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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, January 18, 2007
RISE shines for those who live in darkness
By Rachel Dutil
The latest novel, breaking news, groceries for sale those who cant read can still get this information through RISE.
RISE is an "absolutely free service" provided "as part of WMHT’s mission," said Joyce Stah, who is employed by the public radio station to manage RISE and oversee 100 volunteers who produce the programs.
Billie Dye of Delmar, who has been blind since 1975, said she relies on Bargain Bin to know what’s for sale at local grocery stores. "I wouldn’t know this if it weren’t for RISE," she said.
RISE is a closed-circuit broadcast, and can be heard only through specially tuned radios distributed by WMHT.
The radio, which costs WMHT $100, is tuned to RISE when it arrives at the homes of listeners; they only need to plug it in and turn it on, Stah said.
RISE works closely with the Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany (NABA), Stah said.
"RISE radio is a great service," said Maureen Strainge, co-director of community services for NABA.
Strainge said NABA serves about 350 people a year, and "we try to let everybody know about RISE." She said that about one-third to one-half of those informed are interested.
RISE serves about 3,000 listeners every year, Stah said.
According to New York States office of the aging, 17 percent of Americans aged 65 to 74, report severe visual impairments, and, in Americans over 75 years old, the number increases to 26 percent, Strainge told The Enterprise.
RISE has been broadcasting since 1978, Stah told The Enterprise. It is one of five reading services in New York State, most of which are associated with public radio stations or a local Public Broadcasting Service affiliate, she said.
The station offers a "good variety of programs," Stah said. The volunteers read from local and national newspapers, popular magazines, and best-selling books.
Programs feature daily readings of the Times Union and The Daily Gazette including television listings, sports, lottery results, and obituaries, in addition to local news.
The book hour a show where best-selling books are read for an hour each weekday doesnt censor the books being read, said Stah. New York Times best sellers, and books from local authors are read, she said, adding that RISE tries not to duplicate books that are already available in audio form.
"People love the book hour," she said. "We are giving them something they cannot get elsewhere."
Enterprise can be heard
Paul Doyle, of Guilderland, has been volunteering with RISE since 2000. He reads The Altamont Enterprise and The Evangelist. Both weekly newspapers are slotted for a half-hour program every week, he said.
When Doyle retired, he wanted to "do something worthwhile, as well as enjoyable," he said.
"I always liked reading aloud," he said, adding that, for him, volunteering for RISE "turned into a weekly habit."
Since becoming a volunteer reader on RISE, Doyle said, he has learned to read more carefully, and to read as an editor.
Doyle demonstrated his technique with a copy of The Enterprise; he marks the stories and sections of the stories and then makes a list of what he plans to read, he said. He is sure to practice pronouncing difficult names, so that he is at least consistent, if not accurate in his pronunciation, he said with a smile.
The job of the volunteers "is a huge responsibility," Stah said. "Paul has taken to it like a duck to water."
Doyle said he really enjoys reading from the commentary and opinion pages of The Enterprise, and the editorial each week is "one of the standards."
He said it is fun to "step into someone else’s skin and be their voice."
Doyle also volunteers with Meals on Wheels. Through his work for that program, he has been able to meet some of the folks who take advantage of the RISE reading service, he told The Enterprise.
"Passion for serving the blind"
Stah has been managing RISE for 10 years. She says her job is "part broadcast, part teaching."
"I and our volunteers have a healthy respect for the print disabled," Stah told The Enterprise.
Stahs grandmother, Grace Simonelli, was a RISE listener.
"I was exceptionally close to my grandmother," she said.
Simonelli had macular degeneration, a condition that many RISE listeners suffer from, Stah said.
Macular degeneration is a condition that affects the central part of the retina the part of the eye that records images and sends them from the eye to the brain through the optic nerve. It is the leading cause of blindness for Americans age 55 and older, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation.
Her grandmother had loved to read, and when she lost that ability, "it was very difficult," Stah said.
"I would read to her," Stah went on, citing newspaper articles, the Ann Landers column, and mail as the types of materials she would read.
Her grandmothers dilemma made Stah aware of the struggles brought on by being unable to see.
"For my grandmother, making a cup of coffee was a treacherous thing," Stah said.
RISE made her feel "that she was included in her community," she said, adding that many of RISE’s current listeners feel the same way.
Stah’s experience with her grandmother made her want to work harder "and fill the needs of our listeners," she said. "I have a passion for serving the blind."
"I think my grandma would be proud," she said.
Remembering her grandmother and knowing firsthand what her daily struggles were like, Stah said, helps her to know what her listeners need.
Billie Dye, of Delmar, has been listening to RISE "since its inception," she told The Enterprise.
"I have macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts," she said.
"You learn to deal with it," she said of not being able to see. "It’s all attitudinal."
Although she listens to the paper every morning, Dye said she feels "a sense of pride" in telling her friends and family that she read the news in the morning’s paper.
Dye has peripheral vision but "can’t read, or see faces or any fine details," she said.
Her blindness, Dye said, "Gave me the poise to be able to stand up and talk to people."
For 11 years, Dye held a monthly class where she taught aides to work in homes for a not-for-profit organization. Teaching the class helped her realize, she said, "I still had something to give to someone else."
"RISE has been an important part of my life, keeping me informed, and that’s something I really appreciate," she said.
"I feel as though the readers are part of my family," Dye said. The gift of their time and talent really means a lot to her, she said.
Rose McGee, of Rotterdam, also has macular degeneration, and cannot read any printed material. She has been listening to RISE for four years, she told The Enterprise.
"I just enjoy listening," she said. "I can’t pick up a paper, and I still get news."
Carl Celella lives and works in North Greenbush. He is a blind listener of RISE.
He has been listening since 1994, he said. "They are the most informative radio station I know of," he told The Enterprise.
Celella along with his male yellow lab, Gordo has worked for the past five years at the Home Depot in North Greenbush. He works in the plumbing department. He says of his job, "We love it," referring to himself and Gordo.
"He’s a great dog" He’s closer to me than my wife," said Celella.
Gordo has been Celella’s "buddy" for six years, he said. It is mandatory for Gordo to retire when he is 10 years old, Celella said. At that point, he said, "I’m gonna get him a black female for a mate."
Of his blindness, Cellella told The Enterprise, "When God takes something away from you, He gives you something else."
Celella said that his memory has been strengthened since he lost his vision.
He stays "mentally alert" by listening to RISE, he said. "I couldn’t live without the sucker."
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