Patty L. Fletcher
July 7 2016
THE SEEING EYE® and SEEING EYE® are registered trademarks of The Seeing Eye, Inc.
CONTACT–CONCERN of Northeast Tennessee, Inc.
is a phone help line I&R (Information and Referral) Center
When I got the below email this morning, I was flooded with memories. I have to admit that other than continuously working toward getting back into service I hadn’t really given much thought to the service I’d already done. I’d done no more than what was necessary concerning providing information, so when this came to me I realized I hadn’t ever really written much about that time in my life.
This was before Campbell. What I’ve labeled, ‘B/C’
You see in 2006 I began volunteering for a nonprofit organization known as, CONTACTCONCERN of Northeast TN INC
I was a phone shift operator and it suited me fine. I loved the work, and in fact over that first year or so I did quite allot of it. Sometimes, I would do as many as 25 shifts a month. I had nothing better to do, not on any level as what the volunteer work allowed me to do, I loved the education it was giving me, and at the end of my first year there I began to seriously desire employment there.
I voiced that out loud one day, and was dismayed at the lack of interest shown concerning my suggestion that I might like to one day ‘work’ there.
As time went along I came to learn of there being a position open in our office. This came about quite by accident, and what came about as a result of it is something I have never written of much until now.
I share it, because it will lead straight into my time in service.
### FYI and Lessons Learned
I was working a shift from home one evening, and so far it had been quiet. I’d caught up on all Reassurance Calls, made the Reminder calls to the volunteers on duty the next day, and was looking over what were considered the ‘Most Used Referrals’ in the bunch. I’d decided it was time to get them filed on index cards and into a card holder. Sense I still did not have a computer, and was doing everything via Braille, I had to stay on top of the paper work. “At least I actually have a Brailler now” I thought as I readied myself to get to work. At first I’d been taking notes with a slate and stylus and then transcribing everything to cassette. Now I was able to keep everything written out correctly and go into the office a couple of months to meet with their VISTA Worker so I could dictate everything to her and she could put the information onto a case report. Sometimes I felt bad for having to have this much help doing the necessary paper work, but when I voiced concerns Tonya always said, “Look, it takes allot less time from my day to help you with paper work than it does for me to have to work all these shifts.” She’d smiled when she’d said it. I didn’t need to see to know it. I could hear it in her voice. She added, “You give me time off on the week-ends, and Lynn too. Do you know how long I’ve had two Sundays in a row off? Completely off, so that I did not have to check a voice mail, make a call or worry about something? I appreciate you.” I remember feeling sad that day because I knew she would soon be going to be with her husband in South Carolina, and we’d all have to help a bit more when she was gone.
Just as I was organizing my table to get to work, the phone had rang. “2-1-1 Contact Concern, how may I help you?” I answered/asked into the phone.
Now, I pride myself in being able to mask my true emotions on the phone. I have always felt I was fabulous at sounding upbeat even when I am really not. This night friends and neighbors, I think I should’ve won an award.
The voice on the other end of the phone asked, “Is the job you all are advertising in the paper still open?” At that moment it dawned on me that Tonya would be replaced, and that I’d more than made it clear that I wanted to work for them. Had even spoken with our supervisor about what would be necessary to make that happen and what Vocational Rehabilitation Services For the Blind would do. He had blown me off, and now here was someone calling about an ad I took a deep calming breath, “You know? I believe that post has been filled. Let me take your name and number, and I’ll have someone contact you should it still be available.” She thanked me and gave her info. I never wrote the first digit. When I hung up it took all of my restraint to not phone Lynn and give him a firm piece of my mind, with an extra helping for good measure. However, what I did turned out to work much better.
That night I worked doubly hard at making sure all my paper work was done and correct.
Then I sat down with a tape recording and dictated all of it onto a cassette and readied it and everything else to go out the next day. I even made certain to put my cane in its place before going to bed. I did not want any mistakes the next day.
Bright and early the next morning I got up, got myself dressed, and went out to wait on the van. When it arrived I paid the driver and was off. Soon we’d arrived at the church where our office was housed, and I was on my way…
I entered the office and called out cheerily, “Good morning! How is everyone? I got cases!” It was nearing the end of the month so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Pretty soon I was surprising Tonya with a little pocket folder with a cassette in it and a print copy of the shifts I’d selected for the upcoming month. She was a bit taken aback with my completely organized information, and I said, “If it’s alright with you, I’ll start doing this every month. I just spoke with the scheduler last night, picked these shifts, and got Donnie to write them down for me. No big deal.” She loved it and we chatted and at one point Lynn said, “I still have to get my cases in.” I laughed and said, “Pretty bad when the blind volunteer has hers turned in before the supervisor with full sight.” We all laughed, and then I said, “So, yall find anyone to fill Tonya’s position you have advertised in the paper?” The room fell silent. I swear in the phone room the phone stopped ringing. I continued, “When were you going to tell me you were going to hire someone to replace her?” “Well, we just put the ad in the other day.” Lynn said in a strangled voice. It was more than evident he’d not meant for me to know of it.
