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Blind volunteer helps others with kind heart, sensitive ear

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`I like challenges. I'm always looking to try something new,' says Betty Kasubski, with her musical saw. Among her other interests, Miss Kasubski, 48, makes bereavement calls for two hospices, Heartland and Visiting Nurse, and stays on call for a 24-hour crisis hotline.

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Betty Kasubski's hobby is collecting hobbies.

She plays the piano, sousaphone, recorder, and musical saw. She collects music boxes, wind chimes, and perfumes. She has studied massage.

“I like challenges,” she said. “I'm always looking to try something new.”

Among her sundry interests, the one that has remained constant is her commitment to volunteering. Characteristically, she distributes her volunteer hours among several organizations.

Miss Kasubski, 48, is blind and does most of her work from home. She makes bereavement calls for two hospices, Heartland and Visiting Nurse, and stays on call for a 24-hour crisis hotline.

Her involvement with Visiting Nurse began in 1997, when the father of a friend was dying of cancer. Miss Kasubski was moved by the sensitivity of the hospice and wanted to extend the same emotional support to other families in need.

Miss Kasubski's job is to place calls to grieving families two months after the death of their loved one.

Often, she said, they hesitate to speak frankly about their grief, but they open up once they realize she cares to listen.

Their conversations sometimes last up to an hour, and she continues to follow up with them through the first year after the death.

“She has to make a cold phone call, and she can immediately get people to talk to her,” said Carol Small, former volunteer coordinator at Visiting Nurse. “Very few people can do that successfully. Her compassion is touching. She is truly a unique individual.”

Miss Kasubski makes 20 to 30 phone calls a month for Visiting Nurse and Heartland, where she began working when Mrs. Small, a close friend, took over there as director of volunteer services.

Even before her hospice work, Miss Kasubski developed an interest in helping patients at Riverside Mercy Hospital in Toledo, where she worked for 21 years transcribing medical documents with the help of a computer screen that could talk. Her job was eliminated five years ago, and she has dedicated herself to volunteer work ever since.

“It's harder for blind people to find employment,” she said. “But I'm not one to twiddle my thumbs.”

She is also not one to feel encumbered by her disability. If anything, it gives her an uncommonly therapeutic touch with the bereaved.

“She doesn't use her blindness when she is talking to people,” Mrs. Small said. “But it has made her into the person she is. She really listens.”

Miss Kasubski also assists victims who seek help from a 24-hour crisis hotline. She requested the name of the hotline be withheld to preserve her anonymity with callers.

A born-again Christian, she is active with First Alliance Church in downtown Toledo and helps replace book jackets for the church library, which holds about 4,000 volumes of religious material. Until recently, she played piano once a month at services in the Cherry Street Mission.

Miss Kasubski, who named sacred music as her favorite, learned piano when she was 6 and later pursued a series of unorthodox instruments. At a high school for the blind in Columbus, she performed popular tunes on soda bottles, which can be filled with water to produce different notes.

Her spirit is an adventurous one, according to life-long friend Lois Eddy.

“There isn't anything she won't try,” Miss Eddy said. “She is very courageous and has been skiing, parasailing, and loves swimming and riding a tandem bike.”

It is this same life-affirming energy that gives her a soothing power with the bereaved. “She loves people and will help in any way she can,” Miss Eddy said.

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