ROCKLAND, Maine — John Michael Grondin lost his sight many years ago from the effects of diabetes, but that has not stopped him from being a community dynamo.
“John sees more things as he walks along the streets than most people in Rockland,” said Terry Pinto, who serves with Grondin on the city’s parks commission.
Grondin has been a nonstop volunteer for both the city and his church — St. Peter’s Episcopal in Rockland. The church thanked him by purchasing a device that will help him read, and a dinner was held Thursday night to collect money to repay the church for the purchase.
Community members were there to help prepare the dinner. Among those were Pinto and City Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf.
“He has been an irreplaceable volunteer for the city and the congregation,” MacLellan-Ruf said. “I have never the seen the man tire when it comes to asking for people who are in need.”
Pinto said as members of the parks commission, he is amazed at how much Grondin takes in as they walk the streets to visit city parks.
“He notices how fast cars are going by. He knows when he has reached an alley by feeling the drafts. He can tell when sidewalks are cracked and in need of repair,” Pinto said.
Pinto said Grondin also has thought of things that he would never have on his own. Those include making sure that if there are granite benches and tables in a park that it be a different color than the granite on the ground so that people with visual impairment can differentiate. He also points out that signs in parks and on the sidewalks should be no lower than 7 feet high so people with lack of sight will not strike them.
“He has taught me so much that I take for granted. He sees from the inside out, not the outside,” Pinto said.
Martha Rogers, the church’s senior warden, said in a news release last month that Grondin is a lifelong member of St. Peter’s and is serving his first year on the church’s governing body.
Grondin is a Rockland native. He moved to Florida where he was working when he lost his sight. He moved back to Rockland and got an apartment in Rankin Block, a historic downtown brick building that has a restaurant and bakery on the ground floor and apartments on the upper levels.
Grondin said he is glad to work on all these projects. He said when he returned to Maine, he signed up for Social Security and then was informed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services that he was eligible for MaineCare and then for food stamps.
“I thought, ‘What can I do to help benefit other people?’ I didn’t want to stay in my apartment all day,” Grondin said.
Rogers pointed out that this summer, Grondin has been soliciting businesses to donate so that city parks can have picnic tables.
Grondin said that so far, he has secured donations of 10 tables,.
He has been an active member of St. Peter’s Share the Love Auction Committee, which raises money for Knox County organizations that provide health services, food, housing and heating assistance. At a February auction, $15,000 was raised.
Rogers said in a news release that Grondin’s biggest challenge in his volunteer work had been keeping informed of the activities and work of the groups. Minutes, agendas and background material all has to be read into a tape recorder so he could listen and prepare for meetings.
Rogers then came up with a way to make it easier for Grondin to get the information. Grondin is unable to read Braille because of injuries to his fingers that reduced his sense of touch, so Rogers contacted the Iris Network, a not-for-profit organization in Portland that assists people with low vision or no vision, to consider if there were any devices that could help.
The staff at the Iris Network recommended an Eye-Pal Ace Plus Reader.
Bonnie Gouzie, the Iris Network director of access technology and employment services, demonstrated the device to Grondin and assessed his ability to operate it, according to Rogers’ news release. She said she was amazed at how well he picked up on the concepts, was able to find the knobs and buttons, and was able to scan and read his mail.
Grondin demonstrated Thursday evening to those at the church dinner how the device works. He stressed that it was not a computer and that he cannot go on the Internet. The reader photographs printed documents placed in front of it, scans the information and then it both appears in large letters on the screen and speaks the written material. The reader also is able to send and receive email that is then spoken by the machine.
In addition to meeting information, the machine is sensitive enough to read the labels on prescription containers, Grondin said.
The church purchased the device for him about a month ago. Any additional money collected from Thursday night’s benefit will be given to St. Peter’s Rector’s Discretionary Fund which is used for people with emergency needs for housing, food, electricity and other special needs.
Donations can still be made, and donations by check should be made out to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, with “Grondin Reading Machine” in the memo line. For more information on making a donation, call Marty Rogers at 236-8922 or St. Peter’s Church at 594-8191, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or visit www.stpetersrockland.org.