NFBC 2003 Convention Report

By Pat Munson, Associate Editor

Diane McGeorge delivering the 2003 NFBC banquet address
Diane McGeorge delivering the
2003 NFBC banquet address

The 63rd annual state convention of the NFBC was held at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento from Oct. 2-5, 2003. The theme for this convention was the empowerment of blind people through Braille literacy and appropriate training options in the skills of blindness.

Jana Littrell, Bay Area chapter president, chaired the first agenda item with a Federation philosophy seminar. Immediate past president James Willows gave an excellent overview of the Federation founding, reasons for existing and its growth. He said that in part blind people such as Dr. tenBroek realized that without a formal democratic organization, the blind in the United States would never progress. From its beginning in 1940, with a handful of blind people, the organization has grown to having affiliates in every state. In 1940 about one percent of the blind was employed. The Federation members opened such employment opportunities as federal and state civil service to the blind. Before the NFB, blind people were excluded from most avenues of employment.

Littrell, an expert on NFB philosophy, then continued with a variety of Federation-related games. She gave us quotes from Federation leaders, problem-solving issues related to blindness, and then rewarded us with many white cane tips, styluses and Federation speeches to those who could answer NFB-related questions. We look forward to another of these seminars at the next convention. Great job, Jana!

Next, NFBC president Nancy Burns gaveled the NFBC board meeting to order that evening. Everyone was pleased with the Hyatt, so she announced that the 2005 NFBC convention might be at the same hotel. The 2004 NFBC convention will be at the Crowne Plaza in Irvine.

President Burns then suspended her remarks to introduce Dr. Catherine Campisi, director of rehabilitation services for this state. She spoke of the budget cutbacks and other huge problems in the state. Jim Willows praised Dr. Campisi for working so assiduously with the blind.

President Burns then continued by stating that chapter presidents would be involved in the next Celebrate Life, another big NFBC fundraiser to be held next year. She reminded all that elections for four NFBC board positions would be on Sunday.

Scholarship chair Karen Steele introduced the NFBC scholarship winners and gave each a minute to tell about him/herself.

The Great Whozit Race was discussed. Members found it an excellent fundraiser. The winning ticket was to be drawn at the banquet on Saturday.

NFBC publications were available for the taking. Members need this excellent material for a variety of activities.

Diane McGeorge, NFB representative, was introduced. She said that the opening of the new building at the NFB headquarters would be the following January. The opening celebration will precede the Washington Seminar. She continued by talking about the problems the NFB is having with Congress over the issue of blindness training for older blind people. Lastly, she stated that the RSA position would remain a United States Presidential appointment.

The meeting ended with the announcement by the River City chapter president, Nathanael Wales, inviting all to the social mixer to be held immediately after the board meeting.

Friday morning began with a wonderful continental breakfast for those of us who had pre-registered. There were a number of program items. The exhibit hall had computer equipment and Braille and talking devices.
Tiffany Manosh handing out door prizes with help from Robert Stigile
Tiffany Manosh handing out door prizes
with help from Robert Stigile

That morning many Federationists joined NFBC legislative representative Don Burns for a tour of the California State Capitol. Visitors were able to meet a number of legislators. It was a great learning experience for all. At the conclusion of the tour Federationists gathered in a conference room in the Governor's office. Richard Figueroa, an aide to the Governor and long-time friend of the NFB, was presented with a framed certificate of appreciation.

Next the resolutions committee met. Bryan Bashin and Jim Willows chaired this committee. (Read Resolutions here) That afternoon many divisions and committees met. They included Chapter on Aging, Computer Users Group, Public Employees, California Association of Blind Students, Parents of Blind Children Workshop, Orientation Center for the Blind Alumni, and Guide Dog Users. The evening ended with focus groups and social hour activities for students.

The Saturday activities got under way very early with the Diabetes Action Network breakfast meeting. Since this chapter meets only at convention, all business must be conducted in a timely manner.

On Saturday morning president Burns gaveled the formal convention to order. After the opening ceremonies, River City chapter president Wales welcomed us and gave details of the riverboat cruise that was to occur following the banquet that evening.

Diane McGeorge then presented the national report. She gave an update on the status of the grand opening of the new building at our NFB headquarters. We all look forward to its opening before the Washington Seminar next January. She spoke of the progress students are making at the three NFB training centers and how most students have found meaningful employment by the time of their training completion. With NFB blindness skills, numerous blind people are leaving our centers ready to face the world prepared to compete on terms of equality.

Paul Price presented "Why I Am a Federationist". He said that his life is much more meaningful as a result of the Federation.

Dr. Stuart Wittenstein, superintendent of the California School for the Blind, gave a dynamic presentation on Braille and how it is being taught. The law now mandates that Braille instruction be provided to every functionally blind child. However, there are not enough teachers of the visually impaired to provide this instruction. There is much work to be done in the area of education for blind children. Diane McGeorge returned to moderate a panel on NFB centers. The speakers were Ron Gardner, Louisiana Center; Al Spooner, BLIND Inc.; and Buna Dahal, Colorado Center. Regardless of the center attended, the goals are the same. Students are given the tools necessary to have a successful life as a blind person.

