MERCURY SERIES: MAKING A DIFFERENCE
When Dianne Arnold of Woonona started volunteering in Vision Australia’s Wollongong office in 2009, she had no idea of the experiences that lay ahead.
With a background in office administration, Mrs Arnold felt sure that was where she could be of most use.
However, she was soon challenged to leave her comfort zone and assist a group of vision-impaired teenagers on a trip to the Powerhouse Museum.
"I was absolutely terrified thinking how I was going to go,’’ she said. ‘‘We do sighted guide training here but I had never been actually out and done it.’’
Mrs Arnold said the first thing she learned was how much sighted people took for granted.
‘‘When we stopped near the entertainment centre in Sydney and the monorail was roaring overhead, the children were saying ‘what’s that noise’ or ‘did you feel the ground move’ or ‘why are we stopping now’,’’ she said.
Mrs Arnold quickly realised the importance of telling them all the little things she could see because that added to their experience.
‘‘It also made me see the world in a whole new light.’’
After the trip, Vision Australia staff assured her she had done well, giving her the confidence to consider more opportunities.
‘‘They now come to me and say ‘we have got an excursion, are you interested?’ That is because they know I am always interested.’’
Among her fondest memories is a visit to a Kangaloon farm with vision-impaired children aged between two and 12.
‘‘They had a big tractor and the children were able to go and feel it and sit on it if they wanted,” she said. “They also brought in some poddy calves and goats for them to touch.’’
A market gardener brought lavender, herbs and plants in pots for the children to smell and feel.
Mrs Arnold said her role was to explain everything the children were experiencing.
‘‘I just loved seeing their faces light up as they were touching the little calves, the lambs and the goats.’’
She said one of the greatest rewards was in the smiles on the children’s faces whenever they heard her voice, as they recalled memories made together.
‘‘There is one particular family that I have had three trips with now over the years,’’ she said.
‘‘A little girl in that family who has a vision problem came up and thanked me after the Mittagong trip and I nearly came unstuck. I had to take a deep breath. You get such a bond with the little ones.’’
Mrs Arnold said there were many opportunities to help, even when she was working in the Vision Australia office, whether it was taking care of a child or making a nervous family feel more comfortable when they came in for an appointment.
“God has me here for a reason,’’ she said. ‘‘You never know what you might be able to do to help.”
Mrs Arnold is one of 50 volunteers who help the blindness and low-vision service provider in Wollongong provide free services to people who are blind or have low vision.
She said the volunteers and staff created a warm friendly environment.
‘‘I just get up and come here every day because I love it,’’ she said. ‘‘It is rewarding being here just answering the phones.’’