In the early 1990’s, the population of legally blind residents in Fairfield County was several thousand and growing due to the rise of vision disorders among the elderly in the community. Claudette Tallon and Jim Waddington joined forces and began the Voluntary Services for the Blind of Fairfield County in 1993. Tallon wanted to help others in memory of her father who had severe visual impairment most of his life, and Waddington is legally blind.
The birth of the organization in 1993 did not cause a great stir initially. The pair spent countless hours planning and organizing what at first was just an idea. By 1999, the group had grown from two to 123 volunteers. The program had provided more than 7,200 hours of direct service to 146 visually impaired clients, and by the end of 2000 they had given more than 30,000 hours of direct service to their clients since its inception.
There are no paid employees in the program. As a result, virtually all grants and donations go directly to provide services to visually impaired clients. Major funding has been and is provided by the E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation for the Blind, The Fairfield County Foundation, and the Stamford/Springdale Lions Club. The Senior Services of Stamford also gives assistance to the program by providing free office space.
Many of the clients are elderly and may not have immediate family in the area. To them, this service has become a lifeline that enables them to maintain the independent lifestyle they desire. The program offers them assistance, guidance, and encouragement. They know they always have someone to call in case of a crisis. The volunteers also believe the program is a lifeline as it allows them to enrich their society by sharing with others and enabling other citizens to continue being productive in their community.
Tallon has been the life-force of the program. She tirelessly handles virtually every aspect of its operation. She recruits and interviews volunteers, signs up new clients, matches clients and volunteers, attends initial meeting between the volunteers and clients, as well as coordinates ongoing activities with the clients and volunteers. She is available seven days a week to deal with any program issues.
The Voluntary Services for the Blind of Fairfield County received the CT Life Award for outstanding service to the senior community of Connecticut in 1995. They were honored by Mayor Daniel Malloy of Stamford on November 15,1996 when he declared that day, “Blind Services Day” in honor of the program’s volunteers. In addition, Tallon was named Community Leader of the Year by the Stamford Advocate newspaper in 1998.
The program is a staple in the community and the volunteers are making a significant impact in the lives of many who need assistance. They are motivated by compassion and care and are working to attract additional volunteers to facilitate the delivery of their service to an even larger number of visually impaired people.