by Tracy Soforenko
From the Editor: Tracy Soforenko is the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund and is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund plays a big role in helping first-timers attend the national convention, and here is what he has to say:
Have you always wanted to attend an NFB annual convention but have not done so because the experience seemed daunting or due to a lack of funds? At this time, we do not know whether the convention will be in person, virtual, or a hybrid of both. In 2020 the program expanded to pair each approved applicant with a mentor from the Kenneth Jernigan Committee. The Kenneth Jernigan mentors worked with the first-time Kenneth Jernigan mentees to help them make the most of the virtual convention experience. While 2020 Kenneth Jernigan mentees did not receive funding to attend the convention virtually, the relationships and networking was beneficial for these first-time convention attendees. Our commitment to help make the convention experience great for first time attendees is unchanged.
For 2021 the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund invites you to make an application to be a Kenneth Jernigan mentee and for an in-person convention scholarship grant. Approved mentees will be paired with an experienced mentor who will help you build your Federation network and make the most of the learning opportunities at the largest and most important yearly convention of blind people in the world. If an in-person convention is possible in July, you too can be joining us in New Orleans, Louisiana, with the support of a Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship grant. Virtual attendees will not receive grants but will receive mentoring.
The three biggest ticket items you need to cover when attending an NFB national convention are the roundtrip transportation, the hotel room for a week, and the food (which tends to be higher priced than at home). We attempt to award additional funds to families, but, whether a family or an individual is granted a scholarship, this fund can only help; it will not pay all the costs. Most years the grants were in the range of $400 to $500 per individual. In 2019, ninety grants were offered.
We recommend that you find an NFB member as your personal convention mentor, someone who has been to many national conventions and is able to share money-saving tips with you and tips on navigating the extensive agenda in the big hotel. Your mentor will help you get the most out of the amazing experience that is convention week.
Active NFB members, blind or sighted, who have not yet attended an NFB national convention because of lack of funding are eligible to apply. If you attended your first convention at the 2020 virtual convention and would like to attend in person, you are also welcome to apply.
This year, we will be accepting applications online. Since applications must be completed in a single session online, we strongly recommend you prepare your responses in a document, then cut and paste your responses into the application form. The application form does not support complex formatting, so we recommend avoiding formatting such as bullet points and fonts/styles.
Effective January 1, 2021, the application form can be found at the following link:
The application will ask for the following information:
Contact information: Include your full name and both your primary phone where you can be contacted by your state president and your mobile phone you might use at convention, if available.
Please include your mailing address and, if you have one, your email address. If you do not have an email address, please consider if there is a friend or chapter member who might be able to assist with email correspondence.
State affiliate/chapter information: Include your state affiliate, your state president, chapter, and chapter president, if you attend a chapter.
Mentor information: Include your personal convention mentor and provide that person’s phone number.
Funding request: Include your specific request and explain how much money you need from this fund to make this trip possible for you. We suggest you consult with other members to make a rough budget for yourself.
Write an essay: Explain why this is a good investment for the NFB. How do you currently participate in the Federation? Why do you want to attend a national convention? What would you receive? What can you share or give? Provide any special circumstances you hope the committee will take into consideration.
If you cannot apply online, you can still apply by writing a letter to your state affiliate president answering the above questions. This letter should be emailed to your state affiliate president. Once you have decided you will apply, please contact your state president in person or by phone to request his or her help in obtaining funding. Be sure to tell the state affiliate president when to expect that your application will be submitted and mention the deadline.
Once your online application has been submitted, your application will be provided to your state president via email. It is still your responsibility to contact your affiliate president. He or she must email a president’s recommendation directly to the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Committee at [email protected]. Your president must email the recommendation no later than the deadline of April 15, 2021. If you have applied outside of the online form, the state affiliate president must email both the recommendation and the application letter.
If you are chosen to receive this scholarship, you will receive a letter with convention details that should answer most of your questions. The committee makes every effort to notify winners by May 15, but you must do several things before that to be prepared to attend if you are chosen:
If you do not hear from the committee by May 15, then you did not win a scholarship this year.
At the convention you will be given a debit card or credit card loaded with the amount of your award. The times and locations to pick up your card will be listed in the letter we send you. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist you by obtaining an agreement to advance funds if you win a scholarship and to pay your treasury back after you receive your debit or credit card.
For additional information, please contact the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Committee, Tracy Soforenko, at [email protected] or 410-659-9314, extension 2415.
Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention on the national level and join several thousand active Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world. We hope to see you in New Orleans.