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Community News Comes Alive Through Valley Eye Radio

SPRINGFIELD - In retirement, Kathy Sinclair is sharing her passion of reading with area residents who are visually impaired through Valley Eye Radio.

For more than six years, Sinclair, of Westfield, has spent an average of two hours a week mostly reading local newspapers.

"It's like old-fashioned radio theater," said Sinclair, noting that the experience is not only rewarding but necessary because of so many in the region who depend on this invaluable resource.

Volunteers like Sinclair are desperately needed, according to Harold Anderson of Valley Eye Radio.

"It is common for those with visual and other disabilities to face challenges of social isolation and loneliness and I've met a number of our listeners and people who have told me what this service means to them," said Anderson.

Anderson began with Valley Eye Radio (known originally as Valley Radio Reading Service) in the summer of 2015 as a part-time, fill-in board operator. Since then, his duties have expanded and is now the full-tine programming coordinator.

Anderson noted he doesn't want anyone to go without the connection of what's happening in their community.

"My ultimate desire is that Valley Eye Radio reach all those who need our service in the Pioneer Valley and be for all our listeners, something they would still enjoy listening to even if they didn't have a disability," said Anderson.

Anderson added he takes his role "personally" and knows the importance of making a difference in someone's life.

"For many of our volunteers, in fact, this is personal," said Anderson. "They know someone among their family or friends that have faced the challenges of having a disability,"

Anderson said he receives the most joy about his role when he hears from a listener or a family member who tells him how much they enjoy the broadcasts.

"The saddest times for me are when I hear someone say to me how much their loved one would have enjoyed our program if they had known about it before," said Anderson. "Trying to get the word out about us to the general public is one of the prime motivations of our outreach efforts in the community, as well as our efforts to bring local and regional events along with other presentations to our listeners who are often not able to attend themselves due to their disability." Sinclair shared a similar sentiment.

"Reading couldn't be easier and it only takes two to three hours out of one's week," said Sinclair, adding that everyone reads at their own pace so there is no reason to feel intimidated. "Knowing this service makes a big difference for others gives me great joy."

The studio is located in the basement of the WGBY TB building at 44 Hampden St. Volunteers can access the building by parking for free in the WGBY parking lot.

"Although most all of our volunteers come to our studios to read, some from a pretty good distance away, we have some volunteers who do their recordings at home using their own computer or smart phone and a fairly inexpensive microphone that they buy online," said Anderson.

Anderson added that new volunteers will visit the studios to do a test reading so one's reading ability can be assessed.

"We don't have many 'professional' readers here, but we do want to make sure that they can read well enough for our listeners to enjoy what they are hearing," said Anderson.

When asked how many voluteers are sought, Anderson didn't hesitate - "As many as I can get."

"I could increase our live reading of the Westfield News, for example, from its current once a week roundup to every day during the week if I had more volunteers," said Anderson. "In addition, there are other newspapers from Franklin and Hampshire counties for which I would like to increase the number of times that we read them as well."

For each additional live program, every weekday, at least one more volunteer reader is needed for programs up to an hour in length, or two volunteers every weekday to share the reading during the longer two-hour programs for the Springfield Republican.

"On top of all that, we will soon be getting some new programming software which will open up a lot more space for locally produced programming," said Anderson. "I have a lot of programming ideas, but not the people currently to make them all happen."

Anderson noted that when volunteers are on vacation, take time off or have appointments, he steps in to cover the slot.

"Many times I don't have another volunteer reader who is available to fill in and end up doing the live or pre-recorded reading myself, which is okay, since I enjoy reading," he said, adding, "Our volunteers have been great and more than willing to help with extra reading assignments when they can."

Currently, Anderson would like to expand live reading of the Westfield News into early afternoon hours with programs of various lengths from noon to 2 p.m. Also, readers are sought for live readings in the early afternoon on news from Franklin and Hampshire counties.

"For readers who pre-record their programs, we usually budget an hour of time to complete a half-hour recording which includes getting their material, looking it over for any dated articles or difficult names and reading the articles including time to pause to find the continuation of an article or take a short break," said Anderson. "These readers are scheduled based on which day or days during the week they are available and when a pre-recording computer that day is not already being used."

While Anderson is in need of both readers in real time as well as pre-recording material, he notes that having more  live readers would allow him to immediately increase the live programming and cover slots when needed.

"Some of our live programs can be pre-recorded if they could read in time . prior to broadcast," said Anderson, adding "one of our current 'live' readers actually sends me her recordings from her home."

With studio upgrades planned this year, Anderson is thinking positive that area residents will volunteer their time to read which will make a difference in the lives of others across the valley.

"Thanks to a capital grant from The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (from the Eugene A. Dexter Charitable Fund and the Edwin P. and Wilbur O. Lepper Fund), we expect the number of listeners to increase as we become able to reach more of the larger potential audience, such as in larger residential facilities, that is not able to read independently for themselves due to their vision loss or other disability or condition and cannot currently receive our radio signal due to their location," said Anderson.

For more information on volunteering, visit www.facebook.com/valleyeyeradio or call (413) 747-7337. For individuals who are in need of a specially tuned radio to hear the broadcasts, call Anderson weekdays for details. Some listeners may also be able to listen online using a live audio stream.

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