Future Reflections        Summer 2012

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The Gift of Giving
The Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest: A Student Perspective

by Elizabeth Kazmierski

Reprinted from The Braille Monitor, Volume 55, No. 4, April 2012

Elizabeth KazmierskiFrom the Editor: Each year the National Federation of the Blind sponsors the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest, a competition that encourages Braille reading among children and adults. One category of awards is designated for readers who use Braille in order to perform a community service. Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Kazmierski of Michigan won the Community Service Award in the 2011-2012 contest. In this article she writes about her experiences and what they meant to her.

I have always had the opportunity to share good deeds with others in many places and many ways. I hope that these everyday-life contributions encourage feelings of giving.
This year I participated in the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest for the Community Service Award. I heard about it from news we get because my twin brother and I are members of the NFB and have been to Baltimore for programs for blind students.

One of my first full contributions to the NFB was performing an original composition for piano entitled "Summit," written for Erik Weihenmayer, the blind mountain climber. It was recorded on the first Sound in Sight CD compilation by the NFB Performing Arts Division. I had the opportunity to play the piece for Erik at a fundraiser in Detroit in 2006. As a composer, I write most of my pieces for others who have touched my life, especially involving blindness.

In April of last year I participated in the LAW Program (Leadership and Advocacy in Washington) at the Jernigan Institute in Baltimore.

During the program I advocated for the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind to congressional staffers. My group members and I went from office to office discussing the bill. A month ago I put the skills I learned at LAW into practice because of our governor's decision to abolish the Michigan Commission for the Blind. I marched with members of the NFB of Michigan and the Michigan Parents of the Visually Impaired outside the governor's office for a protest, and then we visited senators and representatives to make the views of the NFB known. I was even able to help some adults talk to legislators. It was powerfully nice to use the skills I learned through the LAW Program in a very important way.

Last fall I chose to participate in my high school girls' field hockey team as a statistician. The other girls would give me details about plays, penalties, and substitutions; then I recorded these details on my BrailleNote. As part of the team, I was included in every activity. I helped out while the parents and coaches learned about Braille and how blind people can take part in the team. As a teenager might say, "It was awesome!" When the team formed a huddle with their sticks up and I held up my cane, too, I felt I was part of the team. This experience was enjoyable for me and everyone who saw me copying down every little detail in Braille.

During the spring of last year I helped raise money for the American Cancer Society by playing piano at a restaurant in our town and also displaying Braille music to the public. The people who watched me thought of the Braille code as impressive, and it was a lot of fun showing them about reading Braille music.

Another activity I did as part of the Community Service Award contest was reading Bible excerpts for the weekday service at our church. The people in our congregation and the priest were delighted to see me reading the lines of important text as it ran across the display of my BrailleNote Apex and speaking out to spread the Word. In the priest's letter he wrote for the contest, Father Jim talked about how touched he was to see me take in simple words through my fingers, and then breathe out a scripture, communicating the important message it had to say.

These were some of the activities I participated in for the Braille Readers Are Leaders Community Service Award. I had to have letters of recommendation from people who knew about the various service activities I did. Each of these people emphasized the importance of my spirit in the process of using Braille to help other people. It made me feel proud to read the letters, and the words also encouraged me to think of other ways I could help out in my community to eliminate barriers put up by people who do not know blindness as I see it. I hope my service pays forward and inspires other people, but it was neat to get paid back with letters in which almost every word was a compliment. I'm glad the NFB has a contest that promotes service and using Braille, especially because people can learn more about what blind individuals are capable of and what they can accomplish. When we give to other people, gifts get paid back to us in return.

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