Braille Monitor August/September 2006
by Daniel B. Frye
From the Editor: After Joanne Wilson was driven by principle to tender her resignation as commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in March of 2005, she came to work as executive director for affiliate action at the National Federation of the Blind. For us this turned out to be the highly polished silver lining of the dark cloud that still casts a shadow over every disabled American. At this year's convention the affiliate action department popped up everywhere hosting events, sponsoring seminars, and conducting new programs designed to energize affiliates and educate Federationists at every level of the organization. Dan Frye is the manager of affiliate action--advocacy and training. Here is his report on the activities organized by Joanne and her staff:
The NFB's recently created department of affiliate action celebrated its first birthday at the 2006 national convention by offering an array of programs that shared an emphasis on person-to-person mentoring. In the NFB mentorship has long been the foundation of organizational growth and development. The wide range of programs sponsored by the department of affiliate action during the convention relied on the Federation tradition of mentorship as the overarching theme that loosely tied together this series of events.
The generous spirit of the NFB members who regularly share ideas and support one another through our organizational networks is the best measure of the heart and soul of our Federation family. Since the several department of affiliate action programs honored this spirit at this year's convention and since our grassroots members enthusiastically embraced these events, it seemed appropriate to bundle the reports of these activities in a single article. Following is a brief profile of each department-of-affiliate-action-sponsored event:
Our new online program,
NFB-Link, was launched at the 2006 national convention. This program connects
experienced NFB mentors with individuals seeking information about blindness
through a computerized system, by matching factors like careers or interests.
During the convention four NFB-Link training sessions provided prospective mentors with further detail about the purpose and function of this exciting program. The two-hour training sessions focused on building meaningful mentoring relationships, using effective communication skills, and providing information for mentors and mentees interested in signing up for the service. Betsy Zaborowski, executive director of the Jernigan Institute, offered workshop participants a primer on the basics of cultivating positive mentoring relationships. Rosy Carranza, staff member, and Arielle Silverman, student intern, then followed up with logistical information about the operations of NFB-Link.
Anyone interested in NFB-Link should visit <www.nfblink.org> to obtain further information. We are still actively soliciting interest from both mentors and mentees. Attractive NFB-Link brochures are available for use in helping us spread the word about our new program.
Attended by over sixty Federationists, the first-ever seminar held completely in Spanish was a resounding success. The seminar began with introductions. One by one attendees introduced themselves, indicating their native country and the number of conventions that they had attended. Later, participants heard the personal stories of such Federationists as Carlos Serván and Alpidio Rolón. In true NFB spirit the afternoon was full of hope and inspiration as each speaker told of the powerful influence that the Federation has had on his or her life. Participants were urged to continue learning about the Federation and to deepen their involvement in our organization. Upon the completion of the seminar, participants were eager to interact with one another and to meet the dynamic speakers who had made the seminar memorable.
On Monday evening of convention, participants from the first Training and Organizing People to Serve (TOPS) seminar, held during the summer of 2005, sponsored a recruitment workshop for those interested in building the movement. Presenting this workshop partially fulfilled TOPS seminar participants' commitment to share with the broader Federation family some of what they had learned during their original seminar last summer.
Allen Harris, longtime Federation leader and director of the Iowa Department for the Blind, began the workshop by speaking about important aspects of building membership. He urged participants to build the Federation by affirming people and by helping them realize that their contributions to the organization are important and valued. Mr. Harris also emphasized the importance of being open to new strategies for outreach and maintaining an innovative spirit as we go about our work in the Federation.
Workshop participants were given a hands-on recruitment challenge. They spent sixty seconds each with a series of blind characters role-played by TOPS mentors, who impersonated the folks we frequently meet as we try to bring people into our organization. Examples of the personalities met by these aspiring Federation recruiters included the blind person who is not a joiner and the blind person who is convinced that the NFB is opposed to the use of guide dogs. Participants had the chance to test the way they would respond to these situations in order to persuade the blind person to consider joining us.
TOPS mentors then provided feedback on what strategies or approaches had proven most effective in each encounter. In general mentors agreed that it is more important to befriend the person, collecting his or her contact details, than to waste precious moments of a brief first encounter arguing the nuances of our philosophy. Workshop participants offered positive feedback about this exercise, promising to bring their new-found insights and this recruiting activity home to their local chapters.
The NFB's department of affiliate action sponsored its first-ever national advocacy skills seminar on Wednesday evening, July 5, from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. NFB executive director of strategic initiatives James Gashel keynoted this inaugural event, offering colorful and animated anecdotes about his experiences as an advocate. Blending humor and serious reflection, Mr. Gashel set the appropriate tone for this event, emphasizing the importance of an assertive and persevering spirit of advocacy.
