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Misaki Suzuki, Past Students, Spring 2009

Lending a pair of eyes to create pottery

By Misaki Suzuki

Volunteer Alice Frice helped a visually impaired student make this vase with musical notes. Frice drew the staffs, the student added the dots.Volunteer Alice Frice helped a visually impaired student make this vase with musical notes. Frice drew the staffs, the student added the dots.

At 83, Alice Frice, has every reason not to volunteer. But she’s been a regular at the craft class in the Blind Community Center in San Diego for the last 25 years. Despite her neat appearance in brown pants and a fall-colored shirt, her palms are covered with white like those of children in art class.

Frice, who declined to be photographed for this story, calls her job dirty and time-consuming work that nobody else wants. But she has no regrets about taking over a ceramics class more than 10 years ago.

Frice said that it takes up to nine hours a day for several days a week to paint, detail and perfect the projects the vision-impaired students make. But her contribution is essential for them to complete their work.

“If it wasn’t for Alice, they wouldn’t be able to have something very fancy,” said student Sharlene Ornelas. “I’d like to do all my details, but it takes me literally months to do that.”
Ornelas has been blind all her life. She is currently working on a vase with musical notes. She’s drawing dots on the staffs Frice created for her.

Frice began working with the blind as a sewing teacher. After eight years, she retired and traveled around the country on a RV with her husband.

When she came back, Frice was offered a paid office job at the blind center. But she decided to volunteer instead. She said she works more closely with the students as a volunteer.

“You know darn well if they are blind, number one, you’re the luckiest person in the world because you have vision,” said Frice. “Why can’t I help them retain some kind of dignity?”

Even though she says ceramics is nothing compared to her passion, sewing, Frice does not cut corners.

“When I started taking over ceramics, I didn’t know one thing. And there was no one that would show me,” said Frice. “I went to the library, got a few books and started reading up as much as I could maintain for my age.”

Frice commutes for 55 minutes each way to get to the center every Monday and Tuesday. Julie Jones, a teacher at the center, said Frice arrives earlier than anybody else, sets up the ceramics and pours molds.

“She is an incredible volunteer,” said Jones. “She’s had health problems, but she continues to come. She is very faithful. She is just a wonderful person and great volunteer.”

The students in the class are at least 60 percent vision impaired. While their guide dogs lie on the floor, they make variety of art works from ceramics and bead crafts to leather wallets and knitting. Some of them are sold at the Balboa Park December Nights and at San Diego County Fair.

“There is a limit to the abilities of blind people,” said Frice. “I’m trying to push them a bit beyond that limit because I want them to be pleased and proud of what they do.”

Her devotion goes beyond the Blind Community Center. Frice anonymously donates baby blankets for Kaiser Permanente. She said she has donated about 120 blankets so far.

“I take them up there when I have about 30 made,” she said. “I usually go very early Sunday morning when there’s no people. I go right up to the nursery, I walk up to the nurse, and I say, ‘these are for the new babies.’ I turn around and walk away.”

Why does she volunteer? “I live alone. I have time in the evening, ” she said. “It keeps me out of trouble.”

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