After losing his vision suddenly in 2011, Quebec City’s Louis Levesque began to volunteer as a peer support group facilitator within a year.
“When I lost my vision, I could no longer do my job,” says Louis. “At 55, I was too young to be idle, so it seemed like a natural fit to help those who were facing the same challenges as me."
Louis facilitates phone conversations with a group of 10 people every week. With an incredible amount of empathy, he is committed to creating safe spaces that welcome the most difficult conversations relating to sight loss.
“I try to guide the conversation by asking questions to encourage participants to speak up and express their emotions,” explain Louis. “I provide participants with the opportunity to be listened to and, above all, understood. In my opinion, these notions are priceless," says Louis.
His approach is very much appreciated.
"Louis has a lot of charisma. He is very patient, and he never leaves anyone out," says Cécile Martel, who has been participating in the peer support groups for more than a decade. "He can go around the table and adapt to any subject that has been brought up. When we get off topic, he doesn't hesitate to bring us back."
Louis says it's a non-judgemental group that shares similar experiences. The group offers advice and identify potential solutions.
“We form a big family that help each other from a distance," says Louis. "By exchanging tips and experiences, we provide recipes for a more satisfying life.”
These groups make a world of difference for the participants.
"For example, we give each other tips on how to stay independent and I have learned to overcome the embarrassment caused by my blindness," says Cécile. "I haven't taken these meetings to heart as much as I have in the last two years. Listening to the concerns of others helps us accept our own."
For Louis, it’s about creating a sense of community and offering support.
“Vision loss can present obstacles, so it’s natural to turn inward. The groups provide a moment of exchange between people with similar circumstances, and we realize we are not so alone after all," says Louis. "My best advice is to have a positive approach when you face difficulties."
He says this volunteer experience has been a matter of continuous learning.
"Volunteering has helped me develop my facilitation and active listening skills which has been beneficial with other organizations, says Louis. "It also keeps me alert and intellectually active."
Louis encourages others to volunteer with CNIB.
"Don't hesitate to get involved," says Louis. "You should come with an open mind and the intention to learn more."