Perkins alumna Marie Hennessy chooses to give back to her community

From Perkins student to president of the alumni association, Marie is a dedicated member of the Perkins community.

A series of polariods depicting the Perkins Class of 1972, Marie as a student, Marie as an adult on the phone, and Marie with her guide dog.

As a Perkins donor, you may have received a call within the past 15 years from alumna Marie Hennessy. What began as a volunteer gig with fellow alumni turned into a part-time role that allows her to exercise two of her favorite muscles: talking on the phone and sharing her love for Perkins. Read on to learn more about Marie’s time as a student at Perkins, her life-long career supporting people with disabilities, and what advice she’d give her younger self.

How did your Perkins education prepare you for life after graduation?

“I’ve had a very successful career,” Marie said, “and it’s because of the education and opportunities I received while I was a student.”

After graduating from Perkins in 1972, Marie earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Rehab Counseling and a Master’s Degree in Agency Counseling with an ultimate goal of supporting people with disabilities. This led her to impact-focused roles at The Epilepsy Foundation, where she helped create the first community group for women with epilepsy, and Massachusetts Advocates Standing Strong (MASS), where she works as a trainer and project supervisor today.  

Marie left Perkins with a diverse set of knowledge and experiences, driving home the importance of learning in itself. From functional skills, like typing and reading braille to more foundational skills, like sewing and ceramics, this approach taught her how to navigate her own interests. “If I studied somewhere else, I wouldn’t have had that,” Marie said.

What has your experience been like with the Perkins Alumni Association?

“As president of the Perkins Alumni Association, I was able to increase the membership at events and be recognized for my work with the alumni,” Marie said. “I always wanted to give something back to Perkins because of what it gave me.”

Staying in touch with her Perkins classmates was important to Marie. She served as the association’s president for six years, was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2014, and even hosted part of her class’ 50th-year reunion at her own home.

What do you enjoy most about making donor thank-you calls for Perkins?

“I find this opportunity very meaningful in terms of being able to present myself as an alum when I make the phone calls,” said Marie. “I get to thank people personally, which they really appreciate, but also, in some cases, educate people.”

15 years later, Marie still looks forward to her conversations with members of the Perkins community. She makes anywhere from 40 to 600 calls a week, with her highest volume around the holidays. Marie believes there’s value in being able to share her experience with donors that have questions.

“They have somewhat of a misconception of what blind and visually impaired people’s abilities or strengths are,” said Marie. “It often leads to conversation about my education, how I learned braille, and then they want to know more.”

What hobbies or interests are you passionate about?

Marie has always enjoyed sports and outdoor activities. At Perkins, she remembers playing baseball in gym class. Some of her nearby friends formed a team of their own so they could play together on weekends. Since the 1980s, she’s been involved with multiple organizations that promote physical activity for people with visual impairments through adaptive sports, including New England Ski for Light and Adaptive Sports Partners, where she is currently a board member. 

She enjoys hiking in particular. In 2018, she successfully hiked Mount Washington Road, noting it was “something she’d wanted to do for a long time.”

What advice would you give to your young self?

“Take advantage of every opportunity you can, which I tried to do,” said Marie. “Also, never give up. Always pursue your dreams.”

Want to get on Marie’s call list?

You can help even more children with disabilities unlock opportunities to learn and define their own success by making a gift today.

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