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April 2015 Adult Schedule

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Date: Thursday, April 2

Time: 10:00am – 12:00pm

Recommended Road Runner Pickup 12:15

 Event: Easter Party

Location: LAB Office

Cost: FREE

 Description: If there’s going to be a holiday, you know we have to have a party! This month, it’s Easter! Feel free to bring a dish to share. Just let me know what you’re bringing so we can plan accordingly!


 Date: Tuesday, April 7

Time: 10am-12pm

Event: Welcome Day/Monthly Birthday Celebration

 Recommended Road Runner Pickup 12:15

Location: LAB Office

Cost: Free

Description: Come join us at LAB along with members from Massachusetts Commission for the Blind to hear about all our programs that can help you. Have you recently lost your vision? Looking to meet others dealing with vision loss? This is the day to come to LAB. We will also celebrate April birthdays.


Date: Thursday, April 9

Time: 9:45am-2pm

Recommended Road Runner Pickup 2:30

Event: Breakfast Club

Location: Parker’s Maple Farm, Mason, NH

Cost: You are responsible for the cost of your own purchases.

Description: It’s time again for our annual pilgrimage to Parker’s for a delicious breakfast! Again this year, they’re going to give us a tour of the sugar shack before breakfast. This trip ALWAYS fills up, so be sure to RSVP early!

Date: Tuesday, April 14

Time: 11am-1pm

Recommended Road Runner Pickup 12:15

Event: Red Sox Opener Party

Location: LAB office

Cost: Free

Description: Join us in celebrating the opening of baseball season for us Red Sox fans. Wear your gear and come and enjoy some Fenway franks and other goodies.


Date: Thursday, April 16

Time: 10am-12pm

Recommended Road Runner Pickup 12:15

Event: Breakfast Club

Location: LAB Office

Cost: $2

Description: Join us for breakfast sandwiches.


Date: Tuesday, April 21

Time: 10am-12pm

Recommended Road Runner Pickup 12:30

Event: Bowling

Location: Lowell, MA

Cost: $2

Description: Come join us for bowling at Brunswick Lanes in Lowell, MA!


Date: Thursday, April 23

Time: 10am-12pm

Recommended Road Runner Pickup 12:30

Event: Breakfast Club

Location: Vic’s in Lowell

Cost: You are responsible for the cost of your own food.

Description: Join us for a delicious breakfast at Vic’s in Lowell. There should be no snow to prevent us from going!


Date: Tuesday, April 28

Time: 10am-1pm

Recommended Road Runner Pick up 1:30

Event: Trader Joe’s

Location: Nashua, NH

Cost: You are responsible for the cost of your own purchases.

Description: Join us. It’s been awhile. They must miss us!


Date: Thursday, April 30

Time: 10am-12pm

Recommended Road Runner Pickup 12:15 

Event: Breakfast Club

Location: LAB office

Cost: $2

Description: Join us for a LAB’s outstanding waffles.


Meet Rob Kanzer: Star Coach on LAB’s Team

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By Suzanne Wilson

On January 15, our radio station aired an interview between our own Maria Martin and Rob Kanzer. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because you can hear Rob every Tuesday on the Talking Information Center. As with all of our amazing readers, Rob brings to us a life rich with experience and overflowing with wisdom.


Now 58 years old, Rob grew up in Weston, MA. He describes his childhood years as a mixture of the idyllic and the difficult: “Healthy, happy, carefree, with two professional, intelligent, loving parents. A neighborhood where there were a gang of kids, where we could play sports and run free.” At the same time, his mother had acute schizophrenia, a mental illness that often prevented her from being available to her children when they needed her. Because of her fragility, Rob learned early on to be a strong communicator and an intermediary between his younger brothers and their father. The fact that his dad was a workaholic ultimately made Rob into what he describes as virtually a surrogate parent, inculcating him with skills that he would later use in his personal and professional life.

