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August 18, 2022

A unique view of service

Girl wins community service award for promoting Braille literacy
A little reading is going a long way for Mary Church this summer
– all the way to Dallas, Texas, to be exact.
Mary will receive the Braille Readers are Leaders Community Service Award at the National Federation for the Blind National Convention, along with four other students. The students selected each read a minimum number of pages in Braille, collected letters of nomination and used their Braille skills for some type of community service project. She won a trip to Dallas, Texas, all expenses paid, for herself and her mother. Mary’s older sister Jessica will attend as well.
Girl wins community service award for promoting Braille literacy

A little reading is going a long way for Mary Church this summer – all the way to Dallas, Texas, to be exact.

Mary will receive the Braille Readers are Leaders Community Service Award at the National Federation for the Blind National Convention, along with four other students. The students selected each read a minimum number of pages in Braille, collected letters of nomination and used their Braille skills for some type of community service project. She won a trip to Dallas, Texas, all expenses paid, for herself and her mother. Mary’s older sister Jessica will attend as well.

“For community service, I do a lot of volunteer work at the Mabie Center,” Mary said. “I do a lot of public speaking and a lot of work with 4-H.”

At Mabie, Mary attends tea with the ladies, and reads Braille books to some residents.

“It made me feel really good to be doing something with my time instead of sitting around feeling sorry for myself,” Mary said.

Mary was born blind and she said in many ways she doesn’t feel she is different than other kids.

“For me, it’s not a big deal,” she said. “I was born blind so I know I can get around my blindness.”

Sitting in a green sari-like dress and yellow flipflops, she had her hair pulled back to stay cool in the extreme temperatures on a recent Friday afternoon, her blue eyes bright as she talked.

She has Norrie, an inherited eye disorder that leads to blindness in infants at birth or soon after birth. It is most common in males, and Mary’s mother, Kathleen, has three brothers with the disease. The disease causes abnormal development of the retina and an inability to sense light and color.

“When we looked in her eyes, we knew something wasn’t quite right,” Kathleen said, of Mary as an infant. “My mom was the one who said I had to have her checked out.”

Since then, Mary has done well in school and made the honor roll her first two years in middle school. The only time she feels left out is when it comes to text messaging. It is a key way kids her age keep in touch with each other and it is one of the few things she can’t do.

Kathleen worries at times about Mary’s ability to socialize with kids her own age.

“Other kids might go up to someone and say, ‘Oh I like your shirt,’ and that’s how they make a new friend,” Kathleen said. “It’s something that’s taught by watching parents and peers.”

But Mary chimed in that she knows how to socialize. And in her volunteer work, she seems to be doing just fine.

She first started volunteering at Mabie when she and classmates at Rancho San Justo made Valentine’s Day cards for the residents. Her mother suggested they deliver her card in person so Mary could read it to the residents.

“They were all sitting around eating and they stopped and every lady just sat there in awe,” Kathleen said.

Since then Mary, Kathleen and Jessica have formed relationships with many of the residents. They even helped organize a 4-H project that pulled weeds up out of the garden and replaced them with sunflowers.

“I like to listen to their stories,” Mary said.

In addition to her work at the Mabie Center, Mary has done presentations at local elementary schools, helps out at Rolling Hills Community Church and even visited a home for at-risk youth while on vacation in Arizona.

Tori Ferrari, the director of Springboard Home in Tucson, Ariz., wrote a raving review of the visit with the at-risk girls who live there.

“She successfully drew each of the young ladies into the conversation …” Ferrari wrote. “Mary then spoke about how she ‘sees’ the world.”

According to Ferrari, Mary’s visit had a profound impact on some of the residents.

During her presentations, Mary talks about what it is like to be blind and takes questions from the audience.

“They ask if you have dreams,” Kathleen said.

The answer is yes, and she dreams in color, too.

Mary’s next project is to promote a resource center in Hollister where other blind children and adults would be able to go for Braille books or other resources. The family plans to donate many of the books Mary has outgrown. They are working with the Lion’s Club on the project.

“Some kids don’t have access or know what’s out there,” Kathleen said.

But before all that, they will spend the next week in Dallas at the convention where Kathleen, Mary and Jessica will attend a variety of workshops in addition to the awards banquet. Mary will be on the teen track this year, and topics will include things such as dating, social interaction and getting along in high school.

“I’m looking forward to the whole thing,” Mary said. “I am looking forward to meeting people and exchanging ideas. The whole thing will be amazing.”

Melissa Flores
A staff member edited this provided article.

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