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Charity Profile: A New Voice

By Alex Johnson

Published August 1, 2012

Chuck Adkins’ iPhone has been a godsend. He’s able to scan bar codes at the grocery store, investigate which dollar bill someone just handed him, or share his extensive R&B collection with a new friend. It’s completely changed the way he accesses the world around him.

“Giving one of these to a blind person,” he said, “is like handing them a new set of eyes.”

But before technology handed Adkins a new kind of vision, he relied mostly on the only medium in which everyone sees the same – radio. He fell in love with radio as a kid, and for years it was the profession he ever imagined for himself.

Now, for more than 30 years, Adkins has been earning his keep by manning the control booth at VOICEcorps, Columbus’ nonprofit reading service for the blind.

Broadcasting 24 hours a day, the local organization is guided by its staff and nearly 200 volunteers. Each morning, volunteers arrive at the office with one task: to fill 57 minutes of airtime by reading news articles. The station reads the Columbus Dispatch every day, but also covers a wide arrange of national newspapers and magazines – including The Wall Street Journal, TIME, and Consumer Reports – helping the city’s vision-impaired access the same information many others comb through over their morning coffee.

VOICEcorps reaches its audience via the custom receivers found in the home of each of their listeners, which pick up on the subsidiary signal carried by WOSU. A person who suffers from vision loss can take an application, found on the VOICEcorps website, to their doctor in order to become eligible for a receiver or to listen live online.

Originally named the Central Ohio Reading Service, VOICEcorps was founded in 1975 by Irwin Hott, Fred Allemeier, and Stanley Doran – all blind Columbus residents. Funded largely through grants from the City of Columbus and the State of Ohio, the station also has a generous network of volunteers. The organization received a $250,000 donation from the estate of a devoted volunteer, Winifred Robinson, at the time of her passing in 1997, allowing them to expand their service. When David Liebchen, another longtime volunteer, passed away seven years ago, a few of his friends put together an annual golf outing in his honor, the proceeds of which benefit VOICEcorps. The golf outing will take place this year on September 9th at Northstar Golf Club in Sunbury.

Though funding still looms large as an obstacle for the organization, the greatest challenge they face, according to volunteer director Amy Billerman, is reaching every resident of Columbus who stands to benefit from the reading service.

“There’s no reason we can’t reach every listener in our area,” she said. “It’s just a matter of letting people know how easy it is to get their hands on it.”

The organization largely works with social service agencies in town to spread the word, but events such as the golf outing and their annual Celebrity Read-In also increase exposure, helping draw in donations and new volunteers.

It’s the people that come through the doors to offer their time, Adkins says, who make the heart of the service.

“I’ve met some of the most beautiful people here at the station,” he said. “That’s what’s kept me here 32 years.”

No radio experience is required to be an on-air volunteer for VOICEcorps. To make an appointment for an interview and audition, call (614) 274-7650. Volunteers are also needed for clerical work and receiver repair. To find out more, and for details on the golf outing, visit www.voicecorps.org.