Attending the excellent public schools in Weston furnished him with additional tools. The emphasis was on creativity, freedom of expression, excellence in sports and liberal arts. Upon graduating from high school, Rob attended the University of Hartford, majoring in human communication dynamics. “I had a chance to have my own radio program where I interviewed people, and I liked that,” Rob elaborated. “I was also the chairperson of the Video Committee, which meant I could go around campus interviewing people on video, again in this kind of personal style. Also, there was a television program where I got to host, interview, talk and listen. So that really, as an undergraduate, shaped me in very fine ways.” Following this enriching experience, Rob obtained a certification in mediation and dispute resolution from the University of Massachusetts.

While these diplomas and credentials were invaluable, they only represented the formal portion of Rob’s education. Equally crucial to his growth as a man and a professional was what he learned outside the classroom—in particular, in 1981 in a bookstore in Cambridge. Captivated by a flyer posted on a telephone pole advertising a seminar in nonviolent communication, Rob went to the weekend workshop. In truth, he found the class to be uncomfortable and difficult in many ways. He ended up thinking “I don’t know if I have the patience to deal with people who are treating me in a way that I think is disrespectful.” A mere few weeks later, however, he found himself using some of the very techniques he had learned at the seminar. Much to his surprise, these strategies helped to resolve a difficult conflict he was having with a housemate. Indeed, they made such a pivotal difference that he began sharing the skills he had learned in that bookstore. In fact, he launched a business as a result.

Some of his first clients were Vietnam veterans at an outreach center in Cambridge. He taught them the basics of compassionate communication, skills that could help them overcome the obstacles that challenged them after returning from their devastating experiences in Southeast Asia. Slowly but surely, Rob’s seminar business began to flower.

Then, life threw an unexpected surprise his way. Rob learned that he would soon be a father, with all of the financial realities that parenthood entails. After taking a cold, hard look at his situation, Rob realized that he would need to find a job that brought in a steady paycheck. That was when he began delivering newspapers. For weeks, he was ashamed that he, a well-educated and privileged young man from the suburbs, had resorted to a job that didn’t require even a college degree. But then he realized that he was one of the only workers who showed up on time, every day. “I learned . . . amazing lessons when I delivered newspapers which helped me develop a newspaper distribution company in a very short time. With what I had learned, I built my company . . . I had 15 drivers working for me delivering 40 newspapers to five thousand locations in 150 towns in and around Boston, with four managers and a giant warehouse. And I became financially independent. Who knew that I would learn this lesson, turning my shame into appreciation?”

These days, most of Rob’s professional time is spent running his thriving seminar and life coaching business. Whether working with a Fortune 500 company’s corporate team or a family in distress, the foundational principles remain the same:  pay attention and listen; honor the individual or group by first getting to know them, with no assumptions. Then reflect back what they are saying to make sure you understand. Finally, model compassionate communication strategies so that students can incorporate them into their own toolkits.

Although it might sound complicated, Rob says that life and business coaching ultimately helps people answer just two questions:  How do you feel? And What do you want? In order to guide students on this road, Rob encourages people to get into the habit of asking for help. In addition, he assists them in recognizing their own internal success mechanisms. At his or her best, a coach is a neutral person who works with someone to help create the game or life strategy they want to play.

Now, over three decades after starting on his unique career path, Rob has nothing but good things to say about the experience of being a life and business coach:  “I feel absolutely inspired and in debt to all of the thousands of people that I have talked to and not only coached, but also learned from them on how to be more compassionate, how to put into language ways of solving problems that ultimately meet all of our human needs.”

When asked for a final thought he would like to impart to our listeners and readers, Rob’s ready reply rang with conviction:  “The way to stay pumped up is to notice how you feel in your body when you feel good. . . The wisdom that you have in your body and in your heart can be like your own coach. It’s with you 100 percent of the time. Some people call this spirit, some call it God, some people call it the body of wisdom. All I do is help you remember to stay in that place.” 

