Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Volunteering is part of a visually impaired woman's life

Barbara Mattson doesn't know what she'd do if she didn't have at least five meetings to attend a week.
She's probably been a part of a least 15 organizations (and counting), taking on leadership roles in
At 58, Mattson jokes that if her mother, who will turn 80 at the end of the month, can stay so busy volunteering, then she has a lot to look forward to.
Mattson's hectic schedule is even more remarkable because she is visually impaired.
"My feeling is that because of my disability, there are a lot of times when I have to depend on the help of others, and I feel in some way I need to return to others what others have given to me," Mattson said.
In recognition of her work,
Converse College will present Mattson with the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award at commencement exercises today.
Born with optic nerve atrophy, Mattson can make out colors but depends on the use of a cane to help guide her movements.
"I feel that people believe I'm capable of doing things, and I've gotten a lot of support from my family and friends," Mattson said.
Always a meeting to attend
Mattson is a familiar figure traveling along East Main Street.
She walks to all the places she needs to go.
It helps to give her exercise (she walks three times a day), usually cutting across the campus of
Converse College.
In addition, she walks to her various meetings, usually within walking distance of her home.
She has participated in amateur radio for more than 20 years, helping groups such as the Piedmont Chapter of the American Red Cross with communications.
Fritz Nitsch, has helped Mattson to maintain equipment over the years, says her diverse interests make her more versatile than the average ham radio operator.
She's a member of the Democratic Women's Disabilities Task Force and is the editor of a publication for the Tape Recording and Conversation Club.
Being the secretary of the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, Mattson is now grateful that she can e-mail materials.
To keep her meetings straight, she checks her calendar in a special voice-activated word processor.
Easy-going and personable, Mattson has no trouble chatting about the issues she finds important.
She's particularly concerned about women's issues (including access to legal abortion) and discrimination toward any group.
"I have a lot of empathy for other groups who are trying to educate others about who they are," she said.
A life outside of meetings
What makes Mattson the happiest of is the joy of writing.
"When I'm feeling gutsy, I like to write poetry," she said, smiling.
She has written how-to guides using Braille Lite. In addition, she just submitted her second fiction story to the Hub City Writers Project.
Playing computer games like Tile brings a big smile to her face.
She likes music, and if she ever has any spare time would like to learn how to play the keyboard.
Mattson said she is embarrassed by the Sullivan award because volunteering is something she likes to do.
"In a way, I feel like I have a lot to live up to by getting this award," she said.
Douglas Jensen, assistant professor of biology and chair of the biology department of Converse, said Mattson's reaction is not surprising.
"She seems to find personal fulfillment in helping others and is always willing to take on a different challenge and I think she feels good when she has done a good job helping other people."
They've known each other for almost seven years through the Unitarian Universalist Church of
Jensen said Mattson does not like to be in the limelight.
"She is much more likely to do something that's important but behind the scenes," Jensen said.


Post a Comment

<< Home