John E Franklin explains how he came to be a KAB volunteer and the difference volunteering can make to people's lives
In 2001, I had just retired and was looking to add to my community activities when I noticed in our local paper an appeal by KAB for volunteer drivers.
I had always enjoyed driving and decided to apply. Following a training course at Maidstone (shall I ever forget making that raspberry jam sandwich whilst blindfolded?) I was accepted and so began a 'career' that continues to this day. As a volunteer you can do as little or as much as you are able.
Over the years I have covered lots of different roles: driving our clients to medical and other appointments; delivering, setting up and instructing on the use of CD players and others aids; attending open events and providing support at concerts and the like; befriending blind and vulnerable blind persons; participating in collections at supermarkets and other locations; taking part in monthly rambles for visually impaired people, and being involved at our local KAB committee meetings in bringing forward volunteers' thoughts on how our services may be improved.
As volunteers we are often asked, "Why do you do this - you're not paid?". The best way I can think of answering this is with a short story.
One day I was accompanying a woman on that month's ramble, and as we set off she asked if I would describe everything I saw during the walk. As we went along I did so and I also took her to feel or smell flowers and trees as we passed them by. After almost three hours we returned to the car park for the journey home. The woman turned and thanked me and asked if I knew what she was going to do next. "No", I said "but I am sure you're going to tell me."
She said she would be going home, making herself a cup of tea and doing the walk again from my description. I shall never forget that day and certainly never walk with a sight impaired person without giving a description of what I, and we, see but so easily take for granted.
As a KAB volunteer you can organise miracles. I had installed a TV screen magnifier for an elderly lady whereupon she exclaimed, "A Miracle!" When asked how, she said she could not only see but could now hear the programme. Much of what we 'hear' is through sight and with KAB you are always learning about blindness and life.
Over the past nine years I have been fortunate to make many friends across the visually impaired community of Kent and can assure anyone thinking of following in my footsteps that you will get out as much, or more, than you put in to this rewarding and life changing experience.
John E Franklin; KAB Gravesend volunteer