Sharing vision of true service is their goal

Every month Pearl McDonald meets a group of women in the lobby of her downtown Salt Lake City condominium to talk about life.

Like her, all the women are active members of the Church who have been productive and successful. Like her, they are all striving to keep their independence. And, like her, they are all legally blind.Sister McDonald is a member of a self-help support group for visually-impaired members of the Canyon Road Ward, Salt Lake Eagle Gate Stake. The ward Relief Society developed the group to help 11 women who have lost or are losing their sight.

During monthly meetings, the women share strategies for dealing with the problems that come with their handicap - such as sorting money, putting on makeup, telling time, or reaching for the sacrament tray without spilling the water or bread.

Sister McDonald said group members are learning to survive and cope together.

"You learn so many things just from being together," she said. "You don't feel so much like an oddball. You know you have company."

Helen B. Gibbons, ward Relief Society president, said she has seen a huge difference in the group's members since their first meeting in November.

"I think it is filling a need," she explained. "They laugh together and cry together."

Sister Gibbons said the Relief Society had three objectives in mind when they started the support group: to sponsor monthly meetings where the women could build friendships and share ideas, to help members of the group participate as fully as possible in all Church programs and to provide service opportunities for other ward members.

Bishop Jacob de Jager, an emeritus General Authority, said the women's biggest needs are finding someone to read to them and to drive them around.

He has asked sighted members in the ward to take turns reading to the women at weekly reading groups and making sure they get to Church or the grocery store.

Bishop de Jager has also stressed the importance of making sure the visually-impaired women have callings in the Church. Most are visiting teachers with a sighted companion.

"There are a lot of little things I can do," Kay Garff said, explaining that she likes to be involved with Church callings, despite her handicap.

Margaret Farnsworth, the coordinator for the visual-impaired support group, said she has grown after working with the women, who are learning to overcome their problems.

"I have never seen any one rally to each other as these women have done," she explained. "We want them to know they are not alone in this. They do not come down and complain about their lot in life. As soon as you start working with them you love them to pieces."

Sister Farnsworth said she wouldn't trade the experiences she has had through her calling for anything in the world. "They are all making a contribution to my life," she said. "They are all making contributions to each others' lives."

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