Blind World Magazine

Matching the caring with the needy.

October 25, 2005.
Union Leader, New Hampshire.

MANCHESTER - Paul Vincent still dreams in color, still wonders out loud about the shade of someone's hair or the tint of their eyes.

He's lived in darkness for 26 years - ever since a steel platform landed on his head while he was working construction in 1979, fracturing his skull and severing both optic nerves.

His turquoise eyes still move normally as they follow the sound of a voice or the rumble of a car engine pulling into his circular driveway.

"That's Gene, in his Thunderbird," he says, double-checking the time on his talking wristwatch.

"Nine-oh-five-ay-em," says the mechanical voice, one of many modern conveniences Vincent, 55, relies on daily. But gadgets can only do so much.

Being a blind man in the big city would be much harder for him if not for the kindness of organized strangers like Eugene Rheault, a volunteer with The CareGivers Inc.

For more than a decade, Vincent has been receiving services from the Manchester-based volunteer organization, whose mission is to help the elderly and disabled maintain independence and dignity.

With one phone call, clients can schedule rides to doctor appointments or shopping trips, and shut-ins can receive hot meals.

On this day, Vincent is right about who has arrived, but missed the mark on the make and model. Instead of Rheault's T-bird, it's a gold-colored van recently donated to the organization by longtime business supporter, Dobles Chevrolet-Buick.

"It's my first time with the new van," says Rheault, 70, a retired dentist from Manchester's West Side, who has been a CareGiver for about six years.

The van makes it possible to scheduled multiple appointments in a day and eliminates the need to schedule two weeks in advance, said Rheault.

CareGivers has filled a void left in Vincent's life since his wife died two years ago. Not only is he a client, but he also volunteers by making telephone reassurance calls several times a week to others who live alone.

"I make them laugh, I make them feel good - and I feel good, too, after talking to them," Vincent says. "It works both ways - I have my needs when I call them, too. We just hash it all out. It's wonderful."

For Lillian and Gerard Houle of Manchester, giving up their independence two years ago was a tough decision. "My husband is 86, and was getting too nervous to drive. One day he just said, 'We're getting rid of it.' And we did. Thanks to the CareGivers we can get by without the car, no problem," said Lillian Houle.

"But you are so used to your independence that it's hard to ask. This organization, they don't make you feel as though they have to do this, or they're obliged. They just do it out of the goodness of their hearts," Houle said.

CareGivers executive director Donny Guillemette says he operates on a shoestring budget with a six-person staff and about 200 volunteers who serve 600 clients. The beauty of the operation has little to do with transportation.

"It's great when we can get someone like Paul Vincent to the post office. But the true magic - and the meat behind it - is the conversation that happens along the way, or the reassurance that comes when there's a familiar face waiting for you after a doctor's appointment," Guillemette said. "It's about matching up someone in need with someone who cares."

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