Matthew Stock, a student at Nova High School in Broward County, FL, is showing a commitment to volunteerism and service to help blind and visually impaired.
For many years, Matthew worked as a volunteer at the Broward Lighthouse for the Blind. Through his experiences, he became aware of special needs of blind and visually impaired children. He learned that many children fall behind in school because their classroom teachers are unable to give them the special attention their disability requires. He learned that many are socially isolated and spend a great deal of time at home alone, because the very nature of blindness—being unable to visually gage other's reactions and being unable to learn by observation—can result in a lack of social skills that lead to isolation.
During the summer of 1997, Matthew became determined to broaden the scope of his efforts and sought to coordinate services between the Lighthouse and the school system. Matthew started the LINC program, with an emphasis on facilitating interactions between students at his high school and visually impaired students throughout the district.
The LINC Project links blind and visually impaired students with high school student volunteers for academic tutoring and a "buddy" program that encourages friendships and helps the children develop social skills and confidence. Another component of the program includes efforts aimed at sighted students. Educational programs presented to school children in all grade levels helps them become aware of the challenges and difficulties of being visually impaired.
Through the LINC project, Matthew has touched many lives. The academic skills gained by the visually impaired children who receive tutoring have a lasting effect on their school performance. The "buddy" program is very effective in helping the children develop social skills and become more active in the community. Parents often remark on the benefits their children derive from LINC. The student volunteers are learning more about disabilities, developing compassion and gaining pride from making a positive impact in the lives of others.
Matthew will continue to direct LINC until his graduation in 2000. At that time, he will hand the direction of LINC over to another student at his high school.