Parks Volunteer Gives Back
Matthew Goyette doesn't let a disability keep him from helping the community he loves.
Matthew Goyette is 22-years-old, and has been volunteering along the Blackstone River since he was just a 12-year-old battling a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a car in Woonsocket.
“I was struck head-on on a bicycle. I went through both windshields and I got run over three times.”
He survived, and is flourishing. Despite impairments to his short-term memory and social abilities, Goyette is a confident young man who has contributed a great deal to the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, including preparing braille translations of informational plaques and regular volunteer tours anywhere and everywhere along the Corridor’s parks and paths. His “nickname,” he says, “‘Superman.’”
The injuries left Goyette permanently disabled. In addition to the memory and social impairments, he suffers from parapnasias, the pairing of words to incorrect meanings, and impulsivity. He admits that he has had to work much harder than others may have to achieve what he has achieved, but it’s not a new trick for him. The precocious young man, determined not to be defined by his disability, completed two years of rehabilitation, and then graduated third in his class from the Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center.
The rest of his education was in his own hands. A voracious self-teacher, Goyette taught himself the suite of skills required to volunteer in Blackstone Valley parks, and, inspired by a disabled aunt, a handful that weren’t.
“She's like my idol,” he said of the aunt. “She stepped up to the plate and said 'I'm not going to let a stupid disability put me down.'”
From his aunt, he began to learn American Sign Language. When she gave him a brailler, the typewriter-like machine used to create braille code, he learned how to use it. “...And I learned some French, for church,” he said.
"You know when you're in school you have to learn a second language? Well, my second language was how to communicate with the handicapped."
He has put those languages to good use. Besides the impressive braille placards used by the parks, Goyette has conducted tours in American Sign Language.
“A lot of what Matthew does is about accessibility. He is helping to make the Corridor more accessible,” says Ainsley Morrisseau, a consultant with the Corridor Commission.
The Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor stretches over 350,000 acres in central Massachusetts and central Rhode Island. The river itself reaches from Worcestor, Massachusetts to Providence and its valley is recognized as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the United States.
The Corridor Commission, governed by the Interior Department’s National Park Service, has worked over the past twenty-four years to support the valley’s sense of community holistically by defining a regional identity based upon the area’s historic significance and by expanding the Corridor’s accessibility.
That’s where volunteers like Goyette come in. Twice a week, he reports to Ranger Valerie Paul for assignment. “I can use him anywhere,” said Paul. Goyette is often assigned to the bike path, where he is an informational resource for cyclists, and the path’s eyes and ears for Paul.
Goyette stays busy. He coaches at the Special Olympics, volunteers at an animal shelter, is certified in C.P.R., First Aid, and A.E.D, among other certifications.
“I volunteer almost everywhere in Woonsocket,” he said. “You name it, I've probably done it.” He is pleased to be contributing to his community. "I love Woonsocket. I love all the history of Woonsocket."
Goyette says that giving back motivates him.
“There's been so much given to me that I think that it's just right to give back. During my accident...I had people helping me out so much that I think it's time that I give some of what was given to me back.”
Goyette has used his impairment as a motivator. "I was not going to be known as 'Matt with T.B.I.'...I did not stop and say, like most people would, 'life is on the craps right now.' So I picked myself up and said 'let's go.'”
Where is he going? Of the future, Goyette has one ambition. "Someday, hopefully getting hired here as a park ranger."