Do Unto Others..

For several years, I have been the beneficiary of an organization called the Community Empowerment Fund. These folks, located in Chapel Hill and Durham, are primarily interested in helping people to either avoid or recover from homelessness, but they tend to do anything that will improve the community at large. As noted several times, I had been exposed to them during my rough transition from grad school at UNC to having to head back home while awaiting my next job position. The advocate (student volunteer) was so giving of her time and very friendly that it left me feeling like I needed to find a way to pay this service forward someday.

Well as it happens, that day has apparently come. I am not sure of the entire background, but at some point another blind individual ended up interacting with this organization because he wished to acquire computer skills so that he could continue searching for employment. The advocates, in attempting to figure out how to address this situation, asked the organization’s director, and she happened to remember my name. Emails and calls were made, and finally I arranged to meet this individual the past weekend to determine if I could render at least basic computer skills.

First, I had to find the energy to power me through such an endeavor. I had on Friday sat in front of my machine to write up a project for graduate school whose results I am still uncertain of. It was challenging, and took nearly 3 hours to complete. It may have been useful though, as I generated a Strategic Communication Plan that could help me in increasing membership in the Norrie Disease Association based on a theory from the text. We shall see how much of that I can actually implement, though, but the learning is ongoing. In any event, I hope to have maintained a good enough grade in the course.

After all that, I did manage to peal myself out of bed by 11 AM on Saturday for our 1 PM appointment. Fortified with breakfast, I “Lyft”ed across town to the apartment, a cozy dig on the second floor of a building in a retirement community. We made a little small talk, and I got down to business.

As far as instruction goes, I found I actually enjoyed it. Our first “lesson” was on how to get into Gmail, make it more accessible by switching it back to the basic interface, delete messages, and download and locate attachments. Because he has only the demo version of the Jaws screen-reader currently, I even installed NVDA, a free program that does much of the same, at least basic, things that the far more expensive Jaws does. The only issue is the ESpeak voices, so I’m pondering a solution to that dilemma.

I found that I was relatively patient, and could usually come up with alternative explanations when my initial wording didn’t make sense to him. I would let him hear me walk through the steps once, then pass the PC over to him so that he could try them as I observed. It was a bit of a task, but he seemed to get it by the time I prepared for departure. He is quite intelligent, I think possessing a Ph.D., but still very much in the process of adjusting to blindness which he acquired a few years ago.

“Can I return in two weeks?” I asked.

A weighted pause told me that he really wants me to come back sooner than that, so I scheduled next Saturday at 1. I am working on designing a cheaper way of getting to his residence, but should be able to bus to Franklin Street and then get a ride hailing service from there for less than being transported all the way from here. Needless to say, it is an honor to have been seen as doing so well to be asked back so soon, and boosts both my confidence and feelings of competence. I am looking forward to seeing just how creative and instructional I can be here, in an area I enjoy and know quite a bit about. It could be the beginnings of a great new idea for me. Who knows?

The AftermatThEw

It was this time a short week ago that I and my state’s many other residents were hunkered down, wondering just how crazy things might get. The thing is, even though North Carolina is one of the most hurricane-prone areas to live in the world, it had actually been something like 17 years since we had a recognizably bad one rumble through. This, along with the fact that our newscasters had initially thought the storm would miss us entirely, led to something of a lack of preparation.

Well I was as prepared as one could expect, I guess. I had food till Monday and even some meals that could be consumed without power, which I’m fortunate never to have lost. Mainly as the rain poured and did saturate the porch area that runs the length of these apartments as is common during such incidents, I sat inside and finally completed my digital presentation. There wasn’t much else to do, after all.

The real damage line occurred starting east and south of me, from the capital of Raleigh southward. And as is common during hurricanes, things actually got a lot worse after the main body had long since passed on but while the waters made their way downstream, inundating communities from Lumberton to Greenville and points in between. Pretty much any riverside town in the eastern portion of the state has had and is still having a tough time. My heart goes out to all of those folks.

The amazing thing is in my neck of the woods, you could hardly tel anything had happened by the following Sunday. The sun was out strong, and every restaurant was filled to capacity with people fleeing cabin fever imposed from the day before.

That weather reminded me of another storm, one that did have a much greater impact on where I resided: hurricane Hugo which slammed into Charlotte in 1989. That time as this one, the newscasters had told us that the storm would miss us. That time, we’d lost power for nine days and were forced to find various ways to get food and even to pass the time, since schools had also closed for a while. Though our home was not significantly damaged, it still gave me a bit of a taste of what some are experiencing as they try to recover from this. We spent hours of backbreaking work removing tree limbs from the yard and helping neighbors do the same. We also had to retrieve our understandably skittish cat, which had soared across the front yard and onto someone else’s window who took him in. I don’t know why we hadn’t had the good sense to bring the poor guy inside.

The idea of suddenly losing everything though largely lies beyond my ability to imagine it. It certainly has me contemplating what kind(s) of evacuation strategies I could use if I really did have to, and I’m not sure I know those answers entirely.

The ironic thing is I had just completed a book called The Weekenders, by Mary Kay Andrews. In it, a family makes its yearly summer sojourn to a beach town (fictional I think) of Bell Isle off the coast of North Carolina. All kinds of drama ensues with the really dirty husband, rebellious teen-aged girl, a man who seeks to reunite with the “wife” and main character, and a number of other side plots. I enjoyed it because of its shouting out nearly every section of our state, with the main character having been an anchor at WRAL in Raleigh, and attending UNC. The most relevant part though was the town being rattled by a hurricane around Labor Day. Andrews shows how this experience would be different now in the smartphone era, with constant emergency alerts and immediate awareness of mandatory evacuation. Matthew was my first experience in this era, and I was indeed launched out of bed by one of those loud! very vibratory alerts. I think they are great though, and they do keep me informed.

I think that should be the last storm for us all year, and definitely hope so for the sake of those who will be mopping up for a good while. Have you ever lived through a hurricane? What do you remember about it?