All too often I find myself seated at a crowded banquet hall surrounded by a roomful of people, most of whom I don’t know, brought together by one cause or another.
Those seated at the table generally stick to the people they know or friends they came with and the conversation is polite small talk. The format is fairly predictable and most banquets that I have attended are not all that memorable.
The University of Kansas Audio Reader volunteer banquet last week opened with a skit written by a volunteer. The guests sitting at our table were friendly and lively, intelligent and conversational, and within minutes were more like old friends than strangers.
We were not being asked for money or being lectured on the virtues of giving. It was a complete joy. We were being thanked for doing what we all love to do. The room was filled with creative educators, professionals from a variety of fields and active community leaders. All caring people that give freely of their time and enjoy doing it.
I feel very confident saying that not a single person in the room expected this wonderful treatment. We certainly didn’t volunteer just to attend this event, and they would have to go out of their way to provide this kind of treatment. They (literally) rolled out the red carpet.
The fact that this event happens and the work that the organizers put into making this such a special evening says a lot about the organization and why it’s a success. The Kansas KU Audio-Reader Network is a reading service for blind, visually impaired and print disabled individuals in Kansas and western Missouri.
Volunteers give voice to the printed word for those who otherwise may not have access to newspapers, books or magazines. It offers them the opportunity for greater personal independence. The service is offered free of charge to anyone in the listening area who is unable to read printed material.
We were seated next to a lovely couple of retired teachers from Eudora, Kan. One volunteers by reading books. Next to her was a piano accompanist who also read books and had just finished recording the latest book on the Koch brothers.
They read at the studios at KU and record books that have been requested by listeners. As a volunteer for the organization’s Lions Telephone Reader service, I record from my home.
Every Tuesday around 6 a.m. I put on my headset, dial in and read aloud the columns in the Sports section of The Kansas City Star. (And lately, thanks to the Royals and Sam Mellinger, this has been an exceptional treat.) Listeners call into the system, which features a menu that allows them to select what section they want to hear and even skip articles.
For someone who isn’t able to read the newspaper, this is an easy way stay connected and “hear” the paper every morning from their home. There are also Radio Readers who broadcast live 24 hours a day who read weekly newspapers, magazines and books as well as news, interviews and other programs.
Listeners can hear the broadcast on a special radio that Audio Reader provides. Audio Reader has been around since 1971 and is the second-oldest radio reading service in the world.
It is made possible with help from the University of Kansas, public radio stations, cable TV companies, the Kansas Lions Sight Foundation and the support of many local business organizations and individual contributors. The KU Audio-Reader is located on the University of Kansas campus in a picturesque cottage-looking building.
It shares studios with KPR. Although I don’t get over there as much as I would like because I read from home, it is always a warm, inviting place that buzzes with energy from staff and volunteers dedicated to the listeners who tune in or dial up every day to listen.
The annual volunteer banquet with dinner and dessert, wine and beer, prizes and recognition is a beautiful way to say thank you to those that volunteer. But it’s more indicative of the way the staff leads this organization by example and why it is such a success.
Freelance columnist Lori Allen writes in this space once a month.