From 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 1, a reunion of past Braille Readers Are Leaders participants took place at the 2004 convention. And what better place for such a group of committed Braille readers and their families to meet and renew friendships than at the second annual Braille book flea market? Everything but the huge crowd was kid-friendly. Eight tables were spread with Braille books for browsing and choosing. Sandy Halverson and her crew of Braille-reading volunteers had unpacked and organized the books earlier in the afternoon, and National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and National Association to Promote the Use of Braille volunteers stood ready to restock the tables as soon as space opened. Round tables in the center of the room invited folks to sit down for a talk or for refreshments of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, and lemonade. Experienced Braille readers (Braille-reading adults and teens) circulated wearing badges identifying them as Braille mentors. They stopped to talk with kids about Braille and the books they had found and with parents who had questions about Braille.
Anne Naber and her mother Dory Miller of Minnesota (left) decide on one book to carry home. UPS volunteer Ron Aversa (right) waits to pack up the rest. A very young UPS volunteer, Morgan Davis, daughter of lead UPS volunteer Christie Davis, leans across the table. Anne Naber was the third-place winner in the kindergarten through first-grade category in 1999. This was her first convention.
The United Parcel Service (UPS) Foundation provided a grant that helped make this event possible. The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (AAF) and the TriCounty Braille Volunteers of Michigan donated many new Braille books to augment the gently used books contributed by Braille readers around the country. And UPS volunteers boxed up books for shipment Free Matter to people’s homes following the convention. Even with this service, which sent eighty-eight boxes winging their way across the country, lots more books were too precious to be parted with and walked out of the flea market in the arms of happy new owners.
About twenty-five Braille mentors took part in the flea market. They were enthusiastic about the event. Here is what Steve Hoad of Colorado wrote about his experience:
The event began with a crowded room. I was excited to see so many people, but why wouldn't there be a crowd? Books for free, only a donation needed! And these books are Braille--that combination draws blind readers and book lovers like a magnet.
A stack of Braille books waits to be displayed during the Braille flea market.
So here I am, working the crowd (I love to do that anyway) and talking about Braille. I meet a whole family of youngsters who have found great pleasure while getting their books. "We know how to read," one little girl tells me; "We like to do it." A simple statement, but unfortunately not true for every blind youngster today. I feel sad when I think about those who don't learn Braille--tapes and computer speech just don't convey information as well, and they don't encourage reflection.
I talked with a college student about Braille, which we have in common, so that's what we talked about: what we like to read, the books she'd found. As we talked, I found myself wishing I had picked up that bread recipe book I'd seen fleetingly. I went back and looked--it was gone. Oh well, another Braille lover will be making bread soon.
Readers are usually learners, and parents who encourage readers are usually willing to take time so that their children can learn. Late in the event, as it was winding down, I met two young women (Kira and Meg), who are Braille readers. They were playing around, but when the topic turned to Braille, they got serious. We talked about my love for Braille. They wanted to know what I used it for. I talked a bit about work, notes (picture my desk with little Braille notes taped to the surface), favorite books, how to read and write. They talked about their electronic Braille devices, and I pulled out my slate and stylus. They were interested; Meg was going off to camp to learn to use the slate this summer, and we tried it out. I talked about how I use it every day for work, for pleasure, and for anything Mr. or Mrs. America might use a pen to write.
Happy browsers like these made their way down tables, accepting advice from volunteers behind the table.
I carry my slate in a buckskin pouch made for me by my wife. It brings together the two things I love most: with some bits of paper included I have what I need for an independent life; to me Braille and family equal love and happiness.
Undoubtedly every family at the flea market had an interesting story to tell. Vejas Vasiliauskas of California was attending his first convention. He was this year’s first-place winner in the kindergarten through first grade category of the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. He read 3,313 pages. AAF President Barbara Loos, a life-long Braille reader, interviewed Vejas during the contest. They met for the first time in person and talked about Braille during the reunion.
The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children donated a refurbished Braillewriter as a door prize. The winner was Keao Wright of Hawaii, who read 5,900 pages to become the fifth-place winner in the high school category of this year’s contest. This was the Wright family’s first convention. Macy McClain of Ohio is thirteen and a past contest winner. She hunted up several younger Braille readers to talk about Braille. Macy was the youngest Braille mentor, but she knew her job, and she did it.