Listen to the interview here on YouTube: Click Here 

LAB Has Success with iOS & Be My Eyes

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Innovations in technology are attractive to most aspiring people. Whether it be hardware, software, appliances, or books on how to program code, there is a constant need of development. Luckily, we have numerous tech events throughout the U.S. each year such as the Worldwide Developers Conference, Interop, Electronic Entertainment Expo, and the recent 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas last month. This year, CES focused primarily on emerging technologies in many sectors including a continued interest in display technology and the mobile phone market. Events like these are geared towards video bloggers, reviewer, and gain a ton of media attention throughout the web. Don’t be mistaken, though. Tech development is on the rise at the global level. Organizations from around the world gain popularity thanks to social media, and a prime example of that is the newly released Danish application for iOS, “BeMyEyes.” When I heard about this from my coworker, Ally, I went straight to the App Store.

Released on the market on January 15th, this application is aimed to bridge the sighted community with those who are visually impaired. As a non-profit, the strategy is to crowdsource and have direct community involvement with those in need of assistance. Demand for applications like this has never been higher, and with almost 2 billion smartphone users in the world, the guys at BeMyEyes can rest assured that someone will want to help. That someone turned into thousands within hours of launch, and the momentum became so strong that the team was forced to upgrade their servers to keep up with demand. As of right now, the number of sighted participants stands at 88,438 with 6,688 blind registered, and 15,997 people helped. That. Is. Astounding!

Free to download at the moment, the user launches the App Store on an iPhone and downloads the app, “BeMyEyes.” Launch the app and select whether you are sighted or blind, and fill out basic information to get rolling, including language preferences. If you are blind, you can call for help anytime and be connected to a random sighted user through video conferencing. If you are sighted, close out of the app and await for your service. Simple, and easy!

So, I followed my own instructions last week. A few hours after registering, my phone starts to buzz, “Ali needs your assistance. Slide or tap to help.” Of course, I’m very excited now that I have been connected with somebody. It turns out that the gentleman was from Iraq. I was blown away that the servers were able to route through Iraq’s network and Denmark’s into my phone. We converse for a minute, he seemed a very pleasant man, and he asks me if I understand computers at all. Being the IT guy at LAB, I jumped up and down and feel a thrill run up my spine. Geek speak aside, I directed him for a half hour and was able to help his computer boot without a blue screen. The likelihood that he would have reached me was much less than 1%. It felt great. Assuming it would have taken him weeks to lend his computer to a technician and receive a working PC in return, I fell in love with the potential of this app.

And since then, I wait for users of “BeMyEyes” to contact me for help. Most of the time, the video connection is strong and that helps to transmit the image clearly. Innovations like this app prove that we do have an obligation to lending our eyes whenever we can. As citizens of a free nation, we can all spread the word and try to aid internationally if possible. Describe the photo of her daughter, help them pick out a can of soup, tell them which tie looks better with their suit. It will make your day and certainly make theirs. I guarantee it.

-Sal Kapadia 


Volunteers: the Heart of LAB

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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.

Listen here:

UML Grads and Alum Take Over LAB

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Local communities embrace the existence of nonprofits for their continued, missionary-style development strategies.  We often overlook those who are responsible for maintaining the ecosystem and who drive the approach.  Building a reputation for the past 91 years in greater Lowell is none other than yours truly.  Organizations such as the Lowell Association for the Blind (LAB) involved in supportive roles stick out in the growing nonprofit sector of Massachusetts, and compared with the array of obliging organizations in the New England community, LAB’s team excels at preserving its mission and continues to serve a diverse, growing, and urban community.  The downtown location invites dynamic individuals seeking to stay involved and engage in a team responsibility.  

Defining LAB is to say define the core values of UMass Lowell. LAB is compiled of a team originating from the Commonwealth and delivers the value of assurance.  Several of the staff members in the portfolio are alumni or active students of the University and agreed to questionnaires regarding the collaborations with the campus.  Here is a collection of some of their responses.

