A studio volunteer for more than two decades, John Esau shares this meaningful reflection on his experience at Learning Ally. One night on the train in New York City, John happened upon a member of Learning Ally and overheard something that touched his heart. Thanks for your sincere words, John!
It was Spring, probably 1990 or 1991. I had been volunteering at the old Recording for the Blind New York City studios as a reader for four or five years at that point. We were still using reel-to-reel tape machines and NEEDED a director (they called them monitors, at that point).
Once or twice a week I would leave my work on Wall Street and stop at the "RFB" studios on 5th Avenue for an evening session (usually 7-9 pm). The studio was only three blocks from Grand Central Station, where I could then take the 9:30 p.m. train home to Chappaqua.
After a Tuesday evening session at RFB and just before we departed the train station, a young man - probably in his late 20's - got on the train and sat opposite me. He was blind, and was escorted by a guide dog which sat quietly at his feet. At the first station (125th Street), a young couple boarded the train...the woman immediately approached the blind man and greeted him by name. After an awkward moment or two, they hugged and talked about how they had not been in touch "since high school" ... following by all the "how have you been?" and "what are you doing with yourself now?" questions.
As we rode along, the woman was patting the guide dog, then off-handedly asked his owner - "So why are you on such a late train?" His response: "I am finishing up a program at NYU, and am about to graduate with a Masters in Business." The woman and her friend both seemed in awe of his accomplishment and asked how he was able to do it - being blind and all. He then told them, "I couldn't have done it without books from a group called Recording for the Blind. I've gotten all my books from them for years!"
I eavesdropped intently to the rest of their conversation - which consisted of discussion of previous classmates and old friends - until they all got off the train at the White Plains station. They were shaking hands on the platform as the train pulled out, heading further north.
That's why I volunteer ... in the hope that it makes a difference in someone's life."
I had said nothing to the young man, but will never forget him ... tall, thin-faced, and a big smile the entire train ride. I, too, have had a big smile whenever I think of that incident ... which I do frequently.
We don't often get rewarded in that way for the volunteer work we do. I was incredibly fortunate to get the biggest reward that any of us could receive: recognition. Anonymous recognition. That's why I volunteer ... in the hope that it makes a difference in someone's life. Our work made a difference to this young man. And our chance meeting and my great fortune that I had been on that train at that time made me understand the value of what we do. I honor his success at NYU. It sure made a difference to me.
- John Esau
Learning Ally Boca Raton studio