Flunking his first studio reading audition didn't stop Texas-based volunteer Jim Gwynn from making a tremendous impact on the RFB&D community – driving capital campaigns, serving on our national and regional boards, and lending his voice to benefit Spanish-speaking readers across the country.
Driving into the gated area where RFB&D’s Austin Studio sits on the property of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired gives Jim Gwynn a comforting and delightful feeling. Each Wednesday morning when he comes in to read, he is reminded of his journey as a board member, his gifts to the organization during great times of need, and his first experience taking a reading audition in the studio.
Jim started volunteering with RFB&D in 1987 when his wife suggested it might be something he’d like to do during his retirement. After six months of monitoring readers, he was ready to audition to become a reader himself and take the general reading test.
“The studio director said okay, and so I took the test,” said Jim. “And I flunked it!”
The good news was that Jim has been bilingual all his life. He lived in Spain until he was six and then in Mexico from 1937 to 1975. “I said, well, I’m bilingual, can I take the Spanish test? I did and I passed it. So I became a reader because of my Spanish ability, not my English ability.”
Above: An undated photo, likely from the late 1980s, shows Jim Gwynn recording books to reel-to-reel tape at the Austin studio.
Today Jim still reads mostly Spanish books, although he did eventually pass the general reading audition. As of this writing, he has logged 3,673 hours in the studio, but his time commitment hasn't stopped there. Jim also went on to become a member of RFB&D's Texas board of directors, serving as treasurer and vice chair; and he became the chairman of that board in 1996. Additionally, for nine years, he served as a member of our national board of directors.
“I’ve enjoyed being on the board at the local unit and also on the national board,” he said. “I've met a lot of people in this organization who are committed, dedicated and very, very hard-working – and I’ve always been impressed by that commitment.”
Jim considers his role in a capital campaign to build the Austin studio as a high point of his work with RFB&D.
“When I was the Texas Chair, I remember I had just made it to our summer home in North Carolina when I got a phone call from the Texas executive director. She said, ‘I hate to tell you this, but our studio has just been condemned and we have to leave immediately.’ Luckily, another member of the board, Natalie Barraga, was in contact with Dr. Phil Hatlan at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
and they let us use a second-floor dormitory to house our studio for two years. During that time, we raised about a million dollars and negotiated to build a building on their property and start an endowment fund, which still exists today.
“I feel my greatest feat at RFB&D and the thing I’m the proudest of is when I was working with that dedicated group of board members who did a lot of work, some legal, some engineering – and we built a very nice building where we are currently located.”
Jim helped support that campaign and said that he feels that giving back to the community is something that all people who have been successful should do. He has also led others to support the organization, including his own son who has been volunteering for almost 10 years. He said he will continue volunteering at least once a week for as long as he is physically able.
“I’ve always felt that blind people have one of the greatest disabilities of any. I’ve been very fortunate, and I felt I should give something back. By contributing, we help RFB&D on a national level to be able to distribute books so that everybody
can have access to an education.”