“Well, with the right equipment, and some training I could do this work. Furthermore I spoke with you about this, and what VR would do for me.” He made some noises about how we’d have to talk about it and all kinds of excuses as to what he figured would be a problem, and started to excuse himself.
I said very little about it, and soon was calling the van services back to go home. To say I was upset, and angry all at the same moment was an understatement. I went home and stewed about it all night. I talked to one or two friends about it. They encouraged me to speak my piece, and let those people know if I wasn’t worth hiring and paying, I wasn’t good enough to volunteer for them either. I have to admit it sounded like something I’d talk about doing “If it were me I’d…” How many times had I said that? Well… I decided that early morning. The next day I went back to the office. When they asked me why I was back I said, “I got to talk to someone about the schedule. Turns out some friends of mine from North Carolina have invited me to their house. I’m going to need to remove myself. “From all of them?” Tonya asked. She sounded a bit more than taken aback at that. “You’re on allot of shifts.” I sighed, “Well, I’m sure you’ll figure it out. After all you worked allot of Sundays before me. I know yall are both used to it.” I included Lynn, as he’d just come into the room. I had their attention now, and the game was afoot. “When did they invite you?” Lynn asked curiously. Well I’d known he was no dummy. In fact had been banking on it. “a day or two ago. Just got round to calling her back last night. Turns out her husband has a couple days off, and so if I want a ride I got to take it. I’m sure you all will do OK. I mean it’s not like the organization didn’t run without me here before I came.” I shrugged my shoulders, as if it were no big deal. “I’ll be back in a month.” “A month?” Tonya asked. “Yeah, I figure you can do two weekends and Lynn can do too. You know? The good old days.” I picked up my things to go. I’d called a friend to come and pick me up and he was outside. I smiled and waved as I was leaving. “Maybe you’ll hire someone while I’m gone. You can break’em in right.” I was nearly laughing out loud as I walked down the steps with my cane thumping just a bit louder than necessary as I went.
Soon I was home, and packing for my trip. As I did I giggled and talked with my dog Rowdy about it. I told him how soon Mommy would have a job and he could spend his remaining years eating better food, and having better vet care. I settled Celine with instructions for Donnie and what she could and could not have, and the next day my friends were there to pick us up. I was taking Rowdy with me, and was to be quite honest glad for the prospect of some R&R time.
I would remain in North Carolina for three weeks, and I was determined to enjoy myself. I took lots of books, my Brailler and paper, and planned to read, journal and sleep. We were going to visit their church, and DeAdra and I were going to take Rowdy on awesome sniff fests.
I did enjoy my time there, but after a while I have to admit, I missed my work. I actually cheated and called one of the Reassurance Clients who is a friend of mine, just to check and make sure she was getting her calls. To as she said, ‘Check on my work’ She knew what time it was. I didn’t share anything with her I should not, but she knew I’d been going to ask about working there, and she knew I’d taken over twenty shifts that month and that I was now not there. She and her husband had run a business and I was certain there was a secret part of her that liked my method.
Near the end of my second week, my supervisor happened to call while we were in town. You see I had no cell service unless we were in town, and I did not give him my friend’s home number. He was talking with me saying how he just wanted to “Check on me and see if I were having a good time.” I told him of all the things we’d been doing and I included that I’d spoken with a few people about available work in the area, and that my friend just happened to own rental property. I ended that with, “Well, gotta go we’re here at the store.” I hung up before he could say no more than, “Well…Have a great time…” I laughed, “They’re missing me. Let’em.” I went about my way, and when I got home and settled back in I called in to see what shifts might be open, and to see how glad they were to see I was back. First thing I did was to not take more than a week’s worth of shifts. When Tonya asked if I wanted more I said, “No, think I’ll wait because I don’t know what else I might want to do.” When she and I were done she said Lynn wanted to speak to me. I took a breath and said, “OK put him on.” I took another deep breath as I waited. Like I say, he’s no dummy and I knew he was on to me. I also knew that they’d not hired anyone for that position. The ad wasn’t running anymore.
