by Heidi Riley
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) is looking for volunteers to help those with sight loss navigate their world and provide companionship.
“Only two people work in the office in Charlottetown, so we could not provide our services without our volunteers,” says Joanna Barker, Program Lead, CNIB. “The more volunteers we have across the province, the more programming we can offer.”
Vision Mate program – Volunteers Island-wide provide regular, one-to-one assistance and companionship for a person who is blind or partially sighted. Matches are made with someone who lives close to your home, school, or work. Volunteers visit once a week for a couple of hours to assist with tasks like reading, errands such as groceries and shopping, going for walks, and socializing. No cooking or cleaning is required.
“We ask for a six-month commitment, but it often ends up being a friendship that lasts a long time,” says Joanna.
Virtual Vision Mate program – Volunteers Island-wide call clients once a week for a friendly conversation. “Especially for people in rural areas of the province whose family lives far away, if they lose their driver’s license and there is a lack of public transportation, it makes having limited or no sight very isolating,” says Joanna.
“Getting a phone call once a week can really help with that feeling of isolation. And for volunteers, it is really rewarding to get to know someone.”
Socials volunteers – Monthly socials and activities are held for clients in Summerside, Charlottetown, and Montague. “We hope to get up west more often as well!” Activities could include going to the movies, bowling, or out for supper.
“Volunteers receive an email well in advance to ask if they can join us. This is a more casual arrangement where you could commit to joining us once a month or less often.
“Volunteers act as sighted guides – which you will be trained to do. It involves assisting someone to navigate a space such as walking into or out of a building, finding public washrooms, or moving around to find a snack.
“If you are curious about the CNIB but want to start gradually, joining a monthly social is a great way to organically build a relationship with someone and eventually become their vision mate. We are really flexible, and we try to set up things in a way that works for you.”
Monthly caller – Emailed messages do not always work for people with sight loss and blindness. “Many of our clients prefer a phone call to let them know what CNIB activities are coming up. Volunteers are given a list of numbers to call. This is a great way to keep our clients informed, but it can be time consuming to call a list of people. This task does not even require you to leave your home.”
Driver – Driving CNIB staff with sight loss to meetings and appointments. Volunteers get their mileage paid. A driver’s abstract is required.
Smart Life Assistant Volunteer – The CNIB store at the Charlottetown office sells assistive technology and devices. Volunteers are needed to mind the store three hours a week. “You don’t handle sales, but you are trained to answer questions about products.”
Volunteer application process
- Contact Joanna Barker, who will send you an application.
- Do a short phone interview.
- Provide one or two references.
- Pass a criminal record check and a vulnerable sector check.
Once you are accepted as a volunteer, you receive in-person or virtual training. You get concise information about the history of CNIB and the programs offered. Sighted guide training, where you learn to give guidance to someone with sight loss, is also provided either hands-on or virtually.