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MCLB cashier sees with her heart

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December 26, 2007

Albany --  Most of us know the names of our co-workers, or people we come into contact with on a regular basis. But what if you worked with 1,700 other people? Would you be able to pick out a person by just the sound of their voice?

Visually impaired Balerie Walker does it on a daily basis. It may be one of the busiest places on the Marine Base in Albany.

"I got a Co-Cola in the bottle and I got a thing of Fritos," says a customer.

"$1.70," says cashier Balerie Walker.

"Okay, out of two." the customer says.

Six days a week, Balerie Walker is behind the bar at the snack shop in the maintenance center.

"Hey Bal!"

" Hey Ms. Pat. How's it going?"

"Everything is good. Great. I'm going to get a pack of crackers."

Without ever seeing the faces of her customers, Balerie knows each one by name.

"Hey Bal."

"Hey!"

"I got a chocolate milk."

"$1.30 Mr. Potter."

"$1.30?"

"Yes Sir."

"Out of $1.50"

"Okay, thank you."

"Have a good day."

Being blind has never been a hindrance for Balerie. She considers her blindness more of a stepping stone than a disability. A step closer to her friends.

"I love all my customers and it's just a way of life. It's a way of life. We are all one big family and they take care of me and I take care of them and we just have fun all day."

And that's why in her 8 years of working here, Balerie has very rarely missed work, but on this day, there's too much excitement in the city to keep her in her "office" on base.

"It's just an honor to be here," she said. "To miss work to be here for the celebration of Ray Charles."

George Potter, one of those good friends she made in the maintenance center snack shop, brought Balerie to the grand opening celebration of the Ray Charles plaza on December 7th.

She never knew Charles, but feels a deep connection to the legendary performer.

"Me being a blind individual myself, Ray Charles has always been a role model for me as well as other blind people and he paved the road for all of us to be all that we can be."

While the crowd looked at the life-sized statue being unveiled, Balerie had to settle for a description of what it looked like, until another special monument was uncovered.

"Some glasses, nose, piano. Yeah."

Balerie was the first blind person who got an opportunity to really feel what the Ray Charles statue looks like. A smaller version, meant just for children and those with visual impairments was revealed, and Balerie got to experience it up close and personal.

"This is amazing."

An experience that will never fade out of her sight.

Although Balerie did miss work for the unveiling of the statue, she didn't stay away long. You may have noticed she was wearing the same clothes. Immediately after the ceremony, she went right back to work so she could tell her good friends about what she experienced.

The small monument of Ray Charles you saw down at the plaza will soon include a plaque especially for the blind, written in braille.

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