Volunteers: the Heart of LAB

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  • December 23, 2014

By Suzanne Wilson

With November being the month of Thanksgiving, we thought that there couldn’t be a better time than this to introduce you to some of the twenty-plus volunteers who spread LAB’s voice across the Merrimack Valley on our radio station. Each hour that these volunteers donate furnishes hundreds of visually impaired and blind Greater Lowell residents with access to local news that they would have great difficulty finding anywhere else. Recently, three of our dedicated radio readers sat down with Jim Barrett to discuss their lives and their reasons for supporting our community each and every week.

Meet Connie Murphy 

Imagine living quite a distance away from Lowell in Medford. Now think about the dedication it would take for you to make the trip up to our city every week. Finally, picture yourself doing this as a volunteer, with no paycheck on the horizon. That is exactly what Connie Murphy’s life is like. Since LAB opened its radio studio, Connie has been one of our most faithful readers.

Connie is not one to let any grass grow under his feet. In addition to his service to the blind community, he is also president of the Medford Council on Aging. Even so, his allegiance to us is clear:  “I would say the best part of our life is helping at the Lowell Association for the Blind, and principally the reading of the daily newspapers on Tuesdays,” he says. “One of the nice things about this is to have a blind person at an outside event suddenly come up to you and say that they enjoy hearing you on the radio. It’s a good feeling.”

Working in radio seems to be in Connie’s blood; he has been doing it for decades. In the mid-1950s, he spent many Saturdays at what was then WTAO helping the librarian pick out records for the disc jockeys to play on the radio. When the Talking Information Center came on the scene in Marshfield, it was originally housed in that town’s public library. A far cry from the multi-million-dollar studio of today, this fledgling operation was housed in a closet. Its soundproofing was nothing more than egg cartons glued to the walls.

Whether he’s working in a primitive studio or in LAB’s state-of-the-art one, Connie embodies the spirit of volunteerism that runs wide and deep here at LAB. We are truly fortunate to have Connie as an integral part of our LAB family. Who else among us can claim to have known sportscasters Kurt Gowdy and Mel Allen, or to get the chance each year to interview the winners of the Faith International Foundation awards when he attends their annual convention? Indeed, who among us can also recount stories of his work as a clown who went into mental health facilities to brighten the lives of their residents?

When asked if he has any final thoughts to be communicated to our community, Connie responds:  “I hope they continue listening. . . and also, if they have a member of their family who happens to have problems seeing, one of the best things to do is to visit the Lowell Association for the Blind . . . They have an awful lot, not only on the technical end, but also they go out. Every time I come in here, my first question is “Where are you going today?”,” From someone who revels in being an active and dynamic volunteer, this is high praise indeed.

Meet Joanne Fox 

Ten years ago, Joanne Fox became a volunteer reader here at LAB, a decision that enabled her to add an important element of service to her life. Unable to work at a fulltime job due to painful fibromyalgia, she devotes two mornings a week to the visually impaired listeners of our radio station, in addition to attending Mass and visiting her elderly mother on a weekly basis. She has two daughters from a previous marriage, as well as a seven-year-old grandson. There is no doubt at all that she is a very proud grandma:  “He’s such an intelligent little boy,” she enthuses. “He can do things on his iPad that I can’t even dream of doing. He’s very smart and the teacher says in his class, he’s number one.” Those who listen to the radio station probably already know the voice of Joanne’s husband, Paul Fox, who joins her on Fridays to read the papers.

Her road to volunteerism began with a simple perusal of her church bulletin, in which an advertisement for LAB radio reading opportunities was featured. Coming here has had a profound effect on Joanne’s outlook:  “Before I started doing this, I never thought about my eyesight. I took it for granted,” she explains. “Once I started doing this, I saw many people coming in and out with dogs and white canes and such, . . . it blows my mind the things that they do and can do. I don’t take my eyesight for granted anymore. . . I want to give back something that I have that they don’t.”

After spending as much time in front of a microphone as she has, Joanne can easily recount some of the experiences that stand out in her mind. Perhaps the funniest occurs on a pretty regular basis:  She will read an article and, just minutes later, Paul frequently picks the same one even though they share the same studio. (You can make your own conclusions about selective hearing between spouses.) The saddest times are when she reads the obituaries, something she does because she knows that people would have no other way to learn of the death of a friend or loved one without this service.

Meet Paul Fox

Other than being the loving husband of our volunteer veteran Joanne Fox, Paul is a fascinating person in his own right. A native of New York City, he moved to Lowell in 1996. Shortly thereafter, he met Joanne. They married three years later. Paul has a grown daughter from a previous marriage and works as a luthier. If you don’t know what that is, don’t be too upset; even the computer’s spell-check function will tell you it isn’t a word. Yet it is, referring to the building and repair of guitars and other stringed instruments. Specifically, Paul builds guitars and makes vintage replacement guitar parts. “I build acoustic guitars, which are very difficult,” he explains. “One thing about building acoustic guitars is you have no idea if it’s going to sound any good until you’re all done and have put strings on it. You kind of just hope that it comes out like a good-sounding guitar.” In addition to these activities, Paul also does volunteer work for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

His commitment to service is both straightforward and profound:  “I think one of the things about being a human being in this world is trying to help other people,” he elaborates. “That’s one of the most important things we can do with our life. . . My intention is to try and make a difference with people.” His affinity for LAB and all of the people in our community is great.  “It’s nice to be able to come here and read the newspaper. Hopefully, there are folks listening and getting some benefit from it.” Considering that there are several hundred listeners in the immediate area and close to 24,000 statewide, it’s safe to say that Paul’s dedication is appreciated many times over.

The next morning you turn on your TIC radio, you might just hear one of these three fine volunteers, each of whom provides his or her own special take on the local news. We hope this glimpse at just some of our devoted volunteers will make them even more welcome in your home each week.

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