Saunders: Despite obstacles, these teens are thankful - and they'll make you feel thankful, too

bsaunders@newsobserver.comNovember 27, 2013 

What are you thankful for today?

On this Thanksgiving Day, her 17th, Cassidy Hooper is thankful for something she never had before.

A nose.

That’s right: a nose.

The staff at the Triangle Radio Reading Service threw a “nose party” – hey, that’s what they called it – for the teenager born without one who had a successful surgery recently.

Before Cassidy’s surgery – she’s had 12 so far – Anne Arella, director of development for the reading service, said, “We asked her what’s the first thing she wanted to do after she got her nose, and she said ‘Party.’”

Typical teenager, right?

So they had one for her at their offices off Six Forks Road in Raleigh.

A special radio show

Cassidy, of Charlotte, was also born without eyes. She is a student at the Governor Morehead School for the Blind, and today she and Noah Long will broadcast the radio show they created. It is, Arella said, the first radio show created by blind teens for blind teens.

But you can listen to it today at noon and again at 7 p.m. even if you have 20/20 vision.

Not so long ago, you needed a special radio to hear the broadcasts of the reading service, which serves blind and “print challenged” people across the state, many of whom would be in darkness without it. With the Internet, though, anyone can listen to the broadcast live at or via podcast anytime.

“It’s a holiday-themed show,” Cassidy told me when I talked with her and Noah at the TRRS studio. “There are two trivia questions – one of them is funny and one of them is serious. We ask the questions at the beginning of the show, and we give you the answer at the end. We interview two guests, Ira David Wood III and Ed Funkhouser.”

Wood is an actor and director of Raleigh Theatre in the Park, and Funkhouser is founder of TRRS.

A winning duet

This won’t be the first time Cassidy and Long have worked together. Earlier this month, they sang a duet – “Beneath You’re Beautiful” – at the Governor Morehead School’s talent show. And let me tell you, they have talent. They won, as did everyone who participated and who heard.

Long, 20, of Raleigh, is blind and has cerebral palsy. He wants to be a singer – he already is one, judging by his performance (you can see him on YouTube) at the talent show – and a broadcaster.

Cassidy and Long were born without some features most of us don’t even think about, because they’re so much a part of who we are.

After you spend time with the two, though, you realize that they were born with something that most of us would love to have – upbeat, unconquerable spirits.

TRRS’s executive director, May Tran, said of Cassidy, “She’s just a lovely, lovely little girl.”

Ask Cassidy how she is doing and her answer will invariably be “Awesome.” She says it with a conviction that is contagious, because by the time you finish talking with her, you’re feeling pretty awesome, too.

Arella and Tran said the service’s annual budget of $149,000 comes solely from donations. Arella called the radio service “the best-kept secret in the state.”

With its podcast now able to be heard around the world, they say they’d like for it to drop the “best-kept secret” title and simply be the best listening service for the blind in the world. Arella said the service needs volunteers to read news stories on the air and people with fund-raising skills, among other things.

If you have something, or yourself, to offer, you can call 919-832-5138 or email The mailing address is 211 E. Six Forks Road, Raleigh, N.C., 27609, Suite 103.

Oh yeah. In an interview with a Charlotte television station, Cassidy’s father made it clear that the surgery was his daughter’s idea. She is, he said, “perfect” to her parents just the way she is.

After talking to her, it’s easy to see why he feels that way.

What are you thankful for? or 919-836-2811

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