Ruby Polk in front of the White House

Ruby Polk

The National Center, A First-Time View

by Ruby Polk

From the Editor: Ruby Polk is Vice President of the St. Louis Chapter of the NFB of Missouri. She had always wanted to visit the National Center for the Blind since it is the headquarters of the organization she loves. Last fall she and her husband decided the time had come to make her dream come true. What follows is her story of that visit to the building that belongs to every Federationist. Her article first appeared in the Winter, 2000, issue of the Blind Missourian, the publication of the NFB of Missouri. This is what she says:

What a thrill it was to see the National Center for the Blind for the first time. It was more awesome than I ever expected. My husband Larry and I planned to visit the National Center on November 11, 1999. We called three weeks before our departure and spoke to Ms. Patricia Maurer, who was more than happy to make us an appointment.

With directions from Sandy Halverson, our Chapter President, we arrived at the National Center in Baltimore an hour early. From outside I used my cell phone and was connected with Aloma Bouma, who said she was expecting us because of our appointment, but she also said that she had received a telephone call from her friend and mine Sheila Wright to let her know personally that we were arriving. Ms. Bouma asked us to come right in so that we could start our tour. What a nice welcome!

The building was quite accessible and pleasant. Upon entering, we turned left to the elevator, which took us to the fourth floor. Ms. Bouma welcomed us heartily and offered to show us anything we wanted to see.

I first noticed that I was standing on a beautifully crafted marble floor. Ms. Bouma explained that the entire National Center had been renovated and that this marble floor was part of the exquisite workmanship. Portraits of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and Dr. Marc Maurer, with plaques indicating when they served as NFB presidents, hung in the reception area.

I discovered that a reception and dinner in celebration of Newsline(r) for the Blind was to be held that very evening with 300 guests invited. So this was a very busy day for the National Office staff, preparing for all those guests. Ms. Bouma said we would be able to see how everyone on the staff came together to work toward a common goal.

We started our tour of the Center with Curtis Chong, Director of the Technology Department, and Richard Ring, who runs the International Braille and Technology Center. Mr. Chong showed us all the equipment I was interested in. Mr. Chong even used his very own brand new twenty-dollar bill to demonstrate the Openbook scanning program. How nice it was to see all the newest technology under one roof.

We went next to the Materials Center. I purchased a slate and a talking pedometer to use when I exercised. Also I bought a support cane for one of our chapter members who is ninety-two years old.

Then we visited the Harbor Room, which has a six-foot-wide fireplace with a twelve-foot mantel. In that comfortable room guests can eat, visit, and relax.

The exercise room, a brainchild of Dr. Jernigan, is full of all kinds of fitness equipment for the use of guests and the staff.

The magnificent 5,000-square-foot deck was being enclosed and heated for the NEWSLINE(r) Night guests to enjoy a little later. The comfortable National Center conference room, with Braille books on every wall from floor to ceiling, also displayed a hands-on model of the new National Research and Training Institute to be built when we complete our capital campaign. The room measures forty by forty feet and has a large U-shaped conference table in its center with thirty-seven padded swivel chairs drawn up around it. The 120-by-70-foot Records Center houses all the files and other records of the NFB. This is where the history of the Federation is located. The book Walking Alone and Marching Together, which many of us have read, was mostly researched with the resources in this room.

President Marc Maurer and Barbara Pierce, Editor of the Braille Monitor, were not available, but we did get to meet Craig Gildner, the voice of both the Braille Monitor and the Voice of the Diabetic. We also ran into Kris Cox, who spoke to a visitor from Brazil in our tour group in fluent Portuguese. That was a nice surprise for all of us. All the other staff members who greeted us along the way were informative and friendly.

After viewing the spacious and gleaming kitchens amid all the hustle and bustle of preparations for NEWSLINE(r) Night, I was able to understand how three hundred guests would be superbly accommodated that evening.

At last we looked at the fifty-two framed charters placed side by side alphabetically down a long hall. Each state name was displayed in Braille. I found the one for Missouri. It was wonderful to read the large framed charters stretching down the hallway. There was nothing, according to Ms. Bouma, that I could not examine by touch. That was important to me as a blind person.      My visit to the National Center has given me a greater understanding of how local chapters and State Affiliates cooperate with the National Office to advance positive attitudes about blindness in the United States and throughout the world.