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Jefferson Awards: Terri Watson / Hard-working volunteer isn't slowed by disability

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

By Bob Batz Jr., Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There's only one Terri Watson, but some people think it'd be a good idea -- or at least a good laugh -- to have her cloned.

Martha Rial, Post-Gazette
Terri Watson, program coordinator for Blind Outdoor Leisure Development, takes a walk at Riverfront Park, South Side.
Click photo for larger image.

She's a longtime volunteer for Western Pennsylvania Blind Outdoor Leisure Development, or BOLD, which organizes affordable activities to enrich the lives of its 172 blind, visually impaired and sighted members.

Planning the outings -- everything from camping to tandem bicycling to ice skating -- is the work of Watson, who since 1997 has been the group's program coordinator and, for the past two years, its fund-raising chairperson, too.

Sometimes she could use a body double to get everything done. But it's much more common for her to cheerfully tell other nice people her favorite line:

"You should be cloned!"

"This is a difficult job for anyone, and being blind does not slow her down," notes BOLD treasurer Charlotte Wowczuk.


This is the second of seven profiles of Jefferson Award winners.
Visit BOLD's Web site. Send e-mail to or write the group at Box 2574, Pittsburgh 15230, or call 412-882-3965.

Previous articles

Holly McGraw: Her creative ways made Duquesne students achieve (1/6/04)

The 2003 Jefferson Awards: Seven winners honored for their public service (1/4/04)

Because Watson "enriches the lives of many while giving her time and asking for nothing in return," Wowczuk nominated her to be one of 53 "community champions" chosen from this region for 2003.

Now, Watson is one of seven of those to earn a Jefferson Award. Considered to be the Nobel Prize of volunteering, the Jefferson Awards for Public Service is a program of the American Institute for Public Service. There are 122 media partners in 92 U.S. markets for the awards, which are sponsored here by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Comcast and Eat'n Park, with help from the United Way. During a ceremony Jan. 29 at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, each of this area's seven winners will receive a medallion and $1,000 to give to a nonprofit group.

Watson is giving her money -- donated by the Federation of Independent School Alumnae Foundation -- to BOLD, in which she's been active since 1991. Now that she's starting a two-year term as its co-president, she hopes to improve the group by generating more publicity and activity by working with other groups.

She's thrilled to win a Jefferson Award, but "I'm sure there are so many people who do much more than I do and a lot better, no less," she says with humility that colleagues say is typical of her. She hasn't had an easy life.

She was born three months premature and blind (but for being able to see a small amount of light and shadow with her left eye) in 1953 in Philadelphia. At age 19, she moved to Pittsburgh to attend college, going from studying voice to graduating with bachelor's and master's degrees in education with an emphasis in guidance and counseling.

These days, she does a lot of singing -- at St. Paul of the Cross Monastery -- and uses her degrees in her now part-time job at Mercy Behavioral Health's South Side drop-in center. There, she leads various support groups, including one that writes poetry and produces the center's newsletter.

She's also editor of the newsletter of the Lutheran Center for the Blind and contributes to one at Moorehead Tower in Oakland, where she lives. She's president of the tenants' council, but her helpfulness to other residents -- many of whom also have disabilities -- goes beyond that, says neighbor, friend and fellow BOLD member Kathy Susany.

"She's a very loving person, very spiritually oriented. She'd just about do anything for you. She's very generous."

And very funny and outgoing, she adds, noting, "There should be a million of her."

Watson, who does have a great sense of humor and a great laugh, says at least one person doesn't want her to be cloned -- her new boyfriend (and BOLD co-president) Jim Winaught, whom she loves in part because of another quirk of hers: She's crazy about guys with hairy arms.

As BOLD membership chair Jerry Blum puts it, "She's not bland. It's fun to be around her."

And fun is what BOLD is all about.

Bob Batz Jr. can be reached at or 412-263-1930.

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