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The Lady with the Smiley Voice

Categories: Volunteerism

Rosie Kelber shown with Bill KelberThe late Rosie Kelber was committed to Learning Ally's mission, embodying the best of our volunteers' unending dedication. Just 10 years into Learning Ally's 65-year history, Rosie began her own history of passionate and multifaceted support for the visually impaired. She continued to volunteer for 40 years and even inspired her daughter Diane to pursue a role on Learning Ally's staff.  My mom, Rosie, began her first real volunteering in the late 1950s. With five rambunctious children being, well, children, she had to find a regular, temporary escape out of the house. I was the youngest of those brats who helped chase her into becoming a volunteer. But it wasn’t with regrets as it shaped both of our lives for the next four decades. Since one of my mom’s favorite nieces was blind, she chose to sign up as one of the first volunteers at the national nonprofit organization Learning Ally, then known as Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D) at its Upland, California studio. Immersing herself completely in her “work,” Rosie became Board Chair (five times), a leading fundraiser and star volunteer recruiter. Her passion was so contagious no one could turn her down. When Rosie realized blind students needed to identify the textbooks on audiotape, she learned Braille and made tags to identify the tapes. She then founded the Pomona Valley Transcriber’s Guild and taught Braille to sighted adults, vision-impaired children and local college students. My mother had two passions: one for our family and the other for the visually-impaired. She was fiercely committed to all students having equal opportunity and flew to Sacramento, our state capitol, more than once to picket for the cause. In addition, she graduated from college a year before I did because as she said in words I can still hear, “Recording for the Blind prefers volunteers with college degrees, honey.” On one occasion, Rosie had the opportunity to meet a blind “borrower” of RFB&D’s audio textbooks. As soon as she introduced herself to the young man, he exclaimed, “Oh I know you. You’re the lady with the smiley voice!” Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul bookcoverThe last year of my mom’s life was extremely painful and frustrating. Cancer had taken over inside and pain was something she couldn’t understand or bend to. After 40 years of steady volunteering—including weekly trips to the recording studio—the RFB&D staff came to my mother’s house to set up a home recording station since trips to nearby Upland were too much for her to endure. On her “good” days, she would spend an average of fifteen minutes recording textbooks in her living room for the kids she wanted to make sure stayed in school. She actually became embarrassed that was all she could give. Finally too weak to record and riddled with pain, she spent her last days proofreading Braille lessons for the blind college students who had come to depend on her. But before my mother died, she made us swear not to hold a funeral. If we did, she promised to haunt us. Diane Kelber, Senior Communications Associate, has been on staff at Learning Ally for 16 years. The full description of Rosie, from which this excerpt is drawn, was written by Diane and published in "Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul." Diane was honored to record the chapter about her mother for Learning Ally’s audiobook library.

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