Marge Awalt: Pioneer VRT

 

Marj Awalt

Pioneer VRT

Augusta, Maine

 

Marj Awalt, a pioneer in the vision rehab field.

 

Marj Awalt is recognized as one of the earliest Vision Rehabilitation Therapists in the state of Maine. She is our featured individual for national Vision Rehabilitation Week. Marj, of Augusta, Maine, retired nineteen years ago from the State of Maine Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired as the last Adult Education Specialist. Prior to the 1970s the Division for the Blind employed several “Adult Education Specialists” as they were then called. The Adult Ed Specialists provided individual instruction in braille, talking books (which were then on 33 rpm records), crafts and rotary phone dialing. Other responsibilities included: general education about eye conditions, adjustment counseling and information regarding benefits and services. According to Marj the guiding force throughout her career was “putting the person first.”

Marj Awalt, born Marj Doyen grew up in the small town of Bethel, Maine with her sister Connie, who also joined the field in the mid-seventies. Marj lost her vision at an early age. She completed her education in 1954 at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. Her mother was a teacher and her father worked as a barber. The family eventually moved to South Portland where her mother took a teaching position and her father worked as a milkman for Hood Dairy. After high school Marj enrolled in Vermont Junior college in Montpellier where she obtained an associate degree in liberal studies. She completed her B.S. at Gordon College majoring in Christian Education. In 1959 Marj obtained a position as a clerk-typist with the Maine Department of Human Services. The Division for the Blind was housed in the same office and it is here where Marj met one of the home teachers, Louise Bennett, who introduced her to the profession and encouraged her to enroll in a training program for Home Teachers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 1962 Marj enrolled in the training program for home teachers in Pennsylvania which included housing and practice work at The Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia and academic course work at the University of Pennsylvania. The class, which comprised Marj and seven other students were all blind or visually impaired. The thinking at the time, according to Marj, was that people who were blind or visually impaired were best suited for the job because they possessed the necessary skills. The home teachers took the train to the University of Pennsylvania several days a week for classes in counseling and psychology.  Internships were completed two days a week at the Pennsylvania State Services for the Blind. At the completion of the year-long program, students received a graduate certificate.

Marj obtained a job immediately with The Industrial Home for the Blind in Brooklyn, NewYork. The agency came to the graduate students to recruit for open positions. Marj had to train for three months with a mobility instructor in order to learn the subway system and how to “count the blocks.”  The mobility training had to be completed prior to her start date as a Home Teacher.

Marj was assigned to Brooklyn and Queens so she could access public transportation. One day was spent in the office just arranging travel routes. Marj said she could see on average four—five clients a day traveling in the city. She secured a basement apartment in Brooklyn….”It was the first time I had lived on my own. I worked hard during the day and enjoyed the city at night.”

Marj said the thinking at the time was that blind and visually impaired people needed “busy work” thus the emphasis on teaching crafts. Marj admitted she was not very skilled in the variety of crafts to be taught: rug braiding, chair caning and weaving. “I was okay with knitting which I had been doing since I was five years old.” One of her supervisors questioned whether she would be able to handle the job with limited skills in this area. Fortunately Marj realized she didn’t actually have to be able to do the various crafts herself as long as she could teach the adaptations.

Marj remained at The Industrial Home for the Blind for several years. When a position opened up with The State of Maine, Division for the Blind, Marj was happy to return home. Initially she was housed in the Portland office and covered a large territory, ten counties, which included the southern coast…from Kittery up to Rockland and inland to Rangeley. The services she was able to provide with such a large territory were spotty. On average she saw clients every couple of months. If someone was learning braille, they were seen at least monthly. In addition to teaching braille, the Adult Ed Specialists provided education about blindness and vision loss, services and benefits and taught basic adaptive techniques, such as: pouring, dialing the telephone and use of the Talking Books program and equipment.

Marj met and married Hugh Awalt in 1967. She needed an escort for the annual Maine Fraternal Association for the Blind banquet and a friend set her up with Hugh. “I was Hugh’s blind date” she jokes. He worked for the State Department of Transportation in Augusta, Maine. After they married, the couple moved to Augusta and purchased a home where they still reside. She chuckles remembering the announcement in the wedding section of the local newspaper, “To Wed a Man She Never Saw.”

The State of Maine eventually eliminated the position of Adult Education Specialist; however, Marj remained until her retirement in 1996 as the only state employed Adult Education Specialist or Rehabilitation Teacher. Marj’s territory eventually became the Augusta area. New positions were funded through the nonprofit agency for the blind, now The Iris Network.

When asked what were some of the highlights of her long career, Marj replied, “the people, both the clients I worked with and my co-workers at the state and private agency; also the consumer groups.” She remembers one summer when she worked with four blind and visually impaired high school girls in the home economics room of a local high school. They met once a week to learn activities such as: needle threading, mending, ironing, use of the stove and simple cooking. As a treat for the students at the end of the program the group went to Macy’s Department Store in Portland. Marj told her students they could each buy one item and afterwards they could have lunch at the restaurant there. “I had to elicit assistance from one of the store clerks. We were quite a sight….the five of us and my guide dog.”