“Hi! How was your trip?” I sat filling him in on my trip, and finally ended with, “Found some possibility for work too. My friend has a house coming open end of the month, who knows…?” I trailed off. “You know? We missed you when you were gone?” Lynn ventured, “AWW you’re nice.” I said, laughing to myself. We went round like that for a while, and finally he asked, “So, how can we get and keep you?” I laughed, “Hire me.” I was ready, and when he spoke about money issues and how hard it would be to pay me, and that Tonya had been a VISTA with them I launched right back with, “I can apply for VISTA and sense you all already have a toe in, we can go around a few things and I can come right in.” I had done a lot of research and spoken with several people, including Tonya and my VR worker.
A week later I hosted Lynn and my VR worker at my home, and soon it began.
Before I go any further I want to assure you that the biggest reason for hesitation concerning the powers that were at Contact Concern at that time was simply “Would I be able to keep up with the demands of the job.” It was not in my mind an unreasonable concern. These people had never before worked directly with a blind person. I was never made to feel unwanted or unwelcome. I was never made to feel used etc.
I did “”Volunteer”” On my own.
It took some doing but I was able to have the wondrous pleasure of serving an entire year as a VISTA and I absolutely loved everything about it. I gained valuable experience that first year truly working in an office and being responsible for lots of things, that I could not have gotten anywhere else in the world.
I worked phone shifts, devised a call back system that would assist us with quality control designed to give feedback as to the effectiveness of the I&R (Information and Referral) system we had in place.
I helped gather data that would one day be used to help develop newer programs to help those low income persons with dental needs, and I spent many long hours with my then supervisor Lynn Sorrell attending information fairs and presentations which I soon learned to handle much of on my own.
That year I served as a VISTA enabled me to become more marketable than ever before in my life, and it enabled me to help others in ways I never knew I could.
When I was younger I’d been dismayed to learn a blind person could not serve in the military. I’d so very badly wanted to serve my country. Now serving as a VISTA I was getting my chance.
It was not an easy road. Let me tell you. This is not one of those fairy tale deals where the “Blind person swoops in and saves the day with something akin to super powers” That stuff doesn’t usually happen in that way.
The first thing I had to do was take a crash course in computers. I had to learn Windows, Word, EXCEL and JAWS as well. I took two and a half month’s worth of classes four days a week at a live-in center. I took class by day, home work at night, and worked phone shifts while at home on the weekends. It was exhausting, exhilarating, and wonderful and I have to say I’d have done it for the entire year that way if I’d had to just to have had the awesome experiences that gave to me.
When the contract suddenly ended in 2008 due to funding issues I was devastated, but I did not give up. I continued to volunteer, and I continued to learn. I was hooked now, and I wasn’t going anywhere.
It paid off for me, because in 2010 we had a bitter sweet happening. Our then Volunteer Coordinator died suddenly. I’d been volunteering to assist her, and in fact had taken her place a while during some knee surgery she’d recently had. When she died, the organization offered me the job, and I became their Volunteer Coordinator. I was proud to have the position, and loved every moment of the crazy long and sometimes
Demanding work. I was out and about lots more than ever before, and I found I was facing more and more mobility challenges as well.
Finally in 2011 I realized I had to have a Guide Dog and took a month off to go to The Seeing Eye and there I got Campbell a big black Labrador who has stolen my heart, and for sure did ‘Retrieve My Life’
I returned to work with him in May of 2011 and continued with them until February of 2015 when I left to pursue a career in writing and take some time to heel from some physical and mental illness.
Now, I am well, and want very much to become a VISTA again. The things I learned while serving the first time were priceless. I learned about team work, about what it is to assist with running an organization, and I was given the privilege of beginning a program that has grown and evolved to the point that it has been adapted and is now used all across the state. I am proud to say I truly did make a difference as a VISTA all those years ago, and desire to do it again.
The ways in which CNCS worked with me as a disabled person, and maintained good contact even after I became hired was fabulous. When I went to Atlanta for my training they made me feel right at home, and although I attended the training with a partner I found that I was able to do many activities on my own, with no help from anyone because there were people in the know everywhere I went. To say I had a fabulous experience working as a VISTA with CNCS would not do it justice.
I highly recommend them to everyone. If you have the desire to serve, they have the desire to help you make it happen.
I hope you’ll read the information below, and if you are so moved to, sign up today!
If you’ve had an experience of your own, share it with us. We want to know.
Patty L. Fletcher
Author, Motivational Speaker, and Nonprofit Consultant
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