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Volunteers make world less dark

They call themselves recording stars, but not in the traditional sense; neither fame nor fortune is their aim.

Once inside the soundproof studios of the Nina Harris Exceptional Center, members of the Visual Aid Volunteers of Florida have more at stake than well-tuned guitars.

Each week, several volunteers become recording transcribers for the blind, taping literary, mathematics and science textbooks. The tapes are distributed through the Florida Instructional and Materials Center for the Visually Handicapped to school districts statewide.

The center, which opened in 1972, primarily serves as a resource warehouse to provide Braille, large print and recorded textbooks to visually handicapped students attending Florida public and private schools. John Cardinale, the center's coordinator of volunteer services, says volunteers save the state center about $105,000 a year.

"The volunteers are very valuable," he says. "The instructional materials they produce can be saved in our depository and used by students in any part of the state or country."

For Mildred Atkinson, Jean Schneider and Veronica Anderson, the rewards of volunteering to help the disabled are worth the effort.

Schneider, a six-year volunteer, says it was her mother's gradual loss of vision that made her realize how acute the needs of the blind are.

"I started thinking about a child's needs," she said. "I started to realize the frustration a child would have if he couldn't see the pictures in books or understand the illustrations."

After years of playing golf and cards, Atkinson had begun to search for a more stimulating activity during her retirement. "I had been looking for something fulfilling to do, and since I worked with the schools previously, I thought this would be a good place for me to help out and make a contribution," she says.

"Young people are being cheated," Anderson says. "What little we can do to help really makes us feel good."

Schneider and Atkinson often work in teams while recording; one reads while the other monitors. They admit that the work is intellectually stimulating, although one textbook might take weeks, or even months, to complete.

The road to volunteering is not simple, all agree. First, there's a voice audition and a vocabulary test. Then applicants are judged before a panel that includes several blind members. "They are judging the tonal quality of your voice," Atkinson says, "and they want to make sure you read accurately and clearly."

But once approved, the experience can be very rewarding. "Whenever I shut my eyes sometimes and imagine that they see darkness all the time, it makes me have such a wonderful sense of well-being," Schneider says. "You're benefiting almost as much as someone else."

Call 596-5615 to make an appointment for a voice audition. Auditions will be held this month and training classes will start in November.