There was a week-long training trip to New York City’s Center for Independent Living in 1979 which Marj remembers fondly. The group of rehabilitation teachers from the private agency and Marj were sent to learn about the newest population of blindness….older people. “A great time was had by all learning from experts in the field during the day and enjoying the wonderful restaurants at night.” For Marj it was a special time to be back in New York where her career started. Other highlights included the monthly staff meetings. “At that time, we were small and everything was new and we were really building this profession.” The school presentations were also special for Marj. “I am still stopped by students and teachers who remember my talks and guide dogs.”

Marj went through three guide dogs during her working years: Tracy, Dorie and Gail. All three were females from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Now retired, she has resumed use of her cane. After retirement Marj worked as a Hospice Volunteer and also as a telephone volunteer for a women’s shelter. She remains active as the president of The Rainbow Club, a support group for people who are visually impaired. Marj has been a key player in the formation and continuation of this group for over twenty years. She and Hugh have always loved music and both continue to sing in their church choir.

Marj celebrated her 80th birthday last summer where she was greeted by many of her former co-workers from across the state. Unfortunately this writer was not able to attend; therefore, was so pleased to have the opportunity to personally catch up with Marj and see how she continues to give to others through her various community groups. She summed it up this way, “It is a lifelong commitment this work….we don’t do it for the money, it’s always been the people”

 

This wonderful article was written by,

Laura Vittorioso

Vision Rehabilitation Therapist

The Iris Network

Portland, Maine

Attention!! April 2015 Rumford Night of Comedy Event Date Change

The first annual Rumford Comedy Event scheduled to be held on next Saturday, April 18th will be moved to a new date.

The new date of this event is presently unknown, and ACB urges you to check back soon to keep abreast of any new information about the new scheduled date for this evening of hilarious entertainment.

 

We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you at this inaugural event.

 

Thanks for stopping by, and have an ACB day!

Happy Spring from ACB Maine!

Happy spring from ACB Maine

 

Well, winter has come, and once again, winter has gone. Those chilling northern winds reminded us all once again just how far north this grand state of Maine is. With all the frosted window panes, low hanging icicles, mile long snow drifts and black ice that surround us each wintery season, one thing always remains constant, and that’s that Spring comes marching in like a proud peacock, strutting its brilliantly colored tail feathers for all to see.

 

As sure as each spring season holds warming temps, budding trees and yes, mud, there’s something else that has remained a certainty throughout the years.

 

ACB Maine!

 

With a tireless commitment from a time tested organization, you can always count on the American Council of the Blind to give their all to help the blind community move towards the future with courage, optimism and knowledge of those things most important.

 

All of us here at the American Council of the Blind of Maine welcome you to take part in our family. We offer you our unwavering pledge to provide the same foundational support that ACB is known for, and has served up to the visually impaired community of Maine through the years.

 

As usual, the typical Maine winter is still hanging around, but spring time is definitely here. Get out and enjoy what Maine has to offer, and live life to the fullest.

 

Please always remember that ACB Maine starts with you!

 

Have an ACB Spring!

ACB of Maine’s Annual Night of Comedy Information!

ACB of Maine is proud to announce that our Annual Comedy Event is back for another year. Not only is it back, but it’s back with a double blast of comedic entertainment. That’s right! Our annual comedy show has doubled the portion, which is to say that you’ll be able to catch the usual April show, but you’ll also be able to join in on the laughs a second time, as we will be offering up a second helping at our annual ACB of Maine’s State Convention, which this year will grace the City of Augusta.

 

Come join us at ACB of Maine for two incredible nights of adult comedy.

 

 

ACB Maine, in cooperation with East Coast Marketing Group, has agreed to two dates for shows.  The first night of adult comedy will be held on April 18th at Mountain Vally High School in Rumford, and our new director Joel McQuade has agreed to represent ACB at the event. Later in the year, in Augusta, on the night of our annual state conference at the Senator Inn on October 24th will be the second of two shows.  This will give ACB of Maine a tremendous opportunity to welcome new people and introduce them to our membership family, and also allow them the chance to gain first hand knowledge of the benefits that are associated with becoming a proud member of ACB Maine.
Two incredible nights of side splitting laughs, brought to you by ECMG and ACB of Maine!

 

We hope to see you there, and hope you have an ACB Day!

 

Mary Ellen Frost

President, ACB of Maine

 

Note: More information about these special nights of comedic adult entertainment will be posted as soon as it becomes available.

Happy New Year from ACB Maine!

Happy New Year from ACB Maine!

 

So here we all are, once again, staring another New Year straight in the eye. With all of the commotion, all of the hectic pace, all of the joys, wonders, opportunities and achievements of 2014 now a memory, we’re beginning another trip around the calendar.

 

ACB Maine would like to wish you all the best in 2015. We invite you to seize the moment and experience all of the goodness that each opportunity presents.

 

Remember that this brand new year starts with you.

 

Best wishes, and have an ACB Year!