by Mark Riccobono
I hear of hundreds of personal life-changing experiences as I travel, and I read the notes, letters, and emails from all of you. With love, hope, and determination the National Federation of the Blind makes dreams come true one life at a time.
Sometimes our state affiliates ask people to talk about why they are members of the National Federation of the Blind. These segments are often dubbed "Why I am a Federationist." They explain best the impact we have on the lives of ordinary blind people.
One of the memorable answers to this came from a woman who serves as a caretaker for her husband. Let's call her Ann. Her home is in Illinois. Before she was introduced to the NFB, she did not leave her house alone, and she did not read. Those things seemed impossible and scary. Ann had no idea how a blind person was going to read or how travel was possible. She thought she would simply stay in and take care of her husband.
Ann joined one of our myriad at-large chapters that meet by phone. It was perfect, since Ann did not believe that she was capable of getting out on her own.
During chapter meetings and in phone calls, Ann talked about her beliefs and her worries. Her chapter president, who resided nearby, spent time with this new member and went out with Ann and showed by example that travel can be done with proper techniques. Our member now goes to take classes alone, and she is excited to be attending her second full state convention in 2016. Fellow Federationists have applauded each of Ann's new steps toward independence. She puts it best, "I have utilized my cane skills by going out alone, and I am even traveling on paratransit or our disabled/senior neighborhood bus." Fear no longer governs her getting out.
Braille is now her friend after encouragement to learn it from other blind people. Our Illinois affiliate has a Braille reading group that meets weekly to practice Braille. The group is called Literacy Is For Everyone or the LIFE group for short. Ann joins our Literacy Is For Everyone group on a regular basis and in fact takes a lead in sending out the notices. Reading was not something that came easy, but our member loves to read now and says she doesn't know what she would do without Braille. Ann says, "Every blind person should learn it."
This enthusiastic smart lady has come so far that she now serves as the president of her at-large chapter. The Federation gifted her with mobility, literacy, and most of all helped her to gain her confidence back. All of those are powerful reasons for Ann to be a proud member of the National Federation of the Blind.
One more meaningful "Why I am a Federationist" sample story also hails from Illinois:
Patti joined the Federation and became active just before she moved to Chicago. Patti talks about wondering how she was going to manage the University of Chicago Law School and the city of Chicago. "I was coming from a small town in Michigan and had no ability to travel in a big city. I also worried about money—I didn't have any."
Patti speaks in terms of paying it forward when answering why she is a Federationist. "The Federation gave me a nationwide network of mentors and friends who spent time, energy, and sometimes their own money to help me become a competent blind person in a big city."
When she moved to Chicago, the big city, Federationists helped her move. Mobility lessons were frequent. When she lacked finances in college, several Federationists quietly paid for meals after or before chapter meetings. When she graduated, her state president even offered his home for a graduation party. And, when her first child began to crawl, it was a member of the NFB who suggested that "bells on the shoes might be a good idea if one wanted to track a child."
It is that constant ability to network as part of a huge "family" that matters most to Patti. Along the way there were also two college scholarships and much more, but the mentoring, teaching, and the friendship have lasted more than three decades.
Patti is grateful for all that the Federation has given her and all that it continues giving. So she tries to pay it forward. We want the next generation to live the lives they want. We even hope that things will be easier for our children. Patti says, "I can never pay back all I have received, but I have to try to pay some of it forward."Both of these members help explain why people become—and why people remain—members of the National Federation of the Blind. I hope to share more of our stories with you in the future. I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I do. The Federation truly changes lives, and I am anxious to tell you how through our members and those we serve.