Braille Monitor January 2008
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From the Editor: The minute veteran Federationists or newer ones for
that matter begin gravitating to others like themselves to complain about the
young whippersnappers or the old fogies, the chapter or the affiliate is in
trouble. In the following article an experienced leader and an energetic newcomer
talk about how their affiliate, the NFB of Rhode Island, has worked to make
everyone feel welcome and respected. That word “respected” is important. Notice
the open-mindedness and respect that flow through both statements. Here they
Insights from a Veteran Federationist
by Richard Gaffney
I would like to share with you some insights on leadership that I have gained as a veteran Federationist. I am the president of the Rhode Island affiliate. Rhode Island is a tiny state, and our affiliate is unique in that we have only one chapter, which meets in Providence. Through the early and mid-1990s we recognized that we had problems recruiting new members, especially younger ones. But we persevered and now have a much stronger affiliate.
Ages of our members have ranged from the twenties to the mideighties. With such a broad age range, it can be difficult to meet everyone’s needs and keep their interest. But we are committed to doing this as best we can. Everyone cooperates, listens to different ideas, and then works together to complete projects.
When I joined the NFB thirty-six years ago, I was full of ideas about how to improve our affiliate. Unfortunately, as the years go by, we tend to stagnate in the old ways and reject opportunities to take fresh approaches to our work. One of the most important things I've learned from our young members in Rhode Island is always to be open to the possibility that a new approach might be an improvement on our old ways.
During the course of several years the affiliate gained a number of new young members. As I once did, they had some ideas about new ways of getting the work of the affiliate done. For example, we had always sent the minutes of the previous meeting to members each month by mail. Grace Cabral Pires recommended that we send them out by email for those who wanted it. More and more of our members were getting computers, and many of them preferred to receive information by email. I searched around to find out how this could best be accomplished. Now about half of our membership receive their minutes by email.
Shortly after they joined, Rob Pires and Rui Cabral asked how I felt about creating a Website for the affiliate. Again, I knew nothing about putting something like that together. We discussed what should and should not be placed on the Website, and I then let them take charge of the project. They put together a very good Website with links to both local and national information.
What I enjoy most about our newer members, both young and old, is that they ask questions about the organization. They want to know about the philosophy and purpose of the NFB. They want to know why we feel certain ways about certain issues. They want to know our goals, and they, in turn, suggest ways to help us achieve them.
The other older members and I try to educate the newer ones on the history and philosophy of our organization as their questions arise. Because people had so many questions, we all agreed that we needed to set aside time to discuss these issues in more depth. In the spring of 2005 we held a seminar. We discussed the history of the NFB and spoke in some depth on each of the issues that our organization has worked on in the past sixty-six years. Most of the participants, new and old members alike, were assigned a topic to research and present to the group. I believe it was a good learning experience for all and has made our affiliate much stronger.
Having new, and especially young, members in the NFB of Rhode Island brings a feeling of vitality to the affiliate and to me personally. I feel, however, that my job as president is to channel their ideas so that they remain positive and productive. As older leaders we must take advantage of young people's energy, and we must also teach them how to stay focused on achieving the goals and follow the policies of the organization.
As president of our affiliate, I hope to do my part to help develop the next
generation of leaders. It is very reassuring to me to know that, when the time
comes for me to leave the presidency, the NFB of Rhode Island is in the hands
of good people who will continue our movement into the future.
Insights from a Young Federationist
by Rui Cadral
I first heard about the National Federation of the Blind through a series of public service announcements recorded by Dr. Jernigan in the late eighties and early nineties. Since I was fairly young at the time, the thought of joining a local chapter did not occur to me.
I first joined our Rhode Island affiliate in September of 2000. At my first meeting I learned that the state convention was the next month. I received a crash course on NFB philosophy in a short amount of time. At that first convention Richard Gaffney was elected president of the Rhode Island affiliate. Over the next few months I got to know Richard a bit and began to ask him some questions. He was always willing to talk with me to try to answer all of the questions I had.
As I became more involved in the NFB of Rhode Island, I thought about the fact that our affiliate did not yet have a Website. I asked Richard if he had an interest in establishing a Website. I was a little nervous about asking such a thing. Being the new kid on the block, I didn't want to ruffle any feathers. Much to my surprise and relief, Richard loved the idea. Richard did not know how to go about the details of developing a Website, so he put another younger member and me in charge of this project. In the fall of 2001 we launched our Website, which can be viewed at <www.nfbri.org>.
I have found that the veterans of our affiliate have always been open to new ideas such as new fundraising possibilities or new topics or speakers for state convention. Conversely, these same leaders have taught the newer members that sometimes you should follow the policy, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
In Rhode Island we have a wide age range at our meetings, and everyone is treated with respect. We understand that everyone comes to meetings with experience to offer. The younger members respect the older members because none of the veteran leaders pulls rank and implies that his or her ideas are superior because he or she has been in the Federation longer. It may be a cliché, but I believe this kind of respect for one another is crucial to building and maintaining an active membership.
Richard plays a pivotal role in keeping everyone on the same page. He runs
orderly meetings, makes sure everyone is heard, and organizes committees to
execute the wishes of the group. Over the years Richard and his wife Kathy have
become not only mentors, but people I can call true friends.