Future Reflections  Winter/Spring 2007

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Parent Leadership Program

by Barbara Cheadle

Barbara CheadleIn conjunction with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) department of affiliate action has developed an exciting new leadership program for parents of blind children. Funded by the national office of the NFB, this program was launched at the 2006 convention with a core group of eighteen sets of parents from almost as many different states. In exchange for funding to attend the convention, these parents committed to building and strengthening the NOPBC divisions in their states. Parents in the group were assigned mentors and attended two special leadership sessions hosted in the affiliate action suite. The two sessions concentrated on membership development, organization building, advocacy, and mentoring.

Conference and individual calls to offer encouragement and guidance followed in the fall. Then, in January, funding was once again provided by the NFB for parents in the group to attend and participate in the NFB Washington, D.C., Seminar. The four-day event included a special all-day session on the nuts and bolts of running a parents division. Some of the topics covered were: how to moderate a meeting, develop an agenda for meetings, conduct elections, manage the treasury in compliance with state and federal laws governing nonprofits, and more. Handouts included timeline charts for planning seminars and a starter booklet for writing grants. Participants also toured the national headquarters of the NFB in Baltimore and joined other delegates from their states to visit their senators and congressional delegates to discuss the NFB’s 2007 priority legislative issues for the blind.

Plans are already underway to continue the leadership program at the 2007 NFB convention. Strengthening of our parent organizations in our state affiliates will directly benefit blind children across the country and will immeasurably benefit our NFB state organizations as well. Parents of blind children joining with blind adults to accomplish the work of the Federation will prove a formidable alliance indeed.

The comments below are edited from the evaluations we solicited from the leadership participants after their attendance at the 2006 NFB convention. The comments say it all, so here are Kris Shields and Elizabeth and Fernando Valois:

Kris Shields, North Carolina. July 24, 2006
Kris Shields with her husband Barry, daughters Hadley and Cindy, and son ZanderThe leadership team meetings were really instrumental in getting information about what we would be expected to do once home. It gave us a great opportunity to hear some ideas of what other chapters were doing and how to plan an event. I really appreciated that there were state NFB presidents at our meeting as well. It was nice to see that we were supported by the NFB and really a part of them, and that they cared about our development.

The Cane Walk for the families was wonderful. There were so many O&M instructors who were there to help. Our O&M instructor even gave us her phone number so that we could contact her after convention if we had any questions.

Attending the NFB convention was positively overwhelming. My husband had to return for work Tuesday night. I was very sad that he missed the session about the television makeover show where a blind mom was taught cane-traveling skills and a playground was built. I cried throughout that entire presentation, but not because of the show, although that was emotionally captivating, but because of the response of the audience. As I sat in the midst of thousands of blind adults and listened as they cheered this woman on to independence, I was overwhelmed with the thought, “With these people and this group behind my husband and me, how can we fail?” For the first time I felt as though figuring everything out that we needed to do for Cindy was no longer ours to figure out and fight for by ourselves.

I left with so many contacts of people who really care, who have the first-hand knowledge to help us, and who are excited about helping us lay the foundation that will prepare and propel our daughter to independence. How can we ever say thank you enough for this incredible gift that we were given? Thank you, Carol, Barbara, and Joanne for your leadership in developing this program and getting funding for scholarships for families. Thank you to everyone at NOPBC and the NFB who planned the events. And thank you to the NFB and to everyone who helped fund our scholarship.

Elizabeth and Fernando Valois, New Jersey. August 1, 2006
Elizabeth Valois sits and Fernando Valois looks on from the right, while 4-year-old son Tomas Valois learns cane travel techniques with instructor Brian Schetele at the 2006 NFB convention.We were very thankful that we were given the opportunity to participate in the NFB convention this year. It gave us a chance to meet the leaders we have heard so much about, such as President Maurer, and to meet new people, such as our parent mentor from New York, Maria Garcia.

The convention re-energized us. It was the perfect opportunity to renew our commitment and refocus on the important goals that lie ahead. It was also an eye-opener. We realized that we had been getting too comfortable in thinking that all things in Tomas’ education were going well when, in fact, they are not. We were also surprised that so many parents were in the same situation or worse. It made us realize that our goals for our son, Tomas, are the same goals that most other parents have for their blind kids. That means when we work together to achieve those common goals, we are also meeting our needs and helping Tomas and ourselves.

We tried to participate in as many events as possible. The most memorable were the Cane Walk and the IEP workshop. We felt a connection with Brian, our O&M instructor for the Cane Walk. He gave us really worthwhile advice to take back home. For example, our son Tomas had a cane with a tennis-ball-type of tip. Brian showed us how the tennis ball tip interfered with the cane’s proper use [as a source of sound and tactile feedback]. Tomas was used to having the tennis ball tip on the end of the cane, but after one day [using a cane with a metal tip], he stopped asking for the tennis-ball-tipped cane. Brian taught us to not be afraid to question and evaluate actions that in the long run could lead to poor judgment and poor training.

When we came back from the convention we contacted our school district, which is initiating paperwork for O&M instruction to begin in September. We arranged to meet with school staff so we could correctly instruct them in the cane’s proper use and to encourage them to follow O&M instruction and not teach or enforce inappropriate cane techniques.

The IEP Workshop for Dummies was very instructional and informative. It was in the evening so no one was rushed. We were able to relax and the speaker did not mind taking the extra time for questions and answers. We learned guidelines and information that we can easily adapt to our son’s IEP and that we can pass on to other parents with whom we come into contact at school.

In the parent leadership program our mentor Maria Garcia took the time and effort as a mentor to instruct us, especially about how to coordinate workshops and programs for parents. She encouraged us to attend the workshop on emergency preparedness that she conducted. Her aim was to instruct us in how to prepare and conduct a workshop. She showed us examples of past workshops and programs and gave us many good tips and advice.

We definitely believe the program should continue next year and we encourage families to attend. What we gained as a family is immeasurable. Most of the time we are reminded of what Tomas hasn’t done or yet accomplished. But at the NFB convention we were able to see possibilities. The convention allowed us to expose Tomas to many positive role models and to create an atmosphere of normalcy for him. We were so glad when we heard him scream out loud in happiness, “Look at all these canes!” Walking with the cane was a normal occurrence at the convention, and it seemed that the normalcy has continued at home. He demands his cane all the time and he looks confident with it. This is why we tried to attend as many convention functions as possible (even the banquet) with Tomas. Even though we know that he did not understand President Maurer’s banquet speech, “An element of justice,” he did listen. One day he will understand the words and the words of other blind leaders. We want him to see, listen, and live all these positive experiences.

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