We asked each of them about their undergraduate/post-graduate backgrounds:

Elizabeth Cannon: Bachelor of Science, Administration of Law and Justice

Shelagh Doherty: Bachelor of Science, Business Administration

Ally Bull: Bachelor of Arts, Psychology

Sal Kapadia: Bachelor of Science, Business Administration, Concentration: Accounting (May 2015)

Ben Webb: Bachelor of Science, Business Administration (May 2017)

Other members in the office include: Dorothy Donovan (braille instructor) who has been with the organization for decades; Maria who is involved with the VOICE program; Christie and Tiana, who help Ally with the Youth Program, are also attendees of UMass Lowell.

Let us hear about the roles at LAB!

Elizabeth: I am the Executive Director of the Lowell Association for the Blind.  I oversee all of the day-to-day operations of the organization.

Ally: I am currently the new Youth Program Coordinator at LAB.  I work with three youth groups: the youth, senior youth, and VIP programs.  The age of the kids ranges from seven to twenty.  I plan and coordinate the four programs each month (two for youth, one for senior youth, and one for VIP).  We have a great time!

Sal: I started out as an intern through the University in the Co-Op Scholarship Program in May 2012.  Coming here was one of the best decisions of my life, and I loved being here in the summer so much that I stayed on part-time during the school year to help with the Adult and Youth programs.  As time progressed and we earned grants for technology, the office needed some assistance with picking out merchandise and setting up access, and I had previously worked with computer maintenance and thus slid into the role of IT coordinator.  Currently, I am the IT Coordinator. Primarily, I am responsible for maintaining the website, keeping in touch with the community through social media campaigns, coordinating with staff about upcoming events, and creating and promoting the LAB Newsletter.  If you haven’t already done so, please like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, look out for some new video projects on YouTube in the coming year, and subscribe to our newsletter mailing list on Constant Contact!

Ben: I am a social media intern at LAB and I’ve been here for a semester now.  My job requires me to do a lot with the Twitter and Facebook pages and occasionally anything else around the office.  Occasionally I am required to work with my coworkers, which is never a problem because of classes at UML that encourage group work.  I would say I fit in well with LAB because everyone here has welcomed me in with open arms and helped me with anything I need. I am still learning new things every week, like proper blind etiquette and also software functionality with Constant Contact and Photoshop.

Shelagh has the pleasure of being the first person to greet the clients as she sits at the front of the office answering phone calls, keeping track of meetings, organizing Adult programs with Elizabeth, and maintaining the donor management system.

Everyone in the organization interacts daily with the clients.   Regardless of title, LAB clutches onto a promise of equality: crafting, serving, cleaning, you name it!  Everybody pitches in to keep the place running to the best of its capacity.

What were some of your favorite classes taken at UML?

Elizabeth: I enjoyed all the classes for the Criminal Justice major, but also enjoyed the Psychology classes that I took for a minor in Psychology.

Shelagh: My favorite courses were in Marketing. The creativity required in those classes really allowed me to express myself.

Ally: I definitely enjoyed my Psychology Practicum with Dr. Gloria Seeman.  This is the class that originally got me involved with Lowell Association for the Blind and really influenced my future.  Getting involved in the community was an incredible experience.  Another favorite of mine was the Social Theory (I and II) with Dr. Daniel Egan.  This class especially had a heavy influence on how I view society and the world around me…I was also involved with the radio station at WUML. This club was very influential on my leadership skills. As an intern, I was given the opportunity to become a licensed DJ on air. Once achieving this, I continued to get involved with the station and eventually became the Office Manager. This position required me to be responsible and consistent. It is great that UML offers this program to students because there is a lot to learn from this group!

