pat Gugliuzzi, 87, who is partially blind, sits

Pat Gugliuzzi, 87, who is partially blind, sits at his kitchen table with Malcolm Kaufman, who volunteers his time helping Gugliuzzi with things like paying bills and food shopping. (Feb. 13, 2011) Credit: Erin Geismar

Malcolm Kaufman knows Pat Gugliuzzi loves a good western movie -- or anything starring Rita Hayworth.

So when Kaufman sees that one is on TV, he calls up Gugliuzzi to tell him what time and channel it will be on.

To Gugliuzzi, 87, it’s more than just a friendly heads-up. The East Northport man was diagnosed with macular degeneration about 10 years ago, he said. He is blind in one eye, and because of the disease, is quickly losing his vision in the other eye.

So to him, because he can’t read the channel guide, Kaufman’s phone call is the only way he knows what’s on TV and it’s an example of the kind of help that has enabled him to maintain his quality of life despite his disability.

“I can’t complain,” Gugliuzzi said. “I’ve got all the help I need.”

Kaufman, 65, of Brentwood, is one of about 50 volunteers at the Helen Keller Services for the Blind that visits the agency’s clients at home to help them. Kaufman writes out checks so that Gugliuzzi can pay his bills, sorts his pills into pillboxes, reads his mail and sometimes does his food shopping. Kaufman said he is also Gugliuzzi’s advocate when it comes to dealing with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

The two have developed a friendship over the four years Kaufman has been visiting Gugliuzzi.

“There’s a lot of trust that is involved in this,” Kaufman said.

Debbie Costa, Suffolk County rehabilitation coordinator for Helen Keller, which is based in Brooklyn with an outpost in Huntington, said the inadvertent friendships that tend to form between volunteer and client are one of the most important parts of the program.

“Some of these friendships go on for many, many years," she said. “To be visually impaired can be very isolating. There is a need for companionship.”

She said the program is always looking for more volunteers for home visits and to work in the senior center in Huntington.

Gugliuzzi has lived in the same house in East Northport for 57 years, he said. His wife died 34 years ago, and he’s lived alone ever since -- with the exception of his seven-year-old Shepard mix, Sam.

Costa said that for Gugliuzzi and others that are visually impaired, these visits are essential to keeping a piece of their independence.

Gugliuzzi, who also has someone clean his house and cook for him a few days a week, said he has an adopted daughter that lives in Pennsylvania and a godson that lives across the street, but it’s Kaufman’s visits that make all the difference.

“I don’t know how I’d do it without Malcolm,” he said.

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