by Diane McGeorge
From the Editor: This is how the BELL program happened in Colorado. Relating the story is Diane McGeorge, the former president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, the former director of the Colorado Center for the Blind, and a very active member in her chapter, her affiliate, and the national organization. Here is what she says:
In July of 2013 we held our third BELL program in Colorado. For those of you who may not have heard of BELL, it is a wonderful program developed by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute that emphasizes the importance for young children of learning Braille. BELL stands for Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning. We recruit children from the ages of four to eleven for an exciting two-week program in which the importance of Braille is stressed throughout the day. We do lots of activities, including independent travel using the long white cane. For some of these little guys the long white cane isn't very long, but they rapidly come to understand what it can tell them when they are walking around the classroom, playing outside, or going on bus trips around the metro area.
One of the highlights this year was a scavenger hunt on the Boulder Mall. Kids, teachers, and volunteers took the RTD bus to Boulder, where teams were formed. Each team was given Braille clues to find items on the Boulder Mall. They had pizza for lunch and took the bus back to the Rocky Mountain MS Center, where classes were held each day. Kids learned that vision isn't all one can use to find interesting things on a scavenger hunt. One of the activities was to bring back a card from a coffee shop, which they had no problem sniffing out.
Each day the youngsters kept a journal of their activities in Braille. They decorated their journals with art projects. They made tactile identifiers for their canes so there wouldn't be any doubt about who got whose cane. One of the best parts of the day was getting into a circle on the floor and telling everyone about what we called their BELL moments. Every youngster told about something he or she did that day for the first time. BELL moments could range from making a sandwich for lunch to helping another child find his or her Braille name on a locker.
The program ran from July 15 through July 26, and every day the program was filled to capacity. The Rocky Mountain MS Center has been a wonderful partner for the last three years, and we can't thank them enough for the warmth and hospitality shown to our students and volunteers. Speaking of volunteers, we asked each parent to volunteer for at least one day or one activity, and as usual we had a wonderful response. We also had blind teenagers from the Colorado Center for the Blind, the Colorado Parents of Blind Children Division—if I start naming names, I'll leave somebody out—so let me just say how grateful we are to all who volunteered.
I also want to express our thanks to the Colorado Center for the Blind for its contribution, as well as the NFB of Colorado and the many individual chapters who helped make BELL possible again this year. This program is funded through contributions and grants, and all of our members worked hard to make it a success.
If the support keeps coming in, we hope to expand to another part of the state next year, God willing. I can't imagine it won't; in Colorado we know what our priorities are. One of our top priorities is serving blind children. This is evidenced by the outstanding work of the Colorado Center for the Blind, our partnership with the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, our support from our teachers of the visually impaired, and of course our BELL program. Eleven children this year are many steps closer to realizing that it is respectable to be blind. The world is waiting for them, and we in the National Federation of the Blind will make it a better world.