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OPINION: Earmuffs, blindfolds and purpose

Jim Panos lives in Port Washington.


When I asked to become a volunteer at the Helen Keller National Center for the Deaf/Blind in Sands Point, I was placed in a room by myself and sat in a chair. I had padded earmuffs cover my ears and blindfolds cover my eyes.

I was alone and completely deaf in blackness. I was initially calm, but then I started to worry. The silence and blackness continued for several minutes, and I found myself uncomfortable. Soon, I was near panic. It was a horrifying experience. My relief was infinite when the earmuffs and blindfold were taken off, and I was back in the hearing, seeing world again.

This was part of the training my wife and I received some 25 years ago to serve as volunteers for the Helen Keller National Center. It was intended to make us feel how the students feel every day, every moment of their lives. The center is situated on an attractive campus in Sands Point, with facilities for education and housing for about 100 deaf and blind students.

They are trained to cope with the everyday requirements of living, as well as to become employable in the business world. The staff consists of professional, dedicated people, and the financial support for the center comes from government subsidies, funding and grants from generous people, and by money from fundraising projects.

Volunteers provide additional man-and-woman power to carry on the work of the center. These are people who offer their work and talents gratis, their reward being a deep sense of satisfaction for helping people who lack their basic abilities. The Friends of Helen Keller - a group of volunteers who raise funds for individuals who are deaf and blind, of which my wife and I are members - supplements the work of the professional staff, ranging from modest clerical work to teaching essential needs, such as Braille.

My wife and I have helped students with their shopping, visiting doctors and in any other way we can. We also prepare mailings and raise money for students' needs not covered by the center, like tickets to go home for holidays or extra clothing.

The rewards for these services are of course not material. But the feeling of having done something good for someone else cannot be measured. My wife and I receive infinite satisfaction for the small deeds we do and look forward to helping out for as long as we can. We've gotten more out of volunteering than we've put in.


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