With his red-tipped white cane tapping before him, Steven Losea is well-known around his Ahwatukee Portofino Condominium neighborhood and adjacent Fry’s Food Store.
He says he’s known as “the blind guy,” a moniker for which he harbors no umbrage as he’s been totally blind since 1981 due to optic neuritis in both eyes – a rare condition that struck later in life.
Wednesdays, after the grocery store flyers are released online and after Losea completes his two hours in the condo project’s gym and swims laps for another half hour, the active 68-year-old heads to Fry’s to score needed weekly sale items.
He’s aware of what’s on sale because he listens to Sun Sounds of Arizona volunteer Rose Dryer read the area supermarket ads. He also stays apprised of local news on his free-provided Sun Sounds radio set.
Both programs are the most popular services provided by Tempe Sun Sounds, the home office for Sun Sounds of Arizona, which has affiliate radio services in Tucson and Flagstaff.
“We are probably the one of the few places where you can hear grocery ads and obituaries,” said Director Andrea Pasquale, a 10-year Ahwatukee resident. “The grocery ads are one of the most popular programs, next to local news.”
Founded in 1979, Sun Sounds of Arizona is a service not only for the blind.
“We are available to anyone who can’t read print readily,” said Pasquale, who was involved with another reading service in her home state of Connecticut.
“Some people think the service is only for the blind, but we’re there for anyone who can’t read print readily,” she said. “It could be dyslexia, a traumatic brain injury where they can’t concentrate on the printed word, or arthritis or a quadriplegic who can’t physically hold a newspaper or magazine.”
The free service offers programming for all ages, including children. Magazines for men, women and teens are included in the 24-hour lineup. And local news, unedited and read from daily and weekly newspapers, is specific to the Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff service areas.
“We don’t charge for the service or the radios we send out. Keeping people informed on the same newspapers and magazines as their friends is important to us,” said Pasquale. “We don’t editorialize or censor material or language. We’re nothing more than a conduit from the author to the listener.”
Sun Sounds of Arizona recently was honored by the Phoenix Mayor’s Committee on Disability Issues with the 2017 Business Excellence Award for Nonprofits.
Pasquale said Sun Sounds of Arizona is possibly one of the most decorated reading services in the country, also garnering awards for their kids programming.
Providing these programs takes a cadre of dedicated volunteers – more than 400 statewide and approximately 30 at the Tempe office/studio located in the Rio Salado College Administration Building.
One is Tempe attorney Paul Weich, a 27-year Ahwatukee resident who has been volunteering as a reader for seven years. He reads Phoenix New Times and occasionally other local newspapers.
A former radio newsman in Santa Barbara and Tucson before receiving his law degree, Weich said prior experience with elder relatives who found themselves struggling to read newspapers they’d always read is one of reason for his volunteering.
“I think it’s important for everyone to be able to hear original reporting and writing without filters,” said Weich, 54. “Sun Sounds helps people keep connected with their community, and it helps me do the same.”
Mesa residents Chuck and Rene Rinaldi, who upon retirement in 2009 emigrated from Connecticut, have volunteered at Sun Sounds for five years.
“I first became aware of the service through the Talking Books program at the Arizona State Library, where I also volunteered for a few years,” said Rene Rinaldi, a former high school Latin and French teacher who spent 25 years as an administrator at Wesleyan University before retiring.
She began at Sun Sounds by filling a need for a Vanity Fair magazine reader.
“That was something I read regularly on my own. It was a good fit, and I’ve been doing it ever since, Rene Rinaldi said, adding:
“Throughout my entire life, no activity has been so important to me or brought me more satisfaction than reading. Consequently, I feel strongly everybody should have the opportunity to have access to any and all printed material, and I am happy to be part of providing that service.”
Chuck Rinaldi is a control board operator as well as a reader.
“In the words of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, there is no greater calling than to serve our fellow human beings. I’m proud to be able to use the skills I’ve been given to help open up the world of all kinds of literature to the visibly impaired,” said Chuck Rinaldi, who retired after 39 years in secondary education, the last five as a high school assistant principal.
He currently teaches psychology at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
Volunteer readers must first pass a reading test and then are trained in recording and editing programs.
Donations are key to continuing the free services to children, teens and adults.
“Donations are an essential part of this organization,” said Linda Pastori, general manager of Sun Sounds and KJZZ/K-BACH. “The service and radios are free to the end user so we rely on donations, grants, business and civic support, and fundraising to pay for our broadcast and operating expenses.
Pastori explained that a $25 donation pays for a radio for a new listener, $63 buys the production and broadcast of a half-hour program, $125 the production of an hour program and $250, the production for one month of a half-hour program.
Like some other nonprofits, they also accept donations of motor vehicles and boats, and they provide charitable bequest opportunities.
For Losea, programming opens up opportunities and knowledge, noting: “I have no vision whatsoever anymore, and I consider Sun Sounds part of my support system.”
Information: SunSounds.org The nonprofit is also on Facebook and Twitter.