When little Katy, a 7-year old blind student, met her new volunteer she was not talking much to her teacher, or her aids in school. Her volunteer Vision Assistant, Miss Inam, was told to expect a difficult time with Katy, who teachers felt might be also somewhat autistic. But what the teachers couldn’t have known was the impact that this special volunteer would have on Katy.
To begin with, Miss Inam Shalati is no ordinary volunteer. She has won several volunteer recognitions, including a prestigious Bell Award given by WLKY in 1999. In fact, Inam is the lead Volunteer Vision Assistant within the Jefferson County Public School system. In this role she teaches braille and tutors children who are visually impaired. And she knows a thing or two about overcoming obstacles herself, since Miss Inam was born blind and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 6 months of age.
Growing up as a child with disabilities who also moved with her family, Inam learned the value of doing things on her own. “I am a believer in doing anything you can to promote independence,” she explained. “My parents were great about letting me do things, even though it was scary letting their blind child go out into the world.” She also learned early on the value of physical and occupational therapy. “I have been to many centers and was always impressed with the caring of the staff.” In fact it was the therapists and aids that helped her growing up that motivated Inam to become a volunteer. “I know what it’s like to need some help as a kid. And it gives me great joy to help others.”
Inam’s work with little Katy has opened new doors for this youngster. Once quiet, Katy is now talking to teachers, learning brail, and more. Miss Inam also goes beyond schoolwork to teach Katy manners, days of the year, months and how to talk on the telephone in a proper telephone voice. She’s even reported to be more confident and social with other children during playtime. “I love to hear her talk,” said Inam. “Two of her favorite sayings are ‘that’s a good idea’ and ‘you’re doing great.” In May 2005, Inam was awarded a certificate for outstanding service to the Jefferson County Public School system. After a recent tour of the K.I.D.S. Center, she signed up to help and could be seen selling bracelets in May at the Walk, Rock ‘n’ Roll. She’s already agreed to be back next year.
Today at age 29, the obstacles presented by Inam’s disabilities are not over. Her eating, speech, and mobility are all affected and the severity is worsening, as she gets older. But one thing that is not lacking is her positive attitude and her belief in helping others.