Sal: I would have to go with First Year Management Seminar as one of my favorite courses because of the content and because I met Dr. Finch, who then referred me to LAB.  Also, I finished Accounting Information Systems with Dr. Strickland this fall semester, which really helped me develop my role in Information Systems.  Being an accounting nerd, I have to say I’ve appreciated all of my accounting courses with Dr. Strickland, Dr. Suh, Dr. Tate, and Dr. Li.

Ben: Some of my favorite classes at UML have occurred during this semester.  My nutrition class was pretty interesting to me and I’m definitely glad I took it as an elective.  My Professional Communications class with Professor Lazer was kept interesting, even though it was a 3-hour class.  I learned many useful life skills and presentation skills.

UMass Lowell focuses on teaching a lot of core values that represent the nonprofit world. How has the University helped you develop into your role?

Ally: UMass Lowell did a great job at targeting specific skills I would need for my major. As a psych student, I was taught how to communicate and work with others, as well as get involved with the community. Both the practicum (mentioned earlier) and my Intro to Disabilities class encouraged me to get involved with the field. I was also involved with the radio station at WUML. This club was very influential on my leadership skills. As an intern, I was given the opportunity to become a licensed DJ on air. Once achieving this, I continued to get involved with the station and eventually became the Office Manager. This position required me to be responsible and consistent. It is great that UML offers this program to students because there is a lot to learn from this group!

Sal: The Manning School of Business at UML has offered classes that help me make wiser personal decisions. Interacting day-to-day with the clients reminds me of the focus on presentation skills in my core business classes. We learned in Professional Communications about the importance of word choice and clarity; that is exactly what speaking to our clients is all about. What sets LAB apart from the other organizations is how we create relationships with our clients. The University offers great, accessible faculty that encourage us to meet with them outside of class and approach them for our college and professional career. UMass Lowell is undoubtedly the reason I am the person I am today.

Some of the staff members have lived in Lowell. Here are their opinions about the city.

Elizabeth: I was born and raised in Lowell and I still live on the street that I grew up on.  Lowell is like a small town.  Everyone knows everybody! 

Shelagh was also brought up around the corner of Elizabeth and loves the many conveniences of Lowell, especially being able to come in and help at LAB! Shelagh was formerly President of the Board of Directors and has been involved with LAB since her teenage years!


Since the University is right down the street, we thought it would be appropriate to gather some comments about noticeable changes to the city as an effect of UML.

Elizabeth is a Lowell native. UML has grown dramatically over the last 8-10 years. It is great to have both UML and Middlesex Community College in Lowell. In recent years, I have seen an effort to have UML students get some real world experience in addition to their academic studies with internships, co-ops and service learning. I think this provides the student with great experience to draw on when going out into the work world. It also provides, in our case, some much-needed assistance. Students bring an energy and enthusiasm to local businesses and nonprofits.

As far as Shelagh goes, her father was a professor for 40 years starting with Lowell Technological Institute, so she has seen the progression for a great portion of her life. Seeing that LTI was part of her childhood, UML as it stands today is a phenomenal advantage to the landscape of the city!

All we hear are positive things about these UMass Lowell candidates. What if the University were to send some more help your way?

According to Elizabeth, LAB also has members of the Board of Directors who are faculty and graduates of the University or in Graduate Programs at the University.  She would definitely hire a UML grad! The UML students that LAB has worked with are committed and dedicated.  They are willing to help with a variety of tasks whether they are here 1 hour a week or 10 hours a week.  They come in ready and willing to work. UML students and alumnae help in all areas of the organization. Elizabeth says she would not hesitate to hire UML graduates for future positions at LAB. 

New hires, especially college graduates, often make employers nervous because classroom learning does not typically focus on real-world experience. However, we've gathered that nonprofits like to reach out to as many young community members as possible. How do you think having staff from UML helps make the team at LAB more dynamic?

Elizabeth: It is interesting that so many of the LAB staff is UML graduates without even trying!  Several staff come to LAB as interns or volunteers and have joined the staff.  They have found their passion for helping the blind/visually impaired.  Their willingness to come in and volunteer time gets them familiar with the programs and services of the organization and get the LAB staff familiar with them it only natural that when a position opens up that they would be a natural fit.

