The Braille Monitor                                                                                               March, 2002

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More Than a Library

by Connie Leblond


Julie Deden presents a plaque to Rod Sylvan while Diane McGeorge and Jamie Foster look on.   Behind them we see many shelves of Braille books.
Julie Deden presents a plaque to Rod Sylvan (left) while Diane McGeorge and Jamie Foster look on. Behind them we see many shelves of Braille books.

"You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourselves that you truly give."

--Kay Haraway, quoted in So the Blind Can See

The National Federation of the Blind has always taken dreams and turned them into reality. We haven't forgotten the dream Dr. Jernigan had for the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore and all the work it took to renovate the structure. It has become our national center and is evolving into a grander reality--the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind.

Our NFB adult training centers have a standard in expectation and outcome. We all work to change what it means to be blind. From participating in parades, doing sky diving, and living a complete and fulfilling life to creating a Braille library, we are limited only by our ability to see tasks through and to believe in the dream.

In September of 2000 the Colorado Center for the Blind moved to a building in Littleton which was formerly occupied by the YMCA. Initially we sorted, unpacked, and made room for staff and students. When we felt settled, we began to ponder the possibilities.

Eleven months later, while rummaging through a racquetball court, which stored lots of boxes, I came across Braille books: lots and lots of Braille books. As any good Federationist knows, rallying support is a good first step toward bringing about change. I talked to the Braille instructors; the technology department; and Julie Deden, our director. We all agreed that something had to be done; the dreaming commenced.

Students perused the books and hoped that all the volumes of each would be found and that they would be made available for reading. We began sorting through them and collecting titles and authors and organizing the volumes. It was a long, tedious task, but we just kept hoping a Braille library would emerge from the chaos and find its way to the Colorado Center for the Blind.

Julie Deden brought in the Elks Club. Mr. Rod Sylvan, an Elk himself, and his wife were instrumental in constructing our library. First the carpet was laid. The Elks volunteers worked for weeks to build eight-foot-high bookcases, which stretched the length and width of the racquetball court. When students and staff could actually see the progress, they were more than a little excited. Expanding on a great idea, we decided that the library would also become the Braille-instruction area.

It took about three months to complete the labor. Leilia Clay, one of the Braille instructors, worked tirelessly to move all the boxes of books, including instructional materials, into the room. Then we methodically unpacked and arranged the books on shelves for later sorting. Students compressed boxes and filled shelves, and there it was, our Braille library. I cannot entirely express just how it felt to walk through the door the very first time. The scent of the new wood shelves mixes with the new carpeting to create just the right atmosphere for this wonderful hall of books. The long, smooth conference tables in the front and rear of the room, which is divided by yet another huge set of bookshelves across the center of the room, define the learning environment exactly. The overstuffed couch placed to one side in the rear adds tasteful comfort that completes the décor.

Students come from all parts of our nation and from foreign countries to attend our programs. We have collected twenty-eight flags, which represent those areas. The Elk volunteers faced a real challenge hanging them from the open ceiling above (remember that this had been a racquetball court). The flags now hang securely from wires at an appropriate height. They provide the finishing touch to the setting and lend distinction to our library.

To think this all began with a single idea--a notion expounded, expressed, and expanded upon. We are very lucky to have one another, a human chain of action..

In my mind this newly established library/Braille instructional room is more than just a library; it is a testimonial to the strength of the National Federation of the Blind. We haven't forgotten how to dream, and we truly understand how wonderful it is to have the world under our fingers. We believe in the power of collective action, and we continue to nurture the spirit that makes us unique. We have shared with our sighted friends from the Elks Club the power of a dream and the ability of the blind to work together. I am deeply pleased to have been a part of this project.

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