President Burns concluded the morning agenda with her report (read the report here). She spoke of the many forward steps the affiliate has made in the past year and her hopes for the future. Fundraising will play a major role in our work. One unique event will be the second Celebrate Life! The NFBC's future is exceedingly bright with all the fine Federationists who work so tirelessly. Many of us then joined the Parents of Blind Children chapter for their luncheon meeting. Some time was spent reviewing the excellent workshops run by Caroline Rounds. These events teach parents of blind children the basics of Braille writing and reading so they can assist their blind children. Three cheers to Caroline for her outstanding work! (Read article on Braille Is Beautiful workshops here)

Immediately after the call to order for the afternoon session, legislative representative Don Burns gave his report. He stated during the past year he worked on legislation to create funding for teachers of blind children. Other legislation provided for the installation of talking ticket machines in transit stations. He thanked Chad Allen for his assistance. Burns had arranged for Assemblymember Yee, District 12, to be present during his legislative report. The Assemblymember was presented with a resolution commending him for his support (read the resolution here).

Beverly Scott, Sacramento Regional Transit general manager, continued with an update on the status of the system. The NFBC's goal is to ensure accessible transportation systems for blind people.

Donine Hedrick, program manager for the Sacramento Braille and Talking Book Library, said that budget cuts have hit them, too. However, the library is doing all it can to maintain the level of service to which we are accustomed. She advised us to call if we have further questions or concerns.

"The Meaning of Empowerment for Rehabilitation" was the next topic, presented by Dr. Edwin Vaughan. Services are in place to assist the blind to obtain their vocational goals. When the system breaks down, the NFB is there to assist.

President Burns continued by discussing our new NFBC publications. The purpose of some is to explain blindness while others target the laws. A recently published brochure, "You Need To Know What Blindness is Not," includes a picture of Caroline Rounds and her husband Glen riding their Harley. This is included in a section of the brochure that discusses the varied hobbies and interests of blind people. Caroline was presented with a framed copy of this photograph. This was especially poignant, as Glen Rounds had recently passed away.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) can help the blind find specific locations. Jerry Kuns described the use of the device for finding a location in a rural setting. It can be useful in city travel as well. Technology is wonderful, but it is expensive, and the unit is not a substitute for good travel skills or the use of common sense.
Students receiving their NFBC scholarships at the banquet
Students receiving their NFBC scholarships at the banquet

Ron Gardner then told us about the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. The university is turning out some of the best cane travel teachers and is expanding into other areas of blindness.

The afternoon agenda concluded with a panel on empowerment. Juliet Cody served as chair. Panelists included Pat Whisman, Michael Ingram, Thien Vu, Miguel Mendez, Therese McCabe and Ronit Ovadia. They described how the NFB has given their life depth and meaning.

Federationists and their guests reassembled for the no-host social hour that preceded the banquet. Master of ceremonies for the banquet, Jim Willows, began the evening with door prizes awarded by Tiffany Manosh. Our national representative Diane McGeorge delivered the banquet address. She told of her husband Ray's journey in and out of blindness. Decades ago, after surgery, Ray regained normal vision for several years and then lost it all forever. She frankly discussed Ray's depression upon losing his sight again, but how he came through it with the help of some Federation friends.

Always anxious to promote hard-working students, Karen Steele, NFBC scholarship chair, presented awards in memory of these past NFBC members: Lawrence Marcelino, Gerald Drake, LaVyrl Johnson, and Julie Landucci. Two Merit NFBC awards were also given. The scholarship winners were Shiri Azenkott, Chetan Bakhru, Juliet Cody, Yan-Yan Li, Jesus Palominos and Amy Pitchforth.

President Burns then stepped forward to present the tenBroek Award. She described the recipient as a quiet Federationist who always serves when asked. At one point the recipient served as secretary in four chapters and divisions simultaneously. When the winner was announced, the audience clapped and cheered. Helen Dodge, overcome with emotion, graciously accepted the award.

The winner of the Great Whozit Race was announced. Ed Vaughan drew the winning ticket as he had sold the most tickets. Patrick Church, Bay Area chapter member, won the $500 prize for selling the winning ticket to a friend outside of the NFBC. It was agreed that this was a great fundraiser and a fine way to teach the public a bit about Braille.

The banquet concluded with PAC chair Tiffany Manosh cheering everyone on until $400 was pledged to increase California's monthly PAC contribution to NFB. Great job, Tiffany! After the banquet, hardy Federationists made their way to the Sacramento River where they enjoyed an evening cruise. This was a great time for Federationists to chat, enjoy the ride and even more delicious food and drink. Thanks to members of the River City chapter for such a great event!

Maurine Barcelo jump-started Sunday morning chairing the chapter interaction breakfast. A member from each chapter reported on fundraising and other community activities.

The final session began with Julie Cody discussing her experiences at the summer program at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Next, Senior Intensive Retreat Director Connie Leblond. She told how seniors losing vision resided in a retreat house for 10 days and learned the NFB skills of blindness. The seniors were introduced to Braille, cane travel, cooking, cleaning and NFB philosophy.

Elections were then held for the four open board positions. Paul Price and Diane Starin were re-elected. Newly elected were Geraldine Croom and Tiffany Manosh. The delegates to the NFB 2004 convention were also elected. They are Nancy Burns, delegate; Nick Medina, first alternate; and Caroline Rounds, second alternate.

Maurine Barcelo, NFBC treasurer, gave the annual financial report. The affiliate has had a successful financial year. It was emphasized, however, that fundraising must be an ongoing project.

Chapter presidents then stepped to the microphone and handed cash and pledges to further the work of the movement.
Federationists exiting the convention hall
Federationists exiting the convention hall

The last order of business for the convention was the adoption of resolutions. Everyone was thanked who assisted with the convention and we praised Nancy Burns for her tireless work. Tiffany Manosh was praised for chairing the door prizes.

We then made our way home with a new resolve to better the lives of all the blind and to change what it means to be blind by the general public. Under the current leadership we are certainly on the right path. With the skills and philosophy of the Federation, blind people do lead active, productive lives!

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