Other nationally respected Federation leaders, including Betsy Zaborowski, Scott LaBarre, Ron Gardner, Greg Trapp, Norma Crosby, Carrie Gilmer, and Kristi Bowman, followed with individual and panel presentations on concrete strategies for effective advocacy and issue-specific subjects that advocates regularly encounter while working in the blindness community. The general advocacy topics surveyed during the seminar included elementary techniques for functioning as an advocate, advice on active listening and effective communicating, and an informative lecture on both common and obscure sources of advocacy support available from government and private entities. Representing blind students in the special education arena at their IEP meetings and securing appropriate services of choice through the rehabilitation system were the two featured blindness-oriented topics covered during this program.
President Maurer capped off the evening by urging the approximately one hundred members of the audience to take charge, be knowledgeable, and exercise sound judgment when representing themselves or others. While three hours is hardly enough time to address thoroughly the art of advocacy, these presentations packed a significant punch and made a real difference for seminar attendees. By all accounts this first-ever national advocacy skills seminar was well received.
Grant Writing Seminar
A seminar titled "Writing that Winning Grant" was jointly sponsored by the department of affiliate action and the Jernigan Institute, Wednesday afternoon. Focusing on strategies for developing projects that are results-oriented and would appeal to grant sources, Betsy Zaborowski, executive director of the Jernigan Institute and Joanne Wilson, executive director of affiliate action helped seminar participants think more precisely about affiliate and chapter activities as fundable projects. Leaders from our Colorado and Georgia affiliates described several of the successful grant-writing projects with which their organizations have been involved. Following the formal remarks of seminar presenters, a session of brainstorming and fruitful exchange of ideas was the order of the afternoon. Seminar participants left this information-rich session energized and better equipped to find alternative sources of funding for projects in their local communities.
Scholarship Alumni Program
The Scholarship Alumni Program (SAP) was established with the support of the department of affiliate action at our 2006 national convention. This initiative pairs each of our thirty scholarship winners with a previous NFB scholarship recipient in an informal mentoring relationship throughout convention week. More important, though, is the fact that these mentoring matches will continue during the coming year. Mentors and mentees will maintain regular contact (usually monthly) by telephone, by email, or in person. The program is designed to help new scholarship winners gain a deeper understanding of the policies and programs of the Federation and to encourage their continued active involvement with our organization. Funds have been allocated to assist promising scholarship winners to attend our Washington Seminar and the following national convention. We hope that this program will enable the NFB to retain more of the pool of talented scholarship winners as active members of the organization. SAP mentors are distinct from the mentors assigned by the Scholarship Committee to work with and select winners during convention week. The SAP is a supplemental program to enhance the hard and effective work undertaken by our Scholarship Committee.
On two designated occasions during convention week (Monday evening and Wednesday for lunch) this year's scholarship winners joined their SAP mentors in the Affiliate Action Suite to receive an orientation to the program and become better acquainted with one another. All indications are that this new program is off to a good start and that all of us will be the long-term beneficiaries of this membership-building effort.
Affiliate Presidents Gathering
Joanne Wilson invited all affiliate presidents to assemble in the affiliate action suite for a briefing on current organizational affairs. This forum also enabled state leaders to share a wide variety of membership-development ideas with one another and served as a reunion for the affiliate presidents who met together at the National Center in Baltimore last February.
Parent Leadership Program
In conjunction with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) the department of affiliate action hosted two sessions in its much-used suite for the eighteen sets of parents of blind children who were funded to attend the 2006 NFB national convention. In exchange for assistance to attend our convention, these parents committed to building and strengthening the NOPBC divisions in their states. The two sessions concentrated on membership development, organization-building, and mentoring. Follow-up conference calls focusing on these and other strategies for organizational development with these eighteen sets of parents will take place throughout the coming year. Strengthening of our parent organizations in our state affiliates will directly benefit blind children across the country and will immeasurably benefit our state organizations as well. Parents of blind children joining with blind adults to accomplish the work of the Federation will prove a formidable alliance indeed.
Finally, staff and interns with the department of affiliate action were on hand to greet members of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS) and first-time convention attendees. On different occasions during the week, representatives from both NABS and convention rookies met to socialize and plan in the affiliate action suite. It was useful to have the suite to facilitate impromptu gatherings that provided and will promote constructive results.
The department of affiliate action's mission to deepen the involvement of our existing membership, build our organization, and add a new dimension of animated spirit to the Federation went a long way toward being achieved during the 2006 convention. Many convention delegates spoke in glowing terms of the several department-of-affiliate-action-sponsored programs that added to their convention experience. The bar has been set high for next year's national convention. Plan to join us in Atlanta. The organizational flame that inspires change and progress--our motivation, commitment, and resolve to build our Federation--has only just begun to burn.