At the end of the day, our neighbors all agree how Lowell Association for the Blind is a valuable asset to the Merrimack Valley. To volunteers, clients, and staff members, this place is a hub where they can create meaningful relationships and memories that will last a lifetime. UMass Lowell’s curriculum helps the association recruit motivated individuals who can keep the mission alive. Thank you, UMass Lowell.


Steven Roberts: Our Weather Guru and Prognosticator Extraordinaire

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By Suzanne Wilson


You’ve heard it a thousand times:  if you don’t like the weather here in New England, just wait five minutes and it will change. While that is definitely true, there are experts out there who can predict, with a great deal of accuracy based on scientific knowledge, whether it will rain or snow, be sunny or cloudy. Some of these pundits work for the government; others grace the local evening news. But there is one whom we can proudly claim as part of the LAB family. His name is Steven P. Roberts, published author and meteorological maven. Back in May, Steven had a chat with LAB’s Jim Barrett, during which they talked about Steven, his love of all things meteorological and his recent literary accomplishment. 

Steven did not become a weather buff overnight; in fact, it has been a huge part of his life even as far back as when he studied at the Perkins School for the Blind. “I’ve been interested in the weather since I could walk and talk and look out the window,” Steven explained. When TIC radio came to Lowell in the 1990s, he was encouraged to share what he knew with their many listeners. He recalls that the first storm he ever covered on the show that he entitled “Weather Wisdom Weekly” was the memorable Hurricane Bertha.

Obviously, the show struck a chord with many people, because it wasn’t long before Steven was inundated with requests to write a weather book. Although he was reluctant to take on the daunting task at first, he somewhat jokingly told our own Dorothy Donovan that if she could come up with the title, he would write the book. You guessed it:  about a week later, she called him with the perfect one, The Whys and Whats of Weather. “I got bagged,” Steven said, laughing. And although it has been a while in the making, with a concentrated effort over two academic years, this 400-plus page compendium of weather wisdom is certainly worth the wait.

Read more: Steven Roberts: Our Weather Guru and Prognosticator Extraordinaire


On Prizes and Partnerships: What’s New at LAB

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By Suzanne Wilson

Vacuums are great when you’re conducting chemistry experiments or perhaps cleaning your rug. But everyone knows that people, and especially agencies, cannot operate in them and remain successful. In fact, one of LAB’s most compelling strengths is our willingness to collaborate with a wide variety of individuals, agencies and educational institutions in Greater Lowell. In March, we received recognition of this quality by being awarded the first annual 2014 Service Learning Community Partner Award from UMass Lowell. Our executive director, Elizabeth Cannon, sat down with Jim Barrett to discuss this accomplishment on a recent Talking Information Center broadcast.

During their conversation, Elizabeth talked about LAB’s outward-looking mindset.  Our partnerships in Lowell stretch back for many years. One way to network with the community happens at a UMass Lowell breakfast, where decision-makers from local nonprofits have an opportunity to meet with faculty members who have students looking to get internship experiences in the area. The breakfast’s “speed dating” format gives everyone a chance to have brief conversations with many people. Then there is a larger block of time allocated for more in-depth conversations. It is at events such as this that the university’s instructors have gotten a chance to learn about the variety of exciting internship and volunteer opportunities available at our agency. As a direct result, several very productive relationships have evolved between our staff and promising young people in the community. In honor of that, Elizabeth proudly accepted the first annual 2014 Service Learning Community Partner Award.

“It was so amazing to get the award when there are so many wonderful nonprofits that work in the Greater Lowell area and to be recognized for our work with the students,” she enthused. “We get a lot of support from the students and it’s nice to be recognized, that the students realize that they had a good experience here.”

