Braille Monitor                                                                                                           November 2004

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The Gift Goes On

by Kimberly Aguillard

Kimberley Aguillard stands between her grandparents.
Kimberly Aguillard stands between her grandparents.

From the Editor: When Kimberly Aguillard sent me this article, she mentioned that she had written it for her grandparents and then decided that it might be of interest to me. It is a lovely tribute to the love of grandparents and an excellent example of the way that the positive influence of the Federation's philosophy transcends the individual to transform a family and influence an entire community.

Kimberly is currently a senior at Texas A&M University, where she majors in psychology and political science. She is second vice president of the National Association of Blind Students and president of the Texas Association of Blind Students. This is what she says:

My journey to the NFB and my recognition of the truth about blindness had many twists and surprises. As Federationists know, an individual's acceptance of blindness often takes several years, and we cannot truly convince family and friends of the truth about blindness until our understanding is solid. This was not actually the situation in my family. My grandparents, Grammie and Pawpaw, understood at once the world of possibilities that had been revealed to me through the National Federation of the Blind. They sacrificed time and convenience in order to help me seize opportunities and achieve my goals, supporting me through every challenge that I encountered along the way.

After attending a convention of the National Federation of the Blind at the age of eleven, I was enrolled in the Buddy Program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind the following summer. With all the wisdom of twelve I concluded that the resulting sacrifice of much of my summer would leave my life in absolute ruins. My mother, father, and four siblings left me in a storm of tears and complete frustration. I did not want to be abandoned in this place with blind people! Stubbornly I clung to my devastation for the first two days of the program, before the staff won my confidence, and I gave myself over to enjoy the experience.

During those weeks Grammie and Pawpaw frequently sent me tape cassettes with reports of the goings on in the booming metropolis of Nederland, Texas, my home town. News of my cousins, church friends, and of course the latest gossip from the local beauty shop were all topics covered on these brief recorded chats. Grammie did most of the talking, but Pawpaw always said hello, reminded me to be a sweet girl, and told me he loved me. Grammie would also wrap a couple of dollars around the cassette for ice-cream money. I corresponded to them using the same cassette tape and told them about my experiences. I marveled at the new things I was doing and went on and on about my counselors: Pam Allen, the director of the summer program, and Joanne Wilson, the director of the center. The best way to describe my feeling was awe. I had never seen successful, confident blind people before. Reflecting on that time, I realize that it must have been both exhilarating and terrifying for my grandparents to hear my uncensored accounts of adventures in cane travel, trips to amusement parks, and even a trip down to Baton Rouge to talk to representatives about legislation.

Reminding themselves of the triumphant joy in my voice each time I achieved a new level of independence, my grandparents insisted that I use my cane when I returned home instead of clinging to their arms. My Grammie could not completely contain her anxiety, so she would occasionally wrap her pinky around mine--the absolute minimum of contact she could achieve. The strength in her little finger could have steered me in circles and, if necessary, would certainly have dragged me out of any danger.

When state conventions rolled around, I would casually mention the fact to my grandparents and, oh, so subtly express my wish to attend. As a result my grandparents traveled to two Louisiana conventions and two Texas conventions with me. They got the chance to meet my role models in person and thank them sincerely for all that they had done to shape my life. If I was invited to give a speech, Grammie would strut to the front of the room with her tape recorder to capture the moment. They calmly observed the manic situations that occur at some conventions, such as the flood around the elevators and the marshals shouting directions in hotel hallways. They good-naturedly retrieved me from a bar, where I was probably the youngest patron by six or seven years. But they trusted my friends completely.

I was so caught up in my own excitement to see old friends that I did not realize at the time how much my grandparents were learning. They also made the trip to Ruston, Louisiana, where I had the opportunity to show them all the hot spots. I walked them through a typical cane travel lesson, and they got to see the apartments where I had lived. When I decided to start a chapter in my local area, Grammie and Pawpaw helped with fundraising and driving chapter members to and from meetings.

As time passed, my grandparents delighted in sharing my latest experiences with friends and family. When I began attending Washington Seminars in the nation's capital, they decided I was quite the activist. Their suspicion was confirmed when I traveled to Tampa, Florida, for a good old-fashioned picket of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving Persons with Blindness and Visual Impairment. A snapshot of me carrying my picket sign appeared in a Florida newspaper, and shortly after I returned to Texas, a copy of that very newspaper mysteriously appeared in my Grammie's beauty shop Saturday morning. Old ladies can move quickly!

Finally, this past summer, when I did organizing with NFB Corps, my grandparents could barely hide their excitement, beginning every phone conversation with "Where in the world are you today, child?" I entertained them with stories about all of my adventures in Illinois, including my very first ride in a police car after a cop refused to let my partner and me cross a busy street. As time passed, my grandparents began to consider my friends in the NFB as dear friends as well, even insisting on buying wedding gifts and sending cards. Since Grammie and Pawpaw are quite possibly the proudest grandparents on earth, I never seriously thought about their fuss over me and my opportunities through the National Federation of the Blind until a beautiful situation showed me exactly how much they had learned about and come to believe in blind people.

Grammie has had several surgeries over the past two years. All too often she and Pawpaw drive two hours to see the specialist for a visit or outpatient surgery. My Pawpaw is the sweetest, most devoted man I know, and he loves getting to talk with people. My Grammie has a quick wit and is often able to bring a surprised laugh or smile to the conversation. On one of their usual visits to the hospital, my grandparents were chatting with a nurse who had recently moved from Costa Rica. Like good grandparents they had already pulled out pictures of all eleven grandkids. The nurse mentioned that she had a sister who had come to America with her in search of a better life. She said her sister was blind and could not receive any training in Costa Rica, so she had brought her here to learn English and gain opportunities. My grandparents immediately pointed me out again and explained that I was blind. They told her that her sister needed to go to Ruston, Louisiana, and attend the Louisiana Center for the Blind, plain and simple. They gave her all of my contact information and told her more about the organization.

This action, more than anything else that they could have said or done, showed me how much they believe in the Federation and in the capabilities of blind people. Often we say that the Federation is for all people of all walks of life, and I believe now even more firmly than ever that this is true. My grandparents, who grew up in a different era, one of narrow-minded Southerners and conventional life, have embraced this philosophy of equality with open arms. I know they see me as a granddaughter first; a pest perhaps second; a motivated young girl third; and, oh yes, also a blind person who, thanks to the blessings she has received, will achieve her dreams. The National Federation of the Blind not only offers a positive philosophy, it can also teach us valuable life lessons about acceptance, hard work, and the gift of family.

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Planned giving takes place when a contributor decides to leave a substantial gift to charity. It means planning as you would for any substantial purchase--a house, college tuition, or a car. The most common forms of planned giving are wills and life insurance policies. There are also several planned giving options through which you can simultaneously give a substantial contribution to the National Federation of the Blind, obtain a tax deduction, and receive lifetime income now or in the future. For more information write or call the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.

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