Who had the vision?
Back in the mid-1970s, adult onset of blindness was starting to cast a shadow over the life of Jim Cashin. Formerly a fully-sighted, successful newspaper advertising executive, Jim was a World War II Marine veteran and Emory graduate who had handled all of life's challenges well. Now, beset with blindness, this resilient and resourceful man decided to take a bold step that, if successful, would improve not only the quality of his life but the lives of as many individuals with blindness as he could reach. Jim did some research and found that organizations existed in other cities and states that provided the blind with local radio broadcasts of daily newspapers, magazines, and best-selling books. Jim was blind, but he had the "vision" to realize that the presence of such a service in Atlanta and Georgia presented an opportunity for significant improvement.
Jim was passionate that he and other visually-impaired individuals in Georgia should have timely access to the current information, ideas, perspectives, and colorful imaginations that were found in popular printed matter. In 1980, hat in hand (he had lost his hair as well as his vision and preferred to wear a hat), Jim reached out to Atlanta private and public sector contacts and asked for introductions and help. Jim launched what would become, initially, the Greater Atlanta Radio Reading Service for the blind and print handicapped. Using his newspaper experience, he convinced a growing circle of willing and able contacts to find a way for Atlanta's flagship daily newspapers—then The Atlanta Constitution in the mornings and The Atlanta Journal in the evenings—to be read over special "one station" radio receivers that would be donated to individuals who were visually impaired.
Who would do the reading?
The reading would be done by volunteers who had "radio quality" voices that would allow them to connect to listeners like "a trusted friend." Quite a few who auditioned were turned away. Volunteers came from the major businesses in Atlanta; in addition to Cox Communications, there were BellSouth, Trust Company Bank, The Coca-Cola Company, IBM, Rich's Department Store, Deloitte, and several others. Jim formed a Board of Directors with representatives
from these companies, and they helped the venture through its challenges as a nonprofit start-up to go "live" in October 1980.
WHERE DID GARRS BEGIN?
GaRRs found its first home in the basement of the Peachtree Christian Church on Spring Street with one small broadcasting booth for live reading. It also used Sunday School rooms for monthly board and committee meetings. Through the perseverance of the Board and staff, in 2007 GaRRS moved to its current facilities at the GPB Headquarters on 14th Street in Atlanta.
HOW IS GARRS FUNDED?
Jim championed an early, critical, and sustaining funding relationship through the Georgia legislature. GaRRS established budget sponsors in different agencies and is partnered with the Georgia Vocational and Rehabilitation Agency. The state money is leveraged with other local grants and individual contributions, which allows services to be delivered to our listeners regardless of their ability to contribute.
After leading GaRRS for 25 years, Jim Cashin retired knowing that the service he launched would continue on uninterrupted. We're proud to continue his mission after his passing in 2009. GaRRS continues to grow, reaching thousands of listeners across all demographics in Georgia through the efforts of hundreds of wonderful volunteers and an amazingly dedicated and talented staff. The one thing greater than the origin and history of GaRRS is its future.