Audio-Reader Network volunteers bring The Leaven to life

Dee Dee Eccles reads The Leaven aloud as a volunteer for the Audio-Reader Network, traveling from Overland Park to Lawrence each week to record in a studio at the University of Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaaven

OVERLAND PARK — It was a tough call.

But when Holy Cross parishioner Dee Dee Eccles was given the choice of reading aloud a hunting magazine for the visually impaired — or The Leaven each week — it was Father Mark Goldasich’s column that made all the difference!

Eccles had spent a life reading aloud to her students and her children.

Then, just as the Overland Park resident was enjoying the perks of retirement from full-time teaching, she saw a story in The Leaven about the paper’s addition to the Audio-Reader Network.

She applied to be a volunteer reader.

The network is a service of The University of Kansas and features the audio recordings of nearly 50 publications. Volunteers read and record the content — from stories to advertisements — allowing individuals who are either visually impaired or otherwise print-challenged to keep up with their favorite publications.

The benefit to listeners is clear. But volunteer readers say they are reaping the rewards as well.

“It’s a service designed to help others in need, yet I never realized how much it would help me, too,” Eccles said.

“I was always familiar with The Leaven,” she said, “and would breeze through some of the stories.

“However, now I read the entire paper. I’ve learned so much about all the functions and ministries of the archdiocese. Archbishop Naumann is busy!”

Eccles does not regret choosing The Leaven over the hunting magazine. She was drawn to The Leaven’s human interest stories, she said, as well as its columnists. Not to mention that she’s a big fan of Father Mark.

“When I get to that page, I get very excited,” she said.

Beyond her classroom and parenting experience, Eccles spent time as a customer service representative for the Disney catalog. She enjoyed the phone work. For the Audio-Reader Network, Eccles records in its KU campus studio.

Similarly, Lenexa resident and Good Shepherd parishioner Jan Kinney has enjoyed her volunteer work with the Audio-Reader Network.

She, also, learned about the opportunity by reading about it in The Leaven. She records her stories by phone and splits the newspaper with another reader.

“I was an avid reader growing up and have been my entire life,” Kinney said. “I was fearful that if ever I lost my vision, I would lose what I enjoy so much — reading.

“Someone has to read to the people who can’t and who want to enjoy the written word.”

Kinney began by reading the Iola Register and HyVee advertisements before being asked if she’d like to read The Leaven.

Like Eccles, Kinney said she never read The Leaven as deeply as she does now.

“I get so much more out of The Leaven stories now,” she said. “My favorite articles are stories of conversion, like the recent story on Toby Cook with the Royals.

“We tend to hear so much about those who have fallen away from the church that it’s nice to hear stories of those who seek out the church.”

Kinney, who admits she speaks quickly in conversation, focuses on reading a little slower. Additionally, she feels it’s important to add emotion and inflection when recording.

If anyone was trained for the job, it is Overland Park resident and Church of the Ascension parishioner Tamara Seyler-James. She enjoyed a career in California and New Mexico as a radio broadcaster, prosecutor and business litigator.

Seyler-James spends 90 minutes phoning in her recordings of the last nine pages of The Leaven and another hour prepping to describe photos. One of her favorite parts of The Leaven is reading the calendar.

“I often wondered, from looking at my life,” she said, “why I was given a fantastic education and great work life, because my true vocation is to family life.

“This opportunity allows me to give back from the gifts I was given and tells me that nothing in my life was wasted.”

Each of the women auditioned for the job, rehearsed the pronunciation of one-, two- and three-syllable words, described photos and were evaluated on their pace and delivery.

Kinney spends about an hour a week reading her portion of The Leaven, while Eccles spends 90 minutes reading the entire paper.

Aside from a dry throat (treated with lozenges and water), Eccles says her biggest challenge is the correct pronunciation of names, as well as Latin and religious terms.

For Seyler-James, names — and her allergies — can be tough. Both she and Kinney say describing photos can be challenging.

“I try to describe what’s going on in the photo. For example, I might say that the woman in the picture is wearing a red dress, that someone is holding a bouquet of flowers or standing at a podium and reading,” Kinney said. “I just try to be as specific as possible.”

Tom Racunas, lead consultant for the archdiocese’s special-needs ministry, hears from family members of listeners who appreciate the service. But there’s another benefit, said Racunas.

“The service provides all kinds of newspapers and books for listeners,” he said. “The Leaven is just one option out of many.

“It is conceivable that non-Catholics listen to The Leaven. So in that sense, it is a great tool for evangelization.”

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