Some volunteers at the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind never see the people they help.
But through their volunteer efforts, the Peer Counselors at the Lighthouse are changing the lives of hundreds of visually impaired people.
The mission of the Lighthouse is to help visually impaired persons of all ages develop socially and economically independent lives. The nonprofit agency offers employment, independent living training and vocational rehabilitation.
The Peer Counselor program was established in 1985 as a three-month pilot project to provide support for people who recently experienced a vision loss.
The program is unique because it does not use volunteers who can see. Instead, it gives visually impaired volunteers the opportunity to help others in the same situation.
For nine years, the program has provided support, encouragement and training for visually impaired persons in the Dallas area. Peer counselors offer both individual counseling and support group assistance for Lighthouse clients.
The peer counselors, many of whom are senior citizens, serve as role models as they help newly blind individuals cope with their loss of vision. In addition to the changes in daily living, such clients must undergo emotional adjustments. Peer counselors provide support that raises clients’ self-esteem.
“Just knowing that the volunteers have experienced the same problems and concerns is enough to encourage most new clients to participate in group discussion and activities,” says Glenda Nchakwube, volunteer coordinator at Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind.
In 1994, 13 trained volunteers helped 99 clients through individual counseling and 94 clients through group sessions. In addition to working with clients, the peer counselors meet twice a month with a caseworker to receive additional training.
To reach those in the community who might not know about the services provided by the Lighthouse, the volunteers created a speakers bureau in 1993. Peer counselors make presentations to organizations about their experiences with blindness and services available to the visually impaired.
“Having made a successful adjustment to vision loss, these unique and caring individuals have decided to give something back to the community through volunteer service,” Nchekwube says.
The Lighthouse helps more than 900 visually impaired individuals each year and offers a variety of volunteer opportunities. Volunteers are needed to teach aerobics and line dance classes, assist with management of a computer network, prepare newsletters for mailing and create public service announcements.
For information about these and other volunteer opportunities, call the Volunteer Center at 826-6767.