Future Reflections         Summer 2011

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NFBU Project STRIVE

by Cheralyn Braithwaite Creer

Students untangle a spiderweb of yarn.From the Editor: Cheralyn Braithwaite Creer serves as first vice president of the NFB of Utah, and she is a board member of the Utah Parents of Blind Children. She has taught special education and worked in the Utah State Office of Education. She became involved with the NFB during college, and it had a powerful impact on her life. She tries to pass along what she has learned through her work with Utah's Club STRIVE.

Whenever a member of Project STRIVE gives me a call, the ringtone on my phone is a song made famous by Miley Cyrus. It's a song about pushing forward beyond fear and self-doubt, struggling up mountains in spite of failure. What really matters, the lyrics tell us, is the climb. That song sums up my hopes and dreams for the young people involved in Project STRIVE.

The NFB of Utah started Project STRIVE (Successful Transition Requires Independence, Vocation, and Education) to meet the unique needs of blind and visually impaired youth throughout Utah. Members of the program must be between the ages of thirteen and twenty-six. All of the instructors are positive, educated, blind adults. They are dedicated to mentor life, education, and employment readiness skills for blind young people. These skills, along with a positive attitude toward blindness, are critical for blind and visually impaired youth if they hope to transition successfully into adulthood.

Over the past year our members have told us a lot about themselves and how they feel. Here are some of their comments. "I don't feel smart." "I'm blind and I'm not okay with that." "No one understands what I'm going through at school." "My friends don't understand what being blind means." "I'm a poor reader and speller." "I feel like I have to choose between being blind and living in the sighted world." "Sometimes they call me mean names at school." "I'm going to graduate pretty soon, and I need to get out of my house more. I want to be involved in things and make friends." Their feelings are my reason for becoming involved in Project STRIVE.

A student learns to recharge a car battery.Before we became mentors, my colleagues and I underwent considerable preparation. I need to acknowledge the training we have received through the Jernigan Institute. I also need to acknowledge the mentoring spirit that grew in our state through the Utah Network for Mentoring Excellence (U'nME). Blind mentors serve as instructors in technology, orientation and mobility (O&M), activities of daily living, and social skills.

The mentors and mentees of Club STRIVE met every month, ten months of the year. Our monthly themes used the letters in the name, Club STRIVE.

C: Collaboration and networking. We held our opening social at a local amusement park.

L: Long-term goals. By untangling a giant spiderweb made of yarn, participants learned the value of teamwork. They recognized that the knots in life can only be untangled over time, with patience and perseverance.

U: Using resources. Vocational rehabilitation counselors and training center administrators explained what adult services can offer.

B: Beliefs about blindness. Participants took public transportation to a fast food restaurant and traveled from there to the office of a blind social worker.

S: Success. The group heard presentations by a panel consisting of a successful blind college student, the blind director of the Utah Division of Workforce Services (DWS), and the blind owner of an adaptive technology business. Then we took public tranportation to go ice skating.

T: Transition. We held a cleaning competition and human foosball game.

R: Responsibility. We had two slumber parties, one for the boys and one for the girls. We addressed leisure activities, hygiene, and grooming.

I: Independence. Participants learned basic car maintenance from a blind mechanic.

V: Vocation. We held a career day that included résumé writing, interview preparation, and mock interviews.

E: Education. Participants were supported to attend the NFBU state convention.

A young man and his mentor drop butter into a mixing bowl.Club STRIVE challenged members to set and achieve goals outside of organized activities. This past year, students had the opportunity to win an iPad by reading Braille daily outside school, riding public transportation independently, performing household chores nonvisually, etc.

In addition to monthly club activities, Project STRIVE arranged quarterly activities for transition-age participants (members from tenth grade through age twenty-six). This group, known as STRIVE Forward, went to a shooting range, conducted a service project for a local homeless shelter, and took part in a Career Day.

"Ever since Club STRIVE I have been more self-confident," says one of our participants. "I've learned to better understand my blindness." Another participant reports, "Last week I did a timing during Braille class and I went from thirty-one words to forty-five words [per minute] in contracted Braille. I think [Club STRIVE] has helped a lot!"

Here are some other comments from Project STRIVE members:

"I cleared the table after dinner, and then washed the dishes with sleepshades on."

"I am trying to use my hands rather than my eyes [when cleaning]. It is because I don't feel I can always trust my eyes."

"If it wasn't for my mentor, I wouldn't be at the level I am with computers."

"One of my favorite activities we have done at Project STRIVE is making hamburgers on the grill. I was afraid of using the grill for fear of burning myself. Now that I have been able to use a grill firsthand, I'm not afraid of them anymore."

"I loved hearing how Dr. Tim Cordes went through medical school along with his sighted peers. His speech was totally inspirational."

"Before I started [cleaning my bathroom] it looked clean to me [visually]. After I cleaned it by feel, I can certainly say it was a completely different story. Ewww!"

In conclusion, I think again of the song that is my ringtone. It doesn't matter how fast we reach our goals, the song says. It doesn't matter what goals we achieve. What's important is the climb.

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