Ruth and Cayla out for a bike rideRuth, Brendan, Kris and Cayla's Story

Note: the picture shows Ruth (left) and her volunteer Cayla out for a bike ride.

When Ruth, a Kelowna, BC CNIB client, began tandem cycling, she never imagined that she would also gain three very special friends, but that’s exactly what happened. An avid cyclist since childhood, she was missing her bicycle adventures after her vision deteriorated. She reached out to CNIB, and although the request was unusual, she was quickly paired with both a Vision Mate volunteer named Brendan, and a borrowed tandem cycle from CRIS Adaptive Adventures.

“Being a blind person, getting around is one of the biggest challenges. Going fast is no longer a common experience for me, and it’s totally liberating to have the wind in my hair,” says Ruth.

Her Vision Mate volunteer became much more than just a cycling buddy, helping with everything from internet navigation to errands. “After all, you can’t tandem cycle twelve months of the year here, so we found other things to do as well. He just had this willingness to assist me with whatever came along,” she explains.

Brendan left Kelowna for optometry school after a year, but wanted to ensure that Ruth still had support – and so introduced her to his friend Kris. Kris signed up as a Vision Mate volunteer and has developed his own very special friendship with Ruth.  

Ruth herself is a CNIB volunteer who has worked in the office as well as helping to cofacilitate orientation sessions for new volunteers. A former CNIB employee, she is also an accomplished painter, actress, public speaker, published author and college lecturer. If you visit the CNIB office in Kelowna, BC, they will invite you to have a tactile experience with her creations which adorn their walls.

After working with Kris for a period of time, Ruth took a chance and requested a second volunteer. She learned that in some neighbourhoods, where supply exceeds demand, sometimes clients are able to have more than one Vision Mate volunteer.  She was matched to Cayla, who was new to Kelowna and attending UBC Okanagan, in hopes of eventually becoming a specialized teacher for students who are blind or partially sighted.

Growing up with a sister who is blind, Cayla learned the gaps in the education system that create stumbling blocks for students with vision loss, and she wants to remove those barriers. She biked with Ruth all summer, and says the friendship has meant a lot to her. “I can go to her with things in my life,” she says. “CNIB has helped me out by giving me a chance to give back in a special way, and I’ve gained belonging and a genuine friendship.”

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