By Judy Wolgang
“Can you hear me now?” I had always thought that was the tag line for a series of commercials for a mobile phone provider. But over the last few months that question has come to signify so much more. Let me introduce myself: my name is Judy Wolgang, and for nearly 22 years I volunteered helping to teach Assistive Technology to blind and vision impaired adults at my local Lighthouse. That’s how I saw myself, as a volunteer. That was my identity. That was my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. That’s what gave me purpose. That’s what filled my heart with satisfaction. Being a part of that incredible agency provided me with a sense of belonging.
But then came the quarantine and the orders to shut down. When I received the news that the Lighthouse would be closing, I immediately panicked. I was filled with an overarching sense of dread. How would I cope with my loss of routine? How would I handle waking up in the morning with no place to go? How could I possibly deal with not seeing my Lighthouse family for an extended period of time? What could I do to get that sense of belonging? How could I continue to feel that I was making a positive impact in the lives of others?
The first few days weren’t bad. I received a lot of phone calls from family and friends, checking on me, making sure I was okay. But it wasn’t long before the “new normal” set in. I organized Yoga classes twice a week on Facetime with one of my Yoga teachers and a couple Lighthouse friends, and I continued my weekly tandem bike rides. But that was the extent of any human interaction. My other days were spent watching Netflix and You Tube videos, and checking out Facebook. It was all I could do to keep from slipping into a very dark place.
Sometime in May, I found out about the ACB community calls. I had been reading the Braille Forum for decades, but beyond that, I didn’t really pay any attention to the ACB. For me, it was just one of many blindness-related organizations. I signed up to receive the daily schedule of events, and decided to dip a toe into these unfamiliar waters. I started calling in on my phone, and just listened so I could get the lay of the land. I’m very shy by nature (although I’m seen at the Lighthouse as a leader), so that was perfect for my comfort level. My first introduction to the community calls was the Coffee Socials. It seemed that everyone knew each other, and I soon learned that in fact that was the case. Most of the people on those calls had been participating since March.
Little by little, I started to get to know the voices of many of the people on those calls, not to mention where they live, and their birthdays. I slowly started to chime in when my birthday month of October was called. The more I participated, the more comfortable I felt. After a while, I downloaded the Zoom app on my iPad. I was hooked. I now had activities to fill my day, and people with whom I could interact. .
Even though I began to get back that sense of belonging that I so sorely missed, I felt I wanted it to be more official. I decided to become a member at large of ACB. So I made a Be My Eyes call in June, and, to my delight, was greeted by the now familiar warm and friendly voice of Cindy Hollis. We chatted for a while, and even though she started sharing a bit about herself, I honestly felt as if I already had come to know her from those calls. We interrupt this program to bring you a word about Cindy. She’s ACB’s Membership Services Coordinator, but I, along with many others, see her as the heart and soul of our community. I very deliberately used the word “our.” That’s how I now see myself-as part of a community. This is in no small measure due to Cindy’s personality.
So now I had the belonging thing down, but what about that need to contribute? On one of the community calls, someone asked Cindy if the daily schedule could be posted to the ACB Community Facebook page. She said she thought it was a good idea. Bingo! A light bulb went off in my head. That’s something I could do. There was a need, and I could fill it. I reached out to Cindy and offered my services. So now I have a job to do each morning. It may not seem like much, but it’s my way of giving back to this community that rescued me when I needed it most.
“Can you hear me now?” Yes. You’re unmuted. You can talk. You are being heard. You belong.