It's a New Day at BESB
by Donna Balaski, M.D.
From the Editor: In the April, 2000, issue we reprinted large portions of a report by the Connecticut Attorney General on the activities of the by then past director of the state agency serving the blind, the Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB). The Attorney General is a Democrat, and the Governor and his BESB appointees are Republicans, so politics clearly entered into the equation. But it was also clear that inappropriate conduct had been taking place and that efforts were now being made to correct the problems.
The Governor appointed one of his savvier lieutenants, Lawrence Alibozek, as the new agency director charged with making peace with consumers and putting the BESB house in order. Early indications are that Alibozek is doing exactly that.
In late March he hired Federationist Dr. Donna Balaski as the Director of Community Affairs and Public Relations. It is still early days in the new administration, but Donna reports remarkable changes in the attitudes and atmosphere at BESB. Here is her preliminary report on what is happening these days in the Connecticut agency:
Over the last four months the Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) ended one chapter in its 107-year history and has begun a new one. Governor Rowland named Lawrence Alibozek the new Executive Director on January 1, 2000. The 140 days since his appointment have led to a substantial number of improvements; this has been my observation from both outside and inside the Agency.
Larry Alibozek, BESB's Executive Director, created an open-door policy. This invitation was extended not only to the staff but to the community as well. I met with him in late February. Our conversation revolved mostly around my experiences as a client of the agency, some of which were good and some of which were not so good. We discussed some of the philosophical concepts that I learned from the NFB's Joanne Wilson while I was a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Mr. Alibozek was interested in this philosophy, which states that with proper attitudes, skills training, and opportunities blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance. I believed that I had the proper skills and attitude, and Mr. Alibozek gave me the opportunity to aid in restructuring the agency.
Not only is there now an atmosphere of openness and understanding at BESB, but significant, positive action has begun to occur. One of the most noticeable transformations has been in the disposition of the staff. One staff member recently commented, "I love coming into work now. "Another staff member said, "I just wanted to put the past where it belongs, in the past, and move on." A new management team has been assembled at BESB and has already helped the staff move toward creating a positive future at the agency. As a result a new enthusiasm abounds, and from this attitude have come many great ideas and energized strategic planning for the future.
The Adult Services Department has created new solutions to old problems, which will better serve adults who do not plan to return to work. Some of the programs have merged; for example, the Business Enterprises Program is now consolidated into the Vocational Rehabilitation Program. A new Public Relations Department has been created, and there is an increased effort in community outreach and community education. Many more organizational and operational improvements are occurring.
I became the director of community affairs and public relations on the last day of March. Since arriving at BESB, I have found the challenges much larger than I anticipated, but not insurmountable. Mr. Alibozek's function at BESB is to guide and restructure the main functions of the agency while each manager is responsible and empowered to provide the appropriate pieces of the foundation. Many of the changes that must occur are internal and may not be apparent to the outside observer. Small changes can have dramatic effects. Change is in the air, and we are moving forward.
Many positive moves toward creating partnerships with other community-based groups have occurred. These include the Lions Club, Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, and the Oak Hill School/Connecticut Institute for the Blind. In addition the Attorney General's Office, with the support of BESB, has worked diligently with the NFB to create accessible Web sites for people who use screen-reading software. (See the June, 2000, issue of the Braille Monitor.) The future holds nothing but promise.
In the brief time I have spent at BESB I have found that all programs and services possess a complex integration, not only within the agency, but also with the community, and other agencies too. Change cannot happen overnight but is continuing and will continue to take place. Under the guidance of a good leader, a great staff, and members of the community BESB will transform attitudes about blindness in Connecticut.
As I say, it's a new day at BESB.