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Why I Help-Lee Tanis, Bill and Barbara Pratt

is no better way to use the life one is given than to help others in need.

Quotes inspire people to do great things. That is what happened to Lee Tanis. Grieving from the loss of her husband, Tanis was looking for something meaningful to do. Then she saw the words on the wall at the American Red Cross of Northern New Jersey chapter - A Blind Child’s Most Precious Resource ... A Braille Volunteer. She knew what she wanted to do.

Tanis volunteers at the Jane Bente Braille Center at the American Red Cross of Northern New Jersey. It is the largest remaining volunteer Braille production center in the U.S.; and possibly, the largest in the world! Tanis first signed up to be a Braille volunteer in 2000, and she has been one ever since. "Volunteering here makes me feel useful and it’s rewarding to know that you are making a difference," she said. And as a former school teacher, Tanis knows firsthand the difference it makes for sight-impaired students to have material to work with.

At the center, a portion of Tanis’ work completes the production process that is first started by transcribers, such as Bill and Barbara Pratt – a husband and wife transcribing team. The Pratts translate the contents found in standard schoolbook texts into Braille text that can be “read” by sight-impaired students. When the texts from transcribers, like the Pratts, arrive at the Braille center in Fairfield, N.J., Tanis uses thermal and embossing equipment to transfer the transcribed texts onto special paper to develop them into Braille text books.

For over 25 years, the Pratts have freely offered their time and talent in the service of the blind. They are both Library of Congress literary certified transcribers. Upon retirement to Florida, they continue as work-at-home volunteers. Bill Pratt remarked, "While transcribing is a lengthy process, for it takes a year or more to do a book, we find the work challenging [and] enjoyable. [It's] tremendously rewarding to know you have helped blind students to attain their goals.” And, Barbara Pratt added, “There is no better way to use the life one is given than to help others in need.”

The American Red Cross initiated the Braille program after WWI to provide an information source for servicemen blinded by mustard gas. For more information on the Braille program and the rich library of texts that it produces for the sight impaired, visit the American Red Cross of Northern New Jersey website at:, then click on the “Programs” option and choose “Braille.”