Future Reflections                                                                                Convention Report 2004

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Reunion and Braille Book Flea Market A Huge Success

by Barbara Pierce and Steve Hoad

Barbara Loos, President of the American Action Fund (AAF) board, sets out Braille books donated by the AAF.  A former Braille instructor and long-time Braille advocate Loos also volunteered as a Braille Mentor at the reunion.
Barbara Loos, President of the American Action Fund (AAF) board, sets out Braille books donated by the AAF. A former Braille instructor and long-time Braille advocate, Loos also volunteered as a Braille Mentor at the reunion.

Editor’s Note: In 2003, at the Louisville, Kentucky, convention, the NFB celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest with a reunion and a Braille book flea market. The affair was a hit, and right away plans were laid to establish it as an annual event. The 2004 event was every bit as successful as expected. The report below, which is a modification of a report that appeared in the August/September 2004 issue of the Braille Monitor, describes highlights of the 2004 reunion:

Barbara Pierce:  From 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 1, a reunion of past and current Braille Readers Are Leaders participants took place at the 2004 NFB 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.

About twenty-five 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. They were enthusiastic about the event. 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.

Children and adults line up at the flea market display tables eager for the rare pleasure of browsing through stacks and stacks of "gently used" Braille bools.
Children and adults line up at the flea market display tables eager for the rare pleasure of browsing through stacks and stacks of “gently used” Braille books.

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.

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

UPS volunteers from the Georgia office, Patty Conley (left), Christie Davis (middle), and Christie's daughter, Morgan, work with NOPBC volunteer, Bob Brackett (Florida), to box up Braille books to ship Free Matter to the homes of their new owners.
UPS volunteers from the Georgia office, Patty Conley (left), Christie Davis (middle), and Christie’s daughter, Morgan, work with NOPBC volunteer, Bob Brackett (Florida), to box up Braille books to ship Free Matter to the homes of their new owners.

Wright family’s first convention. 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.

Steve Hoad:  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.

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.

A former Braille Readers Are Leaders winner, Harriett Go (Pennsylvania), demonstrates two-handed Braille reading to novice reader, Melissa Davis (Geogia).
A former Braille Readers Are Leaders winner, Harriett Go (Pennsylvania), demonstrates two-handed Braille reading to novice reader, Melissa Davis (Georgia).

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.

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.

Editor’s Note: Look for an announcement in an upcoming issue of the Braille Monitor and on the NFB Web site at www.nfb.org about when and where to send donated Braille books for the 2005 Reunion and Braille Book Flea Market. In the meantime, start sorting through your Braille books. We especially welcome donations of children’s books, both print-Braille picture books and all-Braille books; and cookbooks. Please, do not send magazines or books in volumes requiring more than one box for shipping. Peggy Chong of Des Moines, Iowa, is the coordinator of the 2005 event. Mrs. Chong will soon be recruiting volunteers and soliciting funds to help underwrite expenses for refreshments and door prizes. If you would like to help in any way, please contact Mrs. Peggy Chong by phone at (515) 277-1280 or by email at peggychong@earthlink.net.

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