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Braille Monitor - August/September 2000 Edition

Creating Our Own Future:
Building the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind

by Barbara Pierce

Two ladies and a guide dog wearing there "Lets Build It Now" t-shirts.

Everyone with access to a "Let's Build
It Now" T-shirt wore it to the
Thursday morning session
.

Thursday, July 6, 2000, will go down in the annals of Federation history as T-shirt day and the day President Maurer drove a crane onto the Convention floor. Those who had brought their "Let's Build it Now" T-shirts wore them to the morning session. People who are never seen at Federation events in less than correct business attire strolled in looking as if they were ready for anything but a Convention session of the National Federation of the Blind. Luckily, volunteers also stood ready at every door to pass out shirts to everyone unfortunate enough to be without what later that morning was referred to as the uniform for this army.

 

President Maurer, wearing his T-shirt and hard hat, returns to the podium.

President Maurer, wearing his T-shirt
like everyone else, and also his
hard hat, returns to the podium
after driving the crane

As described in the Convention Roundup, the first part of the morning session went pretty much as usual, except for the fireworks exploding behind pictures of the National Research and Training Institute pictured on everybody's chest. Then Dr. Maurer asked Joyce Scanlan to preside while he left theplatform, and suddenly nothing was business as usual. In he drove on a crane, surrounded by the noise of construction, and we knew that it was truly a new day in the National Federation of the Blind.

The panel presentation that followed Dr. Maurer's introductory remarks once he had returned to the chair was a cross section of the Federation family and of the friends who have come to know us and what we stand for.

The first speaker was Ron Gardner, President of the NFB of Utah. Taking President Maurer's lead, he discussed the importance of doing things in new ways. Instead of talking about blindness, he would talk about seeing, or rather c-ing. The four C's he mentioned were first Mrs. Helen Colby, whose estate enabled the Utah affiliate to make its challenge grant of $500,000 to the capital campaign. The other three C's were courage, commitment, and character. We must all find the courage to step out into this new way of life, the commitment to follow President Maurer and the Board where they lead us, and the character to do what is best for the blind of tomorrow.

Ron Gardner

Ron Gardner

Deane Blazie, who with his wife and Ted Henter and his wife made a gift of $500,000 to the campaign, told the audience that his primary commitment was to education, and he believes that the Institute will stimulate education about blindness in new ways.

Deane Blazie

Deane Blazie

Ted Henter told the audience about being discouraged from getting a master's degree in computer science because the dean of the school thought a blind student would slow down the rest of the class. That detour sent Ted in another direction to get the same thing done, but it also committed him to changing what it means to be blind. That's what the Institute will do, and that's why he is a supporter.

Hazel Staley has been a leader and an anchor in the Federation for more than thirty years. Her speech gave a clear indication of why. This is what she said:

Dr. Maurer introduced me as a former president of our affiliate [the National Federation of the Blind of North Carolina], and so I am. But believe me; I'm still in there pitchin'. I'm not on the sidelines twiddlin' my thumbs. I'm serving as Vice President; I'm chairman of our Membership, our SUN, and our Associate Programs; and I'm Secretary of my local chapter; and I love everything I'm doing.

I first heard of the National Federation of the Blind in 1969. I thought: "O, wow, I didn't know anybody else in the world felt like I do," so I joined, and I've been in there ever since. And I plan to stay in there as long as I live.

Ted Henter

Ted Henter

I want to direct my words this morning to the retirees and the people who have limited incomes. Last year I sat in our convention, and I heard one person after another come up and pledge thousands of dollars to the Research and Training Institute for the Blind. I felt left out. I thought: "I wish I could do that." But I'll be eighty-four years old next month, and I might begin to need to start thinking about some type of assisted living or long-term nursing care--I haven't got there yet, but I'm thinkin' about it.

Hazel Staley

Hazel Staley

Then I remembered that the Federation isn't all about me. Since I joined the Federation more than thirty years ago, I have worked my heart out doing all that I could to try to improve the lives of blind people and make things better for them. I can't stop now. I see the Research and Training Institute as a kind of insurance, a way of knowing that the work that my predecessors and I have done will grow and go on and on and on to improve the lives of blind people in future generations. This is exciting.

You and I can't give a million dollars, but all that's expected of any of us is to do the very best that we can with what we have. It isn't healthy or wise to determine what we do by what someone else does. So you may feel, as I did last year, that you couldn't buy more than one or two bricks, but every brick helps in building this building, you know. Individually we may feel that the little contributions that we can make won't make much difference, but listen to me: our collective small gifts may be all that is needed to bring this project to fruition. When it's done, just think how good you'll feel to know that you have had a part, even a small part, in changing what it means to be blind.

So come on, all you people who are on limited incomes, as I am; let's not let those making the big contributions have all the fun. It's our Federation too, you know, and there just might be more of us than there are of them. So I say to you this morning: if you can't bring caviar to the party, then by golly bring soda crackers and enjoy!

Wayne Wilhelm

Wayne Wilhelm

The next speaker was Wayne Wilhelm, whose expertise as a builder has been of material assistance to the NFB through the years. He told us how in the early years he bid repeatedly on contracting jobs for the NFB without getting any business. When his bid was finally chosen, he discovered what it was like to know and work with Dr. Jernigan. He came to appreciate the integrity and values of the organization and the power of our dreams. He went on to say: "The architecture of the new building addition is a wonderful collaboration of the old and of the new. This is to say that the new structure will blend in very well with the existing structure. The technology that will be developed in the new center will complement those that already exist. This is another blending of the old and the new. The new structure is full of character and prominence and will never be mistaken for anything other than a first-class facility. It will be built of steel, bricks, mortar, and glass. The steel and the bricks indicate strength, and the glass indicates vision. These are all virtues of the National Federation of the Blind. With this new Institute and the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Fund, the legacy of Dr. Jernigan will go on forever. I know that through construction, a relationship, and a dream my life has been changed forever. I thank God for allowing Dr. Jernigan and the National Federation of the Blind to become part of my life."

