John and Cindy Kaczmarowski
“People seem amazed we give of our time without pay. We’re surprised more people don’t do it.”
We thought that as we get older we should give back to the community.
Describe the organization where you volunteer and the work they do.
Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement (ABLE), has been in existence since the early 1960’s when a resource room for the blind at Holy Assumption School in West Allis was in need of Braille books for their blind students. Sister Mel Marie Stoll was the teacher for the blind, and she asked for volunteers to start an organization to provide Braille books for her children. ABLE was housed at the downtown Milwaukee Public Library and has been there ever since. The mission of ABLE is to provide alternative ways for people with print disabilities to read. The goal is to make sure people who are blind or visually impaired or print disabled get what they need to participate fully in school, at work and in their community. The books and materials brailled or recorded at ABLE are wide ranging—from an insurance plan for an individual to books for The Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library.
As a volunteer, what kind of help do you provide?
We transcribe print words and pictures into the six dots of Braille and into 3D representations of the pictures so the visually impaired can ‘read’ the words and ‘see’ the pictures that sighted people have access to.
Cindy started with ABLE in 2001 after answering an ad in our community newspaper and John started a few years later after attending a workshop on how to do tactiles.
What surprised you the most about volunteering?
What surprises us is that when we tell people what we do as volunteers they seem amazed that we would give of our time without pay. We’re surprised that more people don’t do something for others just for sake of doing it without expecting any kind of payback.
When you think about your paid jobs, how is a volunteering different or the same?
What’s different is you can always turn down an assignment if you’re too busy with other things, and, as a volunteer, your efforts are always appreciated.
What new things have you learned through this volunteer opportunity?
People are amazing. It’s fascinating what people want to read and learn, and it’s opened our eyes to new literary genres and how much school kids need to know. We don’t remember learning the things they are learning as young as they are learning them, especially math!
Has it changed your view of this community in any way?
We always knew that Milwaukeeans were nice and friendly. This just confirms it.
Has volunteering helped you, has it had benefits for you?
Volunteering makes you feel good. No matter what is going on in life, when you start a project for someone else, you forget about yourself and concentrate on the needs of others. It’s a good feeling.
What are you proudest of accomplishing in your work as a volunteer?
It is a wonderful accomplishment knowing that someone will be able to read a special book, cook a meal from a new cookbook, learn how to use their new appliance, ‘see’ the size of dinosaurs, feel a caterpillar, read a graph or chart or ‘see’ the floor plan of their new school.
Would you recommend volunteering to others? If so, what would you tell them is the benefit?
Everyone has some kind of need and everyone has some kind of skill that, if shared, can make life easier for everyone.
How would you suggest someone begin if they want to volunteer?
Think about your life and your available time and what you have a passion for. Find an organization that’s doing whatever it is you would like to do. There are many opportunities; you just have to be willing to open yourself up to making a difference in your community and ultimately, the world.
To learn more about Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement, go to www.ablenow.org. To find additional volunteer opportunities in our community, go to www.volunteermilwaukee.org, a Service of the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee.