Jerry Smith

Jerry Smith was preparing to give a talk on his experiences living with vision loss to a group of children at a camp when he overheard a young girl asking her mother about his guide dog. 

“That is a working dog,” explained the child’s mother.

“What does he get paid?” asked the girl. 

“He gets paid with love,” her mother replied.

Smith has never forgotten this exchange. It’s one of the many touching experiences that make his volunteer work with CNIB so worthwhile. 

Smith, now in his 60s, has been blind for over 30 years and has been volunteering with CNIB for over five years. 

“It’s good fun,” he says. “It gives you a sense of accomplishment.”

His philosophy: who better to talk about the important services of CNIB than someone who actually uses them? 

“As people with vision loss, we are the ones getting services, so if we have the time, then we should give back – it’s just the proper thing to do,” he asserts.

Smith gives talks about living with vision loss, and explains CNIB client services to community groups, schools and hospitals. He also helps with fundraising events, such as the annual Focus on Crocus campaign. 

By talking about his own life, he feels he is the perfect example of how donations to CNIB are put to good use. 

“So much can be done to raise awareness of the work of CNIB,” says Smith, adding that part of his talks involve highlighting some lesser-known facts about the organization, such as the fact that 90 per cent of CNIB clients do have some remaining vision. 

Though vision loss is certainly a serious subject, Smith often lightens the mood by adding an element of humour – especially when recounting tales of his own life. 

“I have lots of stories of things that have happened to me over the years. I do a lot of cooking so there are mishaps that occur, like rubber bands falling into the pot,” he jokes.

“And I’ve had some very harrowing experiences with the dog – near calamities – falling down elevator shafts and getting lost in snow storms,” he adds, chuckling. 

Smith and his wife Marilyn also run a vision loss peer support group through the CNIB office in Barrie, Ontario. 

Having first attended a peer support group as a participant years ago, he remembers thinking, “I thought I knew all about blind people until I went to that group.” 

“Most people think, ‘This is so awful and so terrible…’” he says. And admittedly, adjusting to vision loss was a trying time for him the first year. But his outlook changed with the help of a guide dog and CNIB services. 

“Since then I’ve done a lot of things. I ran a big cafeteria, ran my own vending machine business. I’ve always had a big boat and gone fishing. 

“So that’s something that I like to instill in others – assurance that vision loss is not the end of life.”