Mitch Diamond

Mitch Diamond

 

Mr. Diamond is a retired advertising executive who first learned about the abilities of blind people years ago when he gave assembly business to sheltered workshops with blind workers. He noticed then that the blind workers out-produced his own employees. He concluded it was because they wanted more passionately to succeed.

In 1998, just a few days after moving to Washington, D.C., his wife was hospitalized and never again left the hospital. Losing her was a bitter blow to him, and his friend from the Masons, Harold Snider, and his wife Linda were instrumental in helping him to recover from his loss. He now looks back and realizes that, even in the midst of great deprivation, one can find blessings. He numbers several friends, including Dr. Maurer, in that category. Mr. Diamond has now, at the age of eighty-two, established a trust with a significant amount of money to be used for charitable purposes. The largest beneficiary of the trust is the National Federation of the Blind.

He concluded by telling his audience that they must be willing, as Harold was, to ask people for campaign gifts. They must also be willing to give themselves even if the gift must be small. Not everyone has large sums to contribute, but everyone has something. We must be willing to give to good causes ourselves, and expectantly we must ask others to help as well.

Kathleen and Larry Sebranek

Kathleen and Larry Sebranek

Larry and Kathleen have been leaders in the NFB of Wisconsin for many years. Larry explained that they had been thinking of making a capital campaign gift of perhaps $10,000. That would have required some pinching of their budget to do over a five-year period, but they thought the Research and Training Institute was worth some belt-tightening. Then Larry heard a program that talked about the tax advantages of making charitable contributions. Larry had sold a farm some years before and invested the money, some of which had appreciated significantly. The tax bite on such appreciated funds is pretty substantial, but the entire charitable gift can be deducted from your taxable income, providing a real benefit. When he and Kathleen talked with their accountant about whether or not they could afford to give as much as $50,000,he said certainly, but that they should remember their family. Larry's answer, as he recounted the conversation, touched everyone present. He said: "The NFB is our family, so we decided to give a significantly larger gift."

When Kathleen's turn came to speak, she said she had attended the last twenty-nine conventions, and she had worked as a rehabilitation teacher for twenty-eight years. She said that she uses what the NFB has taught her every day of her life, and she teaches our hope and optimism across the kitchen table to every blind person she works with. Both Kathleen and Larry stressed that they are very private people. Talking about their personal financial decisions does not come easily to them. They agreed to tell their story in the hope that it might inspire others who love what the NFB is and does to look at their own financial situations and perhaps discover that they too can make larger gifts than they had thought possible.

Cheralyn Braithwaite

Cheralyn Braithwaite

In contrast to Kathleen Sebranek, the next speaker, scholarship winner Cheralyn Braithwaite, was attending only her fifth convention. She talked about the children's book, The Giving Tree, which is about a tree that gives of itself at every stage of a man's life. Cheralyn said that the NFB has been a giving tree in her life. "From the NFB philosophy I have taken mentors, friends, resources, skills, and ultimately confidence. The capital campaign sounded like a perfect way for me to give back to something that had given so much to me." She went on to say that she believed in this project passionately because she looks back and sees all the things that she missed out on--the blindness skills and healthy attitudes that no one ever taught her. The Institute is one way to see that the same thing does not happen to another generation of blind children. Believing in the campaign was the first step for her. Last year President Maurer urged us all to decide on a gift significant enough in our budgets to hurt. For a twenty-five-year-old teacher in Utah who is returning to school this fall, a gift of almost any size will certainly hurt. But she looks on her gift as an investment in the future. Each month money is withdrawn from her pay check for retirement, for savings, and now for the capital campaign. She sees her contribution as an investment in the lives of all blind people in the future.

Mark Riccobono

Mark Riccobono

The final speaker on the panel was Mark Riccobono, President of the NFB of Wisconsin. He pointed out that the first step of this campaign of action is finished. It is the original conception of the Institute. We are now the army charged with building the facility. The tools we bring to the job are our minds and our pledges. The third step will be to dream up and execute the Institute programs that will accomplish what needs to be done to bring about the changes that must occur for blind people to reach full participation as first-class citizens.

As a new college graduate, Mark made his pledge last year. It was sizeable enough to hurt, but he made it because his generation and those who come after have the most to gain from the Institute and will take an active part in implementing the programs we conceive that will be carried out through it. Four weeks before the convention Mark was named to head the Wisconsin agency responsible for all youth services in the state. He sees first-hand the wasted abilities of kids who have not been taught what they need to know in order to succeed. This is a constant reminder of why we need the Institute. During the convention Mark doubled his pledge. He concluded by reminding students--who are by definition poor--that they have a greater earning potential than any other group in the Federation. Students must step forward and begin to contribute now.

From beginning to end the panel presentation was inspiring, and the audience responded with warmth and enthusiasm. Ramona Walhof reminded us throughout the week of the importance of recommending the names of those who may be able to make a campaign pledge. Immediately following this article appears the prospect form, which can be detached, filled out, and returned to the National Center. Please take a moment to consider whom you may know that should be invited to join our effort to change what it means to be blind.

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