Author Archives: acbmaine

Marge and Hugh Awalt – 50 Years Together

Marge and Hugh Awalt at ACB Maine Conference

Marge and Hugh Awalt at ACB Maine Conference

It happened one October day, fifty years ago. Two souls were brought together by an unseen force. Two unique hearts wrapped around each other, and began beating in rhythm as they embarked on an incredible journey along the hands of time. If ever there were two spirits that were meant to join hands, it was Marge and Hugh Awalt, and the members of ACB of Maine were honored to take part in their amazing celebration of love.

 

The annual conference became one more celebrated stepping stone for this Central Maine couple, and as the day progressed, we were all invited to reminisce and hold high the memories that these two marked their union with. The laughter, the smiles, the applause that filled the convention room was the highlight of all who attended, and for a brief moment in time, time stood still.

 

I’m sure that I join everyone by saying, hats off to you both. Your love, faith and commitment to one another is such a huge part of what makes ACB of Maine so special.

 

The two images accompanying this post are of Marge and Hugh, and their celebration cake. Thank you to all who assembled this warm and memorable occasion. It’s an experience that ACB of Maine will never forget.

 

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ACB of Maine Has a New Mailing Address

Happy February to all!

 

ACB of Maine has acquired a new mailing address. If you wish to correspond with our organization using that good old traditional snail mail system, send to the following address:

 

American Council of the Blind of Maine

PO Box 2885

Waterville, ME 04903

 

This address will be good until further notice.

Thanks, and have an ACB Day!

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

mPower Loan Program Information

***  mPower Loan Program  ***

 

 

On Nov 21, 2013, Maine CITE sponsored a webinar about the mPower Loan Program with Jeremy Libby from Alpha One as the presenter.

The live webinar was recorded and it is archived on the following website:

 

  www.mainecite.org/training.

 

Over the 20 + years that the mPower program has been lending money to Maine people with disabilities and their families, more than 2100 loans have been made and more that $23 million dollars has been loaned out. 

Loans can be from $250 up to $100,000.

The Board is made up of 9 people appointed to terms by the governor, 5 of whom are people with disabilities and use adaptive equipment/technology.

Since mpower loans are made with low interest and affordable terms, the great majority of loans (there is a very low default rate) are paid back into the fund, creating more money for others to borrow and growing/sustaining the fund balance.

It is a nationally known program. It was the first of its type when it was created in 1988 and now there are more than 40 Loan programs of this type across the country.

Also, of interest to Maine consumers may the “Financial Freedom” Guide that is available on the Alpha One website which gives consumers/families a great amount of information about financial literacy. Loan programs from other states are using this guide for their consumers.

 

Check out the following sites for more details.     

 

www.mpowerloans.org

www.alphaonenow.org

www.mainecite.org

 

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