When Abby Cochran first found the LightHouse three years ago, she came asking for help – but she wasn’t blind.
Abby, who is fully sighted, had just moved to Berkeley for her Masters degree and was working at a startup in the city called TransitScreen. The company was using bluetooth beacons to send transit data to users phones – particularly useful for blind users at inaccessible signs. She needed user testers though, and someone told her LightHouse was the obvious choice.
“I met a lot of really friendly people who expressed interest in my work and welcomed me,” she says. “They said, ‘Wait, that’s actually a really interesting thing. Can we talk about doing this? It was really welcoming and nice.”
As Abby transitioned into her PhD in Urban Planning at UC Berkeley, LightHouse stuck in the back of her mind. Her social circumstances were changing, her time circumstances were changing, and she was looking for new people and activities to fill her time.
A couple months and a few LightHouse newsletters later, Abby discovered our Fitness Partner’s program.
“At the time it was in the middle of a beautiful week and I was like man, if I’m going out running anyway, I might as well have a buddy,” she says. “That would be the best.”
Abby signed up for a Volunteer Training and Volunteer Coordinator Justine Harris-Richburgh connected her to her new fitness partner who, like Abby, lived in Berkeley and was excited to spend time every weekend getting out and about. The two quickly fell into a rhythm with hikes all around the Bay Area. Abby says they still hike about once a week, usually for half a day.
“Within the first few weeks we were exercising together, he invited me to an event,” she says. “We were doing introductions and meeting people, and he said this is Abby. And they were like ‘Oh, how do you two know each other?’ And we hesitated for a second and looked in each other’s direction and said, ‘Well, we’re… friends.’”
Despite morphing into a supportive friendship, Abby says the fitness outings are both regular and casual. “We might go to see a particular section of the Bay trail,” she says, “or one of us — I won’t say which — might want to go shoe shopping. We’re flexible.”
Abby continues to volunteer at numerous LightHouse events, assisted in our Sexual Health workshop series, connected with other fitness partners, and will work as an Orienteering instructor for STEAM Camp at Enchanted Hills this summer.
So what keeps Abby coming back to LightHouse, time and time again?
“I love the people first,” she says. “I like hanging out with my friends and my friends are now here. I have a really wonderful confluence in the LightHouse. There is a mission that I also think that I’d like to forward, and that is to increase opportunities for those who are blind and low vision, but also everyone with different capabilities to reach the potential and quality of life that they desire. I want to help people do whatever they want. I’m in a privileged position to do so, and I think it would be remiss not to take advantage of that.”
“So that’s the do-gooder response. But I’m also very selfish and everyone is super nice to me and they invite me to fun things and sometimes we go get beers. They’re very supportive.”
Abby found a home at LightHouse, but she also found a valuable network and wealth of information for her research and work. She’ll be writing her dissertation on disability responsive planning, and critically examining accessibility in cities and to show how we define, perceive and measure access determines qualities of the built environment that hinder or enable people in particular ways.
“It evolved as a direct result of my work here,” she says. “This place runs deep. It’s been hugely influential and meeting the network of people here that also have a network in fields that i’m interested in, in city planning, transportation. You cannot remove people from place.”
Browse the various volunteer opportunities we offer and fill out our volunteer sign-up form or our group sign-up form. If you have any questions, contact Justine Harris-Richburgh, Volunteer Engagement Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 415-694-7320. All new volunteers are given background checks and are often given a group volunteering opportunity to start. We hope, like Abby, you’ll consider giving your time to the LightHouse (and becoming part of our diverse and growing community in the process)!