Hello Lise (pronounced Lisa). You are a self-proclaimed "untraditional VISTA" in that you are middle-aged, legally blind and have a son who served as a VISTA Summer Associate. Tell us how you discovered VISTA?
Lise: I was on disability for 10 years and hadn't worked during that time. It had been a year since I'd gone to the grocery store. I never left the house. I had stopped socializing because of being significantly visually impaired. My husband acted as my eyes to the world. I finished college in 2006 and that is when he declared he wanted a divorce.
VF: That must have been very difficult. How did you handle being on your own?
Lise: I was a shell of a person just going through the motions. There just wasn't much left. I soon realized I couldn't live that way anymore. I'd had enough. So one day I decided if I can't help myself, maybe I can help someone else. I wanted to take the focus off of me.
VF: Helping others instead of yourself is a very noble approach. What did you do to make that happen?
Lise: I googled "volunteer opportunities Indianapolis" and Bosma Enterprises came up. This organization was only three miles from my house and they offered services for the visually impaired. I couldn't believe it.
VF: That is quite a coincidence. How did you approach Bosma?
Lise: I called and offered to volunteer. I starting helping out three days a week for 5-6 hours a day.
VF: What was it like transitioning from being a recluse to volunteering everyday at an organization that helps people like you who are visually impaired?
Lise: When I first started volunteering, it was described to me that I looked like someone that was pretty beaten down. I didn't hold my head up and I didn't talk much. But as time progressed, I gained self-confidence. One of the first things you lose when you lose your eyesight is self-confidence. Prior to my eye disease, I had worked in banking and finance. So I knew what to do – it had just been such a long time. I started to become myself again. It was so amazing to be in a place with people just like me.
VF: How did you shift from volunteering to serving as a VISTA?
Lise: The Director of Philanthropy asked if I would consider being a VISTA. I was thrilled and said "yes" immediately. I worked closely with the volunteer coordinator and we started working on my VAD.
VF: What did you do as a VISTA?
Lise: I recruited over 30 volunteers during the year and raised over $1,000. I knew what serving others had done for me so I started an employee volunteer program. Our visually impaired staff volunteered in the community for Habitat for Humanity, the Girl Scouts, and the United Way Day of Caring. Bosma now offers release time so employees can be compensated for the time they spend volunteering.
VF: It sounds like your experience as a VISTA was life-changing.
Lise: Absolutely. It was transforming for me. The disease I have is degenerative. I was diagnosed at 23 and am now 43 years old. I was able to utilize Bosma's services and went through their orientation and mobility training and learned how to travel safely. At first I was resistant to using a cane because it's an outward sign there is something wrong with me. However, it restored my faith in people. When they see that cane, they do anything to help you.
VF: Tell us how your son got involved with VISTA.
Lise: My son, Chris, saw me at my lowest point. There were times when he had to take care of me emotionally. But last year I was recognized as being the "Outstanding VISTA" for the state of Indiana. He was so proud of me. That award was the pinnacle that mom was going to be okay. Because of my work at Bosma, it confirmed there are other people like his mom. He saw how VISTA had transformed me, which inspired him to get involved as well.
VF: What did the experience of being a VISTA Summer Associate do for your son?
Lise: Chris worked at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic. The experience taught him empathy and compassion. Being a VISTA and working for Bosma has done so much for our relationship. Going into it I had no idea how much volunteering would do for me or my son.
VF: What are you doing now?
Lise: In June of this year, I accepted a full-time position with Bosma as the Volunteer Coordinator and VISTA Supervisor. Previously, I hadn't realized the value in volunteering and now I want to promote it both within and outside of our organization. The unemployment rate among blind or visually impaired people is over 70%. I want to demonstrate ability and break down some of the perceptions. Through volunteering, we can do that.
VF: What else has serving with VISTA taught you?
Lise: What this experience has taught me is that you have to get out of your own way. "I don't have enough time to volunteer; "I'm blind;" "I'm in a wheelchair." This doesn't help. When you can allow yourself the chance to help others, in turn, you help yourself. Volunteering did as much for me as it did for anyone that I have helped.