Georgia radio reading service provides connection during pandemic

Like so many people, Penelope Malone starts her morning by reading the newspaper.

The only difference?  She reads it aloud ... in her basement closet.

Malone is a volunteer for the Georgia Radio Reading Service (GaRRS), an Atlanta-based organization that produces non-stop free programming for Georgians who are visually impaired or otherwise have trouble with the printed word.  Listeners can access GaRRS content in a variety of ways, including listening online, over the phone, or via a free radio receiver.  

"We broadcast national news, local news, state news," says executive director Rebecca Arayan. "We have a variety of books and magazines. And also, we connect people to service providers."

A network of 200 volunteers from across the state records that programming; some work once a month, others as much as a few times a week. Before the pandemic, most of those volunteers recorded their material at the agency’s headquarters in Midtown Atlanta. But last year, the pandemic forced readers to create their own makeshift recording studios at home.

"Many of our volunteers were hesitant, at first, to move over," Arayan says.  "But ... some of them have been with us for 20 years.  And they are so dedicated that they went ahead and bit the bullet and learned this new system." 

"I was one of those people that went to the GaRRS office and then transitioned to doing it totally at home," Malone says. "And I must say, it's so much easier to do it at home because I just trudge down to my little basement closet in the early morning hours and do the recording." 

And for listeners like Jasmine Seabron, who is also a producer at GaRRS, those volunteers do more than just deliver information; they also offer some connection during a time when it’s so easy to feel disconnected.

"People want to get out and they want to be able to socialize," Seabron says.  "Even though you can't do that right now …you can still listen to the GaRRS. You feel better, hearing somebody reading to you."

Which means even alone their makeshift recording booths, volunteers like Penelope Malone are making a difference.

For more information on the Georgia Radio Reading Service — including details on how to listen — click here.

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