President's Message

By NFBC President Nancy Burns

Nancy Burns delivering her presidential report
Nancy Burns delivering
her presidential report

Editor's Note: This report was delivered at the 2003 annual state Convention in Sacramento.

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." These poignant words from Eleanor Roosevelt reflect the thoughts and actions of the NFB. We have been busily turning our dreams into reality. We have created Braille literacy legislation. We have worked with parents of blind children. The NFBC, in conjunction with other organizations and agencies-B.A.R.C.-realized the establishment of a separate Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired/Deaf and Hard of Hearing. A community-based advisory board has been created to assist us with public relations and future fundraising events. All of this, and more, has occurred because we dream and because we are out there turning our dreams into reality and changing what it means to be blind.

For example, last October, Meet the Blind Month, found Federationists throughout the state actively participating in community events. It was a great effort and we look forward to involving ourselves in similar activities throughout this October.

After beginning the year with the Washington Seminar and our annual NFBC board meeting, our focus returned to the education of blind children. Our efforts during the past several years have reflected our concern with the education of blind kids. We have approached this problem from several directions. AB-306 (Frommer, Braille Literacy) and AB-2326 (Frommer, Braille Reading Standards) set the stage for our ongoing commitment to blind children and their education.

Little effort has been given to assist parents of blind kids. We believed this was an area in which we could assist-and we were right.

A $5,000 grant was received from the Entertainment Industry Foundation. Joyce Wales, president, Parents of Blind Children Chapter; Caroline Rounds, NFBC Second V.P. and teacher; and I hosted the first-ever Braille Is Beautiful Workshop for parents of blind children in the month of April. The Braille Is Beautiful program was initially developed by the NFB to guide sighted students toward an accurate awareness of blindness by teaching the basics of Braille. The NFBC has adapted the program to be geared towards parents of blind children.

Twenty-seven parents attended this intensive day-long workshop. By the end of the day they were familiar with the Braille alphabet and were using the slate and stylus to write phone numbers and short notes to their children. The reaction was incredible. Additional workshops were requested; and in particular a workshop in Spanish.

The Braille Is Beautiful Workshop II, as of yesterday, has now been completed.

Kevin Smalley has researched and applied for additional grant funding. We are waiting for the results of such grants. The workshops and all materials are presented to parents at no cost.

As a result of these endeavors two new publications have been created: a brochure entitled "Braille Literacy-Facts and Issues," and "High Expectations," a newsletter sent to parents of blind children.

With the amount of ongoing legislative activities and numerous new projects I was feeling the need for additional office staff. On the first of May Kevin Smalley was hired as our full-time development director. He is in charge of convention and special events arrangements. He also does grant writing and assists in the office on a variety of projects.

Linda Rapka has been with me since May of 2001 on a part-time basis. Most of you have heard me praise her for her computer skills and dependability. Linda's computer expertise is evident in our Journal, the monthly bulletin, and the several brochures this office has published. She has used her creativity in the formatting and layout work of all of these publications.

Don Burns, legislative representative, has looked long and hard for a part-time legislative assistant. Chad Allen officially became the assistant legislative representative in mid-May. Don went off the payroll as of April and continues his work on a volunteer basis.

After years of negotiations the efforts of BARC were partially realized with the creation of a separate Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired/Deaf and Hard of Hearing. In July Jim Willows attended opening ceremonies in both Northern and Southern California to officially acknowledge the establishment of this division. Jim was a leader in this intensive effort.

At our 2003 NFB convention in Louisville, California was represented by nearly 100 hard-working Federationists. Californians were everywhere: volunteering at the NFBC store, selling cookies, candy bars and Braille jewelry at the California table, and providing assistance throughout the convention.

Two Californians, David Paulen and Caroline Rounds, were scholarship winners. Caroline walked away with the $12,000 top scholarship award.

During the convention Dr. Maurer discussed final plans for the grand opening of the NFB Research and Training Institute. California presented a check to the capital campaign in the amount of $10,000, bringing our total capital campaign contribution to $100,000.

During the 2002 NFBC board meeting we decided to establish a community advisory board. This board has been established and we held a June and a September meeting. This is a six member board with a representative from the Marriott chain, the Burbank airport, Methodist Church, the Rotary Club, the Lion's Club, and the movie industry. It is hoped that this advisory board will assist the NFBC with our second annual fundraiser.

The first Celebrate Life was planned, organized and presented primarily by Federationists and a few outside volunteers. We intend to expand our work force for the second annual Celebrate Life. Our second annual event will be held on Saturday, March 20, 2004 at the Burbank Center Stage theater. Plans for this event are still in process.

On August 13 of this year, as I joined the other 10 members of the Braille Reading Standards Task Force in Sacramento, I was suddenly struck by the realization that this task force is a result of our intense legislative efforts and the weeks, months and years of hard work by our legislative representative Don Burns. Hanging on a wall in our state headquarters office are a number of bills, signed by the Governor, and presented to Don. Assemblymember Dario Frommer sponsored two of these bills: AB-306, Braille Literacy, and AB-2326, Braille Reading Standards. The NFB of California is truly a leader in the pursuit of appropriate education for blind students. As I reflected on all of this, during the task force meeting, it was truly a proud moment for me.

I serve as co-chair of this task force along with Dr. Sharon Sacks. Two other Federationists, Donna Sexton and Caroline Rounds, were also appointed to this task force by Jack O'Connell, State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

As I returned home still reflecting on this meeting, words from a banquet address came to mind. I did some research and found Dr. Maurer's 1988 banquet address. He said, "The philosophy of the NFB is simple and, at least we are told, revolutionary. We believe that blind people, organized throughout the land, have the strength and purpose to change the course of history-at least our own history. We believe it is our responsibility to make it happen."

Our efforts have changed the course of history for the education of blind children. Dr. Maurer's speech was entitled "Preparation and the Critical Nudge." We have certainly given the "critical nudge" to the Legislature and educational system. The decline of education for the blind has occurred over the past several decades. The trend will not be reversed quickly but we the NFB of California have supplied the "critical nudge."

As we approach the upcoming year, we know there will be challenges-there always are. We will meet these challenges and continue to move ahead. Our dedication is real-our commitment strong!

We are united-we stand hand-in-hand, ready to move forward. We Californians are taking huge steps in the process of empowerment. We have the vision, we have the passion, and we have the courage.

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