Read more: On Prizes and Partnerships: What’s New at LAB


Focus on Multiple Sclerosis

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By Suzanne Wilson

When Maria Martin was diagnosed with relapse-remission multiple sclerosis, the news was actually a relief. At last, after a long period of not knowing, she finally had a name to attach and a reason for the visual changes she had been experiencing. In order to share with others some of the important information she has learned throughout her MS journey, she conducted an interview recently for the Talking Information Center with Dr. Arthur Safran, a neurologist specializing in MS and a member of the MS Society of Greater New England who sits on its Clinical Advisory Committee. Also joining them was David Young-Hong, The MS Society of Greater New England’s Associate Vice President of Clinical Programs and Direct Services. It proved to be 30 minutes chockfull of information—with a liberal dash of inspiration as well.

First, it’s important to understand the definition of MS. It is a chronic, usually progressive disorder affecting the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord, not the peripheral nerves in the arms and legs). Although the cause is unknown, there is an immune system component.

There are several types of MS:

• Relapsing-remitting.  This is characterized by an attack and then some level of recovery.

• Progressive. This form gradually worsens over time.

• Relapsing-progressive.  This is a progressive illness interrupted by bouts of attacks from which patients make partial or complete recoveries.

• Secondary progressive.  Characterized by a series of attacks and remissions which eventually evolves into the progressive form.

• Neuromyelitis optica:  found mostly in Asia, this form of the disease does not affect the brain and is focused in the spinal cord and optic nerves.

Although it’s important to be aware of these different types, Dr. Safran stated that this should not be our primary concern:  “The most important thing isn’t the kind of MS that you have, but rather what it has done to you and what limits it may produce. Those are measured by a Kurtzke Scale, named after the person who described it. . . . As an average, it takes about 25 to 30 years to develop what’s called a Kurtzke Scale Six, that is to say the point where someone might have to use a cane to get around.”

Read more: Focus on Multiple Sclerosis


Bernie Petruziello: an Artist in the Moment

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Written Suzanne Wilson

As children, one of the first things we learned about the classical music composer Ludwig van Beethoven was that he lost his hearing as an adult. What a hardship, what a burden, we thought. And while that is certainly true on one level, it may never have occurred to us that Beethoven’s deafness added an additional complexity and uniqueness to his later works.

Renowned Lowell artist Bernie Petruziello is a living example of how what might seem on the surface to be a career-ending loss can be transformed, over time and with patience, commitment and love, into an immeasurable gain. Our own Jim Barrett sat down with Bernie recently to discuss his fascinating life and the part that his art has played in it.

Bernie was born in January, 1936 in the predominantly Italian North End neighborhood of Boston. “It was a wonderful place to grow up in. It was very boisterous, noisy, everybody was a Caruso. It was a wonderful time. I really enjoyed it,” Bernie recounted with obvious pleasure. Part of a close-knit family and community, he had four siblings. As a boy, he strolled the winding streets and alleyways of the North End, noticing the fishing boats, butcher shops, the markets and the harbor. Although he might not have realized it then, these strolls were his first lessons in noticing and capturing in his mind the various scenes around him. Later in his life, it was these very skills that would gel to form the foundation of his art.

Even as a tiny boy of four or five, the urge to draw was a strong presence in Bernie’s life. Perhaps it was inherited from his famous artist Uncle Victor, known to many as the Michelangelo of the North End. Victor’s work graces the Hall of Flags in the State House and can be seen elsewhere in Boston as well. And yet, in spite of his fame, he took the time to become little Bernie’s mentor. They spent countless hours roaming the streets and galleries of Boston, discussing the visual details of the streets and architecture. They also went to the Boston Museum of Art and spent countless hours looking at the various paintings. “He would dissect them for me, tell me how to look at a painting, what to see in it, how the painter painted from left to right or right to left, how the strokes made the painting even more visual,” Bernie explained. “I learned an awful lot from Victor.” He began to focus on drawing the people and places with which he was most familiar, focusing on the North End in many of his drawings.

