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Power failures at the Collins residence were never a big deal.

Frank and Mary Collins read to their children just as they did when the lights were on. The children had been aware from their earliest recollections that "Mommy's eyes are broken," recalls Lois, youngest of the clan. Reading in the dark was one of the blessings that never came to "those poor kids with sighted parents," she said.Both her parents are blind, and that has had an impact on the Deseret News social services reporter in several ways.

"I learned that life is not a big tragedy, even if people have problems," she said.

And she learned that physical or mental deficits and the word "handicapped" are not synonymous.

"It's what you can do, not what you can't do, that counts," she said.

Visual impairment didn't keep the Collinses from taking folks in trouble under their wings, and it set a precedent for the reporter in the family. Most Sundays, she can be found under one of the downtown viaducts helping to feed the homeless and hungry, just as her parents were prone to take in the human strays who wandered their way.

"I feel real empty if I don't get down there," she said. "It's just what I was raised to do - part of my growing up. We have a responsibility for everyone."

Her personal charity is not confined to the holiday season or the homeless. She doesn't talk about it, but fellow Deseret News staffers are aware of those who have been recipients of her giving nature in a purely private sense. At Christmas time, she does make an extra effort, taking on a Santa's Helping Hand family. Where she parts company with some do-gooders, in the opinion of fellow workers, is that she actually enjoys what she does. There is no element of "have to" about it.

She is, in fact, one of the staff clowns who began picking up nicknames when she walked through the door and has been through several transitions down to "Squeege."

"I am told I was hired for my entertainment value," she quips - a word play on the fact that her first assignment was as an editor and theater critic. A practical joker, she invites reciprocation. One of her favorites involves the time a co-worker arranged for a policeman acquaintance to call her and tell her her car had been smashed, when, in fact, it was perfectly intact.

The ham in her took an odd twist when a friend asked: "Would you like to be killed this Friday?" What he had in mind was participating in a mystery weekend. She was, indeed, the "victim," killed by friend and co-worker Jerry Johnston, and put on such a good act of being obnoxious and worthy of murder that she had a hard time afterwards convincing people she was really likeable and full of fun.

In the name of journalism and adventure, she has done such zany things as jumping from an airplane and driving a train while on a backpacking tour of Italy.

Collins decided early in life that she would be a writer. Her first story, written at 6, had a classic theme: "A gurl so beeyotiful that everyone wanted to merry her. But she jist said `No!' "

With her direction set, she started working on school newspapers in the seventh grade and continued each year she was in school. Then she went to the University of Utah where "I hung around the Chronicle office for so long they thought I was never going to leave." Leave she did, however, taking with her a degree in English and communications, with minors in Spanish and theater.

Writing is an outlet for people who, like Collins, like people. "It's an honor to be trusted with people's stories - it's a very personal trust."

She first applied her journalism skills at the Post Register in her hometown, Idaho Falls, then joined the Deseret News Today staff as an editor and theater critic seven years ago. Last July, she was reassigned to the City Desk and shortly afterward, took on the challenging social services beat.

Her effectiveness in that field of reporting has been recognized by the National Press Foundation, which granted her a fellowship. She will spend next week in Washington, D.C., attending meetings on social issues - and hopefully cramming in visits to some of the attractions in the nation's capital.