CANFIELD – “Catholic Exponent Highlights,” a half-hour audio version of this newspaper for the blind and readers with low-vision, recorded its final program March 23 at the studios of the Catholic Television Network of Youngstown (CTNY) here.
The program was produced nearly 400 times since February 2002 through the initiative of Lou Jacquet, editor and general manager of the Catholic Exponent from 1996 to 2013, and his wife, Geri Jacquet, former longtime director of religious education and still music director/organist at Youngstown St. Brendan Parish.
Jacquet and a number of co-hosts (including, often, his wife) would read 30 minutes of highlights from the Exponent and record them. The recordings were mailed free of charge to persons in the six-county diocesan area who requested them.
At one time, as many as 75 people received the recordings, which were produced for each issue of the paper. Originally, cassette tapes were used, but in recent years, it was CDs.
During the past two years the Youngstown Radio Reading Service, which broadcasts programs for the visually-impaired and others in Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, and Ashtabula counties and parts of Western Pennsylvania, has regularly aired the “Exponent Highlights” on Fridays at 2 p.m.
Youngstown Radio Reading Service, which broadcasts over a sideband of WYSU-FM Radio, is a private nonprofit station operating 12 hours a day Monday through Saturday. Specially tuned radios are provided free of charge to qualified listeners.
Current Exponent editor/general manager Pete Sheehan said the Exponent “plans to continue having ‘Exponent Highlights’ run on the Youngstown Radio Reading Service and we are exploring other options to reach the visually impaired and others in the six-county diocesan area who enjoy remaining connected to the Exponent.”
Mike Bosela, coordinator of Youngstown Radio Reading Service, a department of Youngstown-area Goodwill Industries, said, “I’m hopeful that our staff and the Exponent can continue to air ‘Exponent
Highlights’ and contact all the people who have been receiving [the recording] on CD by mail and ensure that they receive one of our radios.
“That way,” Bosela continued, “they can continue to hear the Exponent and many of our other programs.”
Sheehan also expressed appreciation to the Jacquets, the CTNY staff, and others who have assisted in producing the program for the past 15 years.
“Geri and I started the ‘Catholic Exponent Highlights’ at the encouragement of Msgr. Robert Siffrin, diocesan vicar general,” Jacquet said. “Msgr. Siffrin had been working extensively with the deaf community in the diocese and pointed out the need for an outreach to the blind as well.”
“Anytime that we as Church can reach out with the Gospel to those who feel cut off or lack access to what the Church offers,” Msgr. Siffrin said, “it is important that we do so.”
Jacquet noted that “the $3,000 annual cost of the production was funded by the newspaper with occasional generous donations from diocesan Catholics as well.”
Geri Jacquet taped the first 100 programs with her husband, but later programs were done with the help of Deacon Mike Kocjancic of Boardman St. Charles; Pauline Brother Dominic Calabro, CTNY assistant producer; Judy Roberts, former CTNY office manager, and Father James Korda, CTNY president.
The program, which featured the reading of selected columns, local and national articles, as well as descriptions of photos, reached some 75 persons per issue at its height but had declined in recent years to about 30 as many of those who formerly received the free service had died or moved away.
“When Geri and I came up with this concept after talking with Msgr. Siffrin, we had no idea how warmly it would be embraced by those who received it and especially no idea that it would run for 15 years,” Jacquet said.
“We heard so often from people who told us that their complete or partial blindness had left them feeling ‘left out of the loop’ about diocesan events and Church news in general. It was incredibly rewarding for everyone involved in this project to feel that we were making a genuine difference in the lives of so many folks,” Jacquet said.
“I give Lou a lot of credit for maintaining ‘Exponent Highlights’ for so long,” Father Korda said. “Things change but I have hope that something new will arise in its place.”
Anyone interested in efforts to continue to offer “Exponent Highlights” for the visually impaired can contact Pete Sheehan, editor, at 330-744-5251.