Hoby Wedler with Learning Ally President & CEO Andrew Friedman, and volunteers Peg Hastings and Dr. James Hastings. Henry “Hoby” Wedler, a graduate student at the University of California, White House Champion of Change, and lifelong Learning Ally member, traveled by himself across the country to host a unique sensory experience for volunteers, supporters and staff at the organization’s headquarters. Blind since birth, Hoby is currently working towards a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at UC Davis and enjoys tutoring younger students in the sciences, history, and mathematics. When he's not in the classroom, his penchant for teaching extends beyond academics into another acute area of interest: wine tasting. A short distance from the university he attends, Hoby hosts monthly blind wine tastings at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Napa Valley-- a one-of-a-kind experience he was delighted to share with the Learning Ally community. Before the main event at Learning Ally's Princeton studio, there was a volunteer appreciation breakfast during which Hoby shared stories about his early experiences with Learning Ally—his use of audiobooks throughout middle school, high school, and college—and how he became passionate about chemistry. Expressing sincere gratitude to the volunteers, he said, “It is really a treat to listen to your voices describe things with such eloquence and ease. It makes my education, as a totally blind student, obtainable. Without Learning Ally I wouldn’t have been able to excel in honors courses and achieve a GPA that allowed me to get accepted at a top university." Special guests in attendance included Peg Hastings, a volunteer who is retiring after 42 years of reading for Learning Ally. Hoby, who actually recognized Peg’s voice from history books he’s listened to, said to her, "All that you've done for me and the other members is phenomenal." Nancy Amick showing Hoby a braille map of the U.S. Another attendee, Nancy Amick, is in her 52nd year of volunteering with Learning Ally and the Princeton Braillists. Producing a singularly unique craft, Nancy creates detailed maps and drawings by hand in braille. The volunteers were equally as thrilled to meet Hoby as he was them, but after sharing stories and appreciation it was time for everyone to settle into their seats and delve into wine tasting. Seated at long tables placed among the recording booths in Princeton’s studio, 35 guests sat blindfolded and eager to learn about the intricacies of the chosen wines and the science behind how they were made. Told to hone in on taste and smell, participants followed Hoby’s detailed and patient instructions as they were guided through four different wine samples.
After the event, one smiling volunteer said, "We live in a visually saturated world, now more than ever with the presence of smartphones, tablets, and other media devices that constantly bombard us with images. Stepping into the 'eyes' of Hoby, if just for a short time, I noticed details about the wine and the setting that I wouldn't have, had I been able to see. It was a truly special experience." Event Invitation: click to view larger Does a blind wine tasting sound intriguing? For those in northern California, Learning Ally and the Francis Ford Coppola Winery are partnering for an exclusive "Tasting in the Dark" fundraising event, led by Hoby Wedler, on Saturday, November 16, 2013 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on the Winery grounds. If you'd like to join this exclusive event, please RSVP to 855.793.5920 or email rsvp@LearningAlly.org by November 11.