Other than receiving invaluable advice from his uncle, Bernie remained largely self-taught as an artist until high school. On a particular day, his class was asked to draw what they saw in a photograph of their choosing. Instead of following this instruction, Bernie drew a scene from out of his vivid imagination. When the teacher asked to see the photograph and he explained that he had none, she knew she had stumbled upon true talent. For the next two years, she mentored Bernie and helped him compile a portfolio to be used in applying to art school. Thanks to her support and to his hard work, he was accepted and studied at the Museum School in Boston where his uncle had gone years before.bernie

His time at art school provided him with the opportunity to refine his skills. He also spent untold hours gazing at the many paintings housed in the museum, studying their technical details and integrating the knowledge into his unique style. While a student, he focused on graphic arts. Specifically, he did etchings on stone via lithography. The process consists of drawing the image backwards on stone, etching the stone with acid, placing a damp piece of paper on the acid-treated stone and running it through a press. In the end, the picture is right side-up.

Lithograph is only one of a wide variety of mediums in which Bernie has worked. He has used oil, water colors, acrylics, pastels, charcoal, and pencil mediums.  Now that he is totally blind, he prefers working in acrylics, since they are easier to mix and they dry quickly.

Read more: Bernie Petruziello: an Artist in the Moment


Meet Suzanne Wilson

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Written by Suzanne Wilson

Each month, we use the pages of this publication to share information that is of interest to our supporters, volunteers and staff, as well as to the blind and visually impaired community as a whole. It might be an interview; it could be a description of a special event that was held at LAB. This month, we decided to take a slight departure from the norm and begin a two-part series that gives you a behind-the-scenes introduction to two of the people who work to make this newsletter possible. This month, we spotlight Suzanne Wilson, our feature writer and editor. Suzanne was interviewed by Joe LeBlanc as part of the VOICE program curriculum.

Suzanne is a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, a mid-sized community in the southwestern lower part of the state. When she was born in May of 1964, she was three and a half months premature, weighing only two pounds and one ounce. In order to keep her alive and protect her fragile lungs, doctors placed her in an oxygen-rich, heated bed called an isolet, where she stayed for nearly three months until she was deemed strong enough to be discharged. As it turned out, the very oxygen that had saved her life caused permanent damage to her eyes. Consequently, Suzanne could only see light and shadows as a child and had no light perception by the time she was in her late teens.

She was part of a very small family. Although her sister was less than a year younger than she was, people often assumed that Suzanne was the younger of the two. As is typical of most siblings, they “fought like cats and dogs” but also supported each other in numerous ways. Nevertheless, her sister often grumbled that Suzanne’s disability was causing her to get all the attention.


Although Suzanne did not attend a school for the blind, she definitely benefited from specialized training, particularly in the early grades. She spent most of kindergarten and first grade in a “resource room” where she learned Braille and spent time developing the use of her other senses. With each succeeding year, she spent less time in this environment so that by the time she left the public school to attend a parochial one in fifth grade, she needed minimal help from a vision teacher. Although she did well with the academic aspects, her interactions with her peers were not as positive as she would have liked. Especially during middle school, she experienced numerous bullying incidents. “It was hard,” she explains, “because I didn’t feel like I had any allies with the adults, which is why I’m so happy now that there is all this attention being paid to bullying and stopping it and having kids alert authorities if things are going on.”In general, however, she enjoyed academics and was a good student. Her memories of her teachers are positive. One, in particular, came to mind: Suzanne had signed up for a world history class and was perplexed when, on the first day, the teacher told her to go to the principal’s office. When he arrived there after the class had ended, he explained in the kindest possible way that he did not believe the class was right for her and asked that she drop out. Suzanne refused, asking the teacher to give her a chance to prove that she could cope with all of the class expectations. He reluctantly agreed. At the end of the year, he apologized for his previous actions and told her what a pleasure it was to have her in his class.

Read more: Meet Suzanne Wilson


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