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David Stayer, a Fellow Federationist
by Patricia Hubschman
From the Editor: Several months ago Patricia Hubschman sent me the following sketch of a Federation leader many of us have known for years. My casual friendship with the Stayers goes back to an early Federation event at which my room was next door to theirs, and their baby daughter spent a difficult night. I managed to sleep pretty well, but I remember feeling sorry for the Stayers, who clearly did not, and then getting to know them the next day. But in reading this profile, I learned things about David that I did not know, including that he and I attended our first Federation conventions the same fall and became active in the organization by establishing chapters in our areas. You also will learn more about the man with the beautiful tenor voice who sings invocations at our national conventions. Now meet David Stayer and his wife Lori:
A devoted father with two grown daughters, a husband of thirty years, a full-time clinical social worker for a local hospital, a member of his temple and community, David Stayer devotes his spare time to helping the blind. He and his wife Lori founded the Greater Long Island, New York, chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. "I feel that helping to make things better for as many blind people as possible is one of my purposes on earth," he says.
David first learned of the NFB from a New Jersey friend he'd met at a vacation camp for the blind. The friend gave him a Braille copy of the Braille Monitor, to which David soon subscribed. "I liked what I was reading," he says, "especially the part about helping my fellow blind people fight for rights and other things that most of our citizens already had."
Tired of hearing her husband say this over and over again, his wife Lori, a born group joiner and organizer, told David, "Either join or shut up about it." David liked the idea. But there was no chapter in their area. "There had been at one time," says Lori, "but it had died." So they began their own, co-founding the Greater Long Island, New York, chapter. They received their state chapter charter in 1974.
The 1973 National Convention was held in New York City, but the Stayers didn't attend it. "We didn't know what the NFB was all about," says Lori. David deeply regrets not having gone. Their first NFB convention was in 1974, the state convention in Binghamton, New York. It was an eye-opener for them both.
"Before I went to my first convention," Lori says, "I honestly had no idea what a blind person could do." But she soon discovered that blind people could do just about anything: be teachers, college professors, lawyers, vendors. Then her ignorance reversed itself. It became a what-can't-a-blind-person-do thing. Since then they've both been firm believers in the positive philosophy of blindness. "It's part of my belief system," David says.
A college graduate, having earned his master's degree from New York University, David first considered attending law school. "But the lawyers I met appeared to be lacking in principles," he says. Instead he opted for social work, feeling it was more realistic. "I consider my blindness a way of helping others." November 12, 2001, marked his thirty-sixth anniversary at the local hospital where he works and thirty-seven years in the profession. His first year was spent at a hospital in Brooklyn, New York. "I love what I do," he says.
Shortly after that 1974 convention a member of the American Council of the Blind challenged David to a debate on a New York-based radio show. A newcomer to the Federation, David was unprepared for the attack his opponent made on the organization. David sent the tape of the program to the NFB president, Dr. Jernigan, who came to New York and arranged to have the program retaped, going up against the ACB member himself. It was this incident that prompted another NFB member who had been at the New York convention that year to recommend David for his first leadership seminar.
Described by himself as being somewhat shy and reserved, David says the NFB has helped him become more confident and forthright. "I'm still somewhat reserved," he admits. "But when I believe in an issue, I'm not afraid to speak out boldly and, I hope, eloquently."
He also tries to incorporate a positive attitude in his daily life and teaches it to others. "The positive attitude takes a while in building," he says. But it has helped him in every aspect of his life--work, faith, and the NFB.
The Stayers' two daughters, Melodie and Rachel, were brought up with the ideals of the Federation. They attended meetings and conventions with their parents. But the teaching didn't stop there, nor did the learning. "When the girls played, they borrowed David's cane," Lori says, "and pretended they were blind." When it came to expanding the horizons of their children's friends and classmates, who were unquestionably curious, David and his wife went to the schools and gave talks to the kids about blindness.
One thing that bothered the Stayer family greatly was the way blind parents were being viewed by society. "Blind parents were losing custody of their own children because they, the parents, were blind," Lori says. The courts didn't believe blind parents were capable of taking care of their children. Oftentimes the NFB went to court to fight. The funds of the PAC [Pre-Authorized Check] Plan, to which David and Lori had always contributed, helped pay the legal and court costs.
In the early 1980's David was the president of the New York NFB affiliate and was also on the Governor's Advocacy Committee for the Commission for the Blind, from which he recently retired after twelve years of service. He helped found the NFB Human Services Division, of which he is still an officer. And he is the president of the Long Island chapter. "The movement has grown," David says. "We've become more of a family." He hopes that his work with the blind will help make a lasting difference.
In October of 2001 the Stayers were personally invited to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the National Research and Training Institute in Baltimore. David was one of several Federationists honored by being asked to give an invocation at the gala celebration that evening.
I first heard of David Stayer and the NFB in 1988. I'd recently graduated from college and was attending a local blind rehabilitation center. A friend and co-student kept insisting that I attend an NFB chapter meeting with her. She said the president was a phenomenal man, and they could help me so much. The meetings were held at a local church, not far from where I lived. But I didn't go.
A few years later I actually nearly fell over David Stayer. I was attending physical therapy at the hospital where he worked. I was too early for my PT appointment. My therapist told me to keep myself occupied until it was time for my class. So I began walking around the hospital. On the lower level I came across a half-open office door. The name plate on it read "David Stayer, Clinical Social Worker." Poking my head into the office, I asked the man seated behind the desk if he was the famous David Stayer I had heard so much about. He chuckled, admitting to being David Stayer, but he didn't consider himself famous. We shook hands and chatted for a few minutes. Never once did I have a clue he was blind. Then David told me he had to be on the other side of the hospital, inviting me to walk with him. Of course I would. I was eager to learn more. We left his office together. His volunteer reader, whom I thought was his assistant, went along with us. When we reached our destination, we said goodbye and went our separate ways.
It was about six or seven years later that I again came in contact with David. I was having some problems on my job. After exhausting all possible advocacy options that I could come up with on my own, my vocational rehabilitation counselor from the Commission for the Blind recommended I contact David and the local NFB chapter. I did. Now I am a member of the family and trying to learn and live the philosophy of the NFB. Knowing David and Lori Stayer and all my Federation brothers and sisters is a wonder I can only wish had happened a long time ago. But I'm thrilled it's happened now.
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