Volunteering with a Heart Full of Vision

Eric Rippentrop has experience volunteering. After all, he started his life of service at the age of 3.

“My mother dressed me in an elf costume and took me to help out with a shoe drive for Goodwill,” he said, laughing.

Perhaps because of his young introduction to the joy of volunteering or perhaps because he just loves helping people, Eric has continued to make volunteering a non-negotiable part of his life.

“Since the age of 3, I have only missed one year of doing the Goodwill shoe drive,” Eric said. “The truth is that I get much more out of volunteering than the people I am helping. I know that phrase is over-used, but I see the truth in it.”

About eight years ago, however, life threw Eric a curveball. He was involved in a car accident that put him in a coma for six weeks. His left lung had collapsed, and doctors gave him a four percent chance of living. He had also been rendered blind by the crash.

“Even though I lost my eyesight, I survived. And I have always thought that God must have kept me here for a reason,” Eric said.

eric right 3

Eric, a volunteer for the LSS Citizenship Class, has been giving back to his community since the age of 3.

When Eric was back on his feet, he started again looking for places to volunteer. This time, however, he was met with resistance. Most organizations said he would need a sighted guide to come with him. “It was hard. I understood that my blindness affected by ability to serve, but I wanted to keep volunteering.”

Then he found the Center for New Americans.

“They took me in right away, said I was welcome to help out in the Education classes,” Eric said.

And that is exactly where you can find Eric every Friday and Saturday morning. Eric helps LSS Citizenship Instructor Diana Streleck teach U.S. history and English pronunciation.

“What has been interesting for me is that I thought I knew who an immigrant or a refugee was. But I didn’t have the slightest idea,” he said. “I find the students so inspiring and motivating. I hear what I would consider horror stories from their lives, but they have found a way to move on and start over. I have the utmost respect for every individual here.”

Diana said she has been impressed by how Eric’s vision impairment doesn’t hinder his willingness to interact with the students. “If they are struggling to pronounce a word, the students will ask Eric for help.  He will ask the students to tell him the letters in the word and then help the students to pronounce the word.  Very rarely will he tell a student that they have to ask the teacher because he cannot figure out a way to assist.  Because of his ingenuity, I think the students forget that he truly cannot see what they hold out for him to check or look at,” she said.

“I thought I knew who an immigrant or a refugee was.  But I didn’t have the slightest idea… I have the utmost respect for every individual here.”

Eric is now working on finishing his undergraduate degree and then going into a master’s program that focuses on – what else? – social services and human development.

If you would like to join Eric and others like him who volunteer in our Education Program, please call Kristyne Walth at 731-2009 or email her at kristyne.walth@lsssd.org.

We are always open to new volunteers!

Posted by Julie